The effect of rapid community development has its benefits, but when key community stakeholders are not involved, mistrust and discord can often follow. In response to construction of the new Falcons stadium, Atlanta’s City Accelerator team fostered a partnership among the Westside Future Fund, the Atlanta Housing Authority, and Georgia Institute of Technology to engage residents of Atlanta’s historic Westside neighborhoods. The purpose was to develop an inclusive and transparent process to combat the asymmetrical relationship between the city and many of its poorest residents. Through the City Accelerator, Atlanta’s partnership:
- Conducted interviews with over 100 city employees and residents to understand their communication practices and preferences, giving the team ideas and methods for how to better engage neighborhoods on future public projects.
- Created the Westside Task Force – a collaborative of nonprofit city department heads intending to coordinate efforts around gentrification policies, affordable housing, public safety matters and more.
- Partnered with the Westside Future Fund, a public-private fund created to revitalize historic neighborhoods of the city and whose work became more urgent given the stadium project on the Westside.
- Produced the Atlanta Community Engagement Playbook that the city’s Office of Planning has agreed to own and implement after proper training on how to use it.
- Created a database of community leaders, resources and existing engagement efforts. This database provides insight into patterns about active leaders; overlapping efforts and interests; and connections across a wide diversity of projects, organizations and people.
Ideas to accelerate
Why this work matters
When a major capital redevelopment project impacts a low-income community, local governments should work to include residents’ voices in shaping that redevelopment as much as possible. As in cities across the country where new stadium or arena projects are designed to drive investment into communities, the City of Atlanta’s efforts to engage the community in shaping these investments were seen as lacking by many. The Atlanta City Accelerator project sought to repair relationships with residents by engaging them in the conversations about how the city could address their concerns and mitigate any negative impacts from increased commercial and sports-related traffic in their neighborhood. By being open to feedback and fostering transparency, cities can rebuild trust among the residents by ensuring they benefit from the intended improvements to their neighborhoods.
While the Atlanta team originally intended to solicit stories and narratives from community members, it occurred to the team that residents of the Westside were already fairly engaged community members. The problem was in demonstrating a feedback loop that shows what results from citizens’ participation. Through City Accelerator, the city worked to identify and overcome the weaknesses in traditional civic engagement and develop strategies for future engagement efforts.
Watch Atlanta’s pitch video here.
Correction (March 2, 2017): The original version of this post misidentified the third partner in the work of the Atlanta City Accelerator team.