Friday, October 7 2022

At the inaugural DeKalb County Chamber of Commerce Cities Summit meeting on Aug. 18 at the Stone Ridge Event Center in Tucker, Anna Roach, executive director of the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) and keynote speaker for the event, said cities are key partners of ARC, whose members are 11 counties in the Atlanta area and the City of Atlanta. “Cities are the engines of innovation,” she noted.

Calling the Atlanta metro area one of the largest and fastest growing regions in the country, Roach noted that many local government responsibilities do not stop at the city or county line, but require a collaborative effort, including transportation, economic development and water resources.

Noting that ARC is a data-driven organization, she said, “Our job is to look to the future. We have the numbers that take the guesswork out of planning, and those numbers are there whenever you need them.

Roach is among the ARC’s current key areas of focus on improving mobility, which it says includes creating alternative transportation opportunities and improving traffic flow. “We obviously still have a lot of work to do in this area,” she commented. “We want to imagine roads for everyone, not just for cars, but also for pedestrians and cyclists.”

Another goal, Roach said, is healthy aging. “We want to make sure that older people and people with disabilities can live safely in their homes and get the services they need. We want to create livable communities with a sense of place and a sense of community,” she said.

Sustainability is also an ARC initiative, Roach said, noting that through initiatives such as the toilet rebate program and conservation pricing – with unit water costs rising with high usage – the county saw its water consumption drop by 30%.

Roach said the CRA views the recently enacted Federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which it called a “historic opportunity,” as a “call to action,” adding, “ It is a complex law, but we have taken it upon ourselves to ensure that we understand it as well as anyone in the country and have positioned ourselves to take full advantage of its provisions. Part of it that I really like is that they’ve expanded the definition of infrastructure. Traditionally, we think of roads, bridges and the like when we think of infrastructure. We are now also talking about water supply systems and the Internet.

According to Mr. Roach, a major step in taking advantage of potential funds from the Infrastructure Act is workforce development. “For years, we worried about where the funds needed to build and repair our infrastructure would come from. Now that the funding is available, we need to ensure that the lack of trained and available manpower is not a barrier,” she said.

Some federal infrastructure projects require 20% matching from local government, Roach pointed out. “We need to think creatively about how we budget our taxes. We’re going to be competing with other parts of the country for those infrastructure dollars, so we have to make sure we’re hitting all the cylinders.

The summit also included panels made up of representatives – mostly mayors – from DeKalb cities who discussed the challenges facing their respective pockets of DeKalb. A theme that came up in the discussions was housing. Decatur Mayor Patti Garrett said her city’s rapid growth, which is not only the fastest in the state but also one of the fastest in the Southeast, is “both a blessing and a curse,” which has compounded the city’s challenges with affordable housing.

Stephe Koonze, a city council member representing Doraville, noted that when people think of the north end of the county, they normally think of high-end housing “but that’s not our story,” she said. declared. “When much of the housing in Doraville was built decades ago, it was for industrial workers. Now that many of these homes are demolished, we need to find other affordable housing for our residents. The key, I believe, is to bring better paying jobs to the area. It’s just not possible to build a house that someone making $8 an hour can afford.

Melanie Hammet, mayor of Pine Lake, DeKalb’s smallest town, also said her town’s history now clashes with its current housing needs. “The city was designed with tent pitches, which were combined to accommodate normal-sized houses. In some places, rooms have been added to small cabins. We had little houses before they were a thing,” she joked.

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