EcoDistricts Summit 2017: Why Atlanta is the right place at the right time

As we considered potential cities for our eighth annual EcoDistricts Summit event, we looked for communities that would inspire and challenge Summit participants. Cities where more equitable, sustainable, and resilient neighborhoods are becoming a reality, and where there is still important work to be done. Atlanta, also known as the capital of the South, rose right to the top of our list. Here’s why.

Its deep experience with equity issues

Atlanta set the stage for the American Civil Rights Movement, but the city still struggles with creating an equitable, inclusive home for all of its residents. While Atlanta’s northern, affluent suburbs are growing and adding more high-paying jobs, the historic African American neighborhoods in the city’s South side are experiencing disproportionate poverty, disinvestment and unemployment.

With more than 2 million people expected to move to the Atlanta in the next 25 years, it’s critical to develop solutions for sustainable, equitable growth now.

We’ll learn more about Atlanta’s history and efforts under way from EcoDistricts Summit keynote speaker Nathaniel Smith, founder and chief equity officer of the Partnership for Southern Equity. In our studio sessions, we’ll find out what’s happening now, in areas like East Lake, a mixed-income housing community that’s become a national model for community redevelopment.

Its successes in sustainable development

Known for traffic congestion and smoggy skies, Atlanta has long struggled with the effects of air and water pollution. The city provides a case study for how environmental issues intersect with equity issues: Low-income communities near major transportation nodes and polluted watersheds feel the brunt of the pollution’s impact every single day.

Atlanta is making important strides in sustainable development with partnerships and innovative initiatives from city government, nonprofits and local universities.

At Summit, we’ll find out what’s working and learn about programs that could serve as examples for other cities in Summit studio sessions on green infrastructure, innovations in water reclamation and urban agriculture.

Its commitment to local culture

Atlanta’s local arts, music and food scenes define the city’s unique character and play important roles in creating a deep connection and sense of place among neighborhood residents throughout the city.

Public art initiatives and community-driven arts organizations are helping to keep Atlanta’s history front and center as efforts to modernize take hold. They’re also starting to play a key role in sustainable and equitable development projects designed to ensure new spaces still feel like home to Atlanta residents.

We’ll see how artists are working together with community development organizations to address issues like economic disparities, racial equity and even climate resilience. We’ll also take a tour of the South Broad Street Arts District, where artists are collaborating with developers to preserve and revitalize community spaces.

 Its focus on the future

Atlanta has set ambitious plans in motion to not just prepare for the city’s future, but actively shape it.

Efforts to modernize the city’s transportation infrastructure are reframing how residents connect with their city and with each other. The Atlanta BeltLine is a perfect example—a planned loop of 22 miles of streetcar rail, multi-use trail, and 2,000 acres of parks to reduce congestion and bring disparate neighborhoods together.

We’re inspired by Atlanta’s inclusive, sustainable vision for the future and the proactive, collaborative programs we’re seeing across the city. It’s an outstanding example of what’s possible when policymakers, developers and residents come together.

Learn more about the organizations and initiatives behind Atlanta’s regeneration story.

See the full program for this year’s EcoDistricts Summit event.

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