(faq.) Yesterday, after weeks of deliberation, Nathaniel Smith and I resigned from the board of the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership. He’s the Founder and Chief Equity Officer of the Partnership for Southern Equity. While this was not an easy decision for either one of us, our earnest hope is that it not be construed as a lack of support for the project. Rather, we hope it is the beginning of a more robust and effective coalition of voices that can ensure that the project’s full, inclusive vision is realized. Our letter is posted below. >> Ryan Gravel
September 26, 2016
Dear Atlanta BeltLine Partnership Board, Mike Donnelly, Chair,
It is with the upmost respect that we submit our resignations from the Board of Directors of the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership, (ABP). We are supportive of the organization’s work, optimistic about the project’s future, and committed to remain active in its implementation for the people of this city. At this critical moment, however, we feel compelled to concentrate our efforts more directly on making sure that the Atlanta Beltline lives up to its promise and potential, and specifically, that its investments and supporting policies become more intentional about who they will benefit. We know you agree that its advantages must accrue to everyone, especially those who are otherwise most vulnerable to the changes it brings. We fear, however, that without more urgent and deliberate attention to these communities, we’ll end up building the Atlanta Beltline without achieving its vision.
That vision came from a big, diverse coalition of neighbors and local partners who defined what the Atlanta Beltline is and who it is for. Because our movement was inclusive from the beginning, over the years there have been many people working hard to ensure affordability and economic opportunity for everyone. We were a part of that effort, but even so, today we see the project’s success most threatened by inadequate attention and accountability to those outcomes. And while there have been success stories that we can be proud of, our coalition’s progress has not been commensurate with the scale of the challenges at hand. The recent announcement of $7.5 million from TAD bonds, for example, will likely support fewer than 200 affordable units out of ABI’s obligation to 5,600 – it is a drop in the bucket when compared to the need. As the economy roars back to life and growth in the city accelerates, this work is increasingly urgent and we feel strongly that our attention must be channeled directly toward it.
The departure of the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership’s Executive Director, and the explanation offered both at the Board meeting on July 21 and in meetings since, have put us both in difficult positions between what we believe is inadequate attention to equitable outcomes and our own personal and professional commitments for the project. They have also highlighted the urgency to include the broader public in how these issues are addressed, and related to this, have helped illustrate to us an internal dissonance within the Partnership that has been present since its beginning.
By many accounts, when ABP absorbed Friends of the Belt Line back in 2005, the project lost a conduit for the grassroots, sometimes rabble-rousing voice of the people who had given it life in the first place, who had shaped its community momentum, and who are personally attuned to its social and economic impacts. ABP primarily refocused instead on raising private money for the acquisition of new parks and trails. This was also essential and urgent work, especially at that time. It literally laid the groundwork for much of the success we see today, and we should all be proud of that. Over time, however, this direction has proven uncomfortable with the uncertainty that often comes with community advocacy. We see our resignation, therefore, as a constructive first step in the correction of this historic mistake.
We believe that the primary accountability for the Atlanta Beltline is not to private funders, civic partners, or to organizational leadership, but to the people of Atlanta who have given the most to make the project possible. If they had not believed in a vision for our future, and if they had not worked so hard and insisted on its implementation, we certainly would not be building it today. In fact, if not for the underserved, “blighted” communities of south and west Atlanta, the Tax Allocation District would not have been allowed under state law and the idea would be gathering dust on a shelf. There’s little doubt our movement of city-wide, life-affirming change would have died a long time ago.
Understanding this accountability is essential, because we believe that who the Atlanta BeltLine is built for is just as important as whether it is built at all. Our earnest hope, therefore, is that our resignation not be construed as a lack of support for the project’s continued implementation or a lack of confidence in ABP’s vital role going forward. Rather, we hope it is the beginning of a more robust and effective coalition of voices that can ensure that the project’s full, inclusive vision is realized. Only then can we call it a success. This will take all of us, and so as we move ahead, we look forward to continuing to work with the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership, Atlanta BeltLine, Inc., and others to achieve it.
With respect and thanks, please receive our resignations.
Founder and Chief Equity Officer
The Partnership for Southern Equity