Gravel > Six Things I Hate About This Town

( Thanks in advance for forgiving this six-minute vent. It’s been a rough few years for me personally and I’m working through my shit.  > Ryan Gravel

  1. We fumble Beltline transit.

The Atlanta Beltline trail is useless when it’s raining. Or with a walker or wheelchair. Or in the humidity when you’re wearing a suit. Beltline transit is the reason this big crazy idea came to life – strengthened by more community engagement than any other project in history. And with thousands of new neighbors moving here every year, whether we want them or not, the 22-mile corridor’s potential for free-flowing, traffic-free transit is essential to building an Atlanta worth wanting. In every other way, the Beltline has delivered. The same will be true for transit – but only if we build it.

  1. We bulldoze our forests.

We love to talk about Atlanta’s iconic tree canopy and the ecology and economy it represents. And we love the idea of protecting more parks – that’s such a no-brainer. We really love our forests, that is, until someone comes along with more money or power. Then we let it slide – because there’s always more forest to love. Except there’s not. Our forest is our greatest asset, and also, a finite resource. And with 2.5 million more neighbors moving to the region whether we like it or not, for the love of the trees, we need to protect, invest, and restore our forest today.  

  1. We ghost housing.

We talk about how much we care about affordable and workforce housing, but when the shit comes down, most of us ghost the decisions that matter. Rather than making modest zoning changes that would improve conditions for free, we just say “nah – we’re full.” We block density, worship parking, zip our pocketbooks, and otherwise worsen the crisis. And the weird thing is that we know what to do. We have a well-articulated to-do list – we’re just not doing enough. It’s like, when the work gets hard, it turns out we don’t care as much as we think we do.

  • Joel Dixon is advancing new models for affordable housing.
  1. We diss our Black culture. 

You don’t have to be Black to respect Atlanta’s Blackness. But when I was at Tech in the 90s, the City was over 75% Black, and now it’s not even half Black. Yes, gentrification, but also, a lot of Black families move to the suburbs for the same reasons as everyone else – schools, grocery stores, and more opportunity. Meanwhile, the physical places and architectural vestiges of our Black history and culture are neglected and bulldozed. In the same way the streets of Philadelphia ooze the Revolutionary era, Atlanta should radiate Civil Rights, but that requires us to invest in our Blackness. And we should – it’s what sets this city apart.

  1. We’re cool with good enough. 

For a lot of good reasons, the world wants Atlanta right now. We should be killing it. We should be leveraging that interest to make ourselves better, stronger, and more resilient to the economic forces that will otherwise steamroll our dreams: Beltline transit. Forests. Housing. Blackness. Instead, with ample opportunities to write an inclusive and aspirational next chapter staring us in the face, we drop the ball – again and again. We lower our expectations. We don’t do the work. We don’t invest. We put our trust in old ideas that won’t deliver. It’s like we don’t believe in ourselves – like we’re just satisfied that something, anything, is happening.

  1. We oblige the gatekeepers.

Maybe “the Atlanta Way” worked in the old days, but today it’s just the method by which our gatekeepers embalm Atlanta in their 1990s fantasyland. With a handful of notable exceptions, powerbrokers of every stripe seem blind to the ways this region is changing before our eyes and the work needed to prepare for our future. Across the private, public, and philanthropic sectors, Atlanta’s gatekeepers are legendary. Listen to the passionate do-gooders working in the trenches on issues like equity, climate, transit, and labor and you’ll soon see how often Atlanta gets in its own way, undermining its best people and most valiant efforts to build a more inclusive and aspirational city.   

Think I’m too negative? Need a pep talk? Here’s some inspiration.

12 replies

  1. Dear Ryan, thank you for keep on fighting for getting everything better! Please let me know how i can help!

  2. Just wait for the urban hipster pads intown to plummet in price, crime increases even more as does property taxes. Atlanta will be the Detroit of the south

  3. Ryan,
    You have identified all the ways that any city wants to be known today. A Beltline that includes transit through its entire 22 miles will make Atlanta competitive for years to come, especially because renewal as a megatrend ensures that climate action will accelerate and with each new generation assured a seat at the table. The day of your posting, the retiring national climate adviser Gina McCarthy reflected for The New York Times that “The private sector no longer sees climate action as a source of job losses, but rather as an opportunity for job creation and economic revitalization. . . [T]o get where we need to go, we need the entire world to run together.” Your conditions for giving up your complaint are already overturning how government and the private sector view these conditions in tandem. All represent critical climate action/ It’s the ideal matrix for nonprofits to succeed.
    Herb Hiller is a former executive director of the Caribbean Travel Assn., imitator of the Caribbean Tourism Organization, of the Florida bicycling movement, the Florida bed-and-breakfast inns movement, and the Great Florida Birding Trail. He is a former cruise industry insider, with a new book on offer to publishers about reimagining leisure travel across the Caribbean and Florida.

  4. Well said, Ryan. It breaks my hippie heart anytime I see us sacrifice our trees/forests, all in the name of progress. Because deforestation is the exact opposite of progress. We need to keep Atlanta the city in the forest foreal, and not just a generic tag line.

  5. No complaints from me, they’re all very well listed here. I’m from NYC and for a decade I’ve been saying Atlanta is doing too much in the wrong directions. Don’t get me started on streets and highways. 🙄

  6. I absolutely, 100%, totally agree with everything you just said!  Thank you!  Where is this out there so we can share it forward for you – if that’s something you want.
    Thanks for all you do, and do, and do, and keep doing!

  7. It is never easy to disagree with you Ryan and this commentary is no exception!
    Keep the faith. There are many of us who believe as you do and we shall prevail.

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