Pursuing Resiliency on a Regional Scale

November 14, 2017
Atlanta, GA

A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending the release of the City of Atlanta's Resiliency Strategy. The City is to be congratulated for being named one of the world's 100 Resilient Cities, and for having Otis Rolley of the Rockefeller Foundation calling Atlanta's Resiliency Strategy the best one released to date. The creation of the strategy and the tangible investments that the City has made in becoming more resilient are testament to the leadership and commitment of Mayor Reed and his team.

But if our efforts end at the city line, will that be enough to make Atlanta resilient?

There are two Atlantas. There is the city of 500,000 people that includes Downtown, Midtown, Buckhead, and the airport – as well as dozens of diverse neighborhoods. And then there is the region of 5 million that includes Fulton, DeKalb, Gwinnett, and Cobb Counties – as well as dozens of diverse municipalities.

How resilient can the City of Atlanta be if the region is not resilient? Can a single city or county, acting alone, confront the challenges of climate change, transportation disparity and social inequity?

The good news is that governments across the metro region are acting – rising to the challenge of becoming more resilient and more economically vibrant.

  • Clayton County has maintained one of the nation's most innovative wastewater reclamation projects in the country for decades.
  • Cobb County leads the region in building multiuse trails, accounting for fully one in every four miles of trails in metro Atlanta.
  • Fulton County just built one of the most cutting-edge wastewater treatment plants in the nation.
  • Following the lead of Suwanee, cities across the region are building walkable town centers anchored by inspiring parks and public spaces.

But how do all of these efforts fit together? Can dozens of counties and cities, working independently to be more resilient, create a truly resilient region?

At The Trust for Public Land, we work with cities all over the country to create parks and public spaces that reduce flooding, clean stormwater, reduce heat island effect and connect people to jobs, schools and commercial districts. In Atlanta, we are looking to take a slightly different approach. In addition to working with the City, we want to work with the region.

We are fortunate to have a strong metropolitan planning organization that has built good working relationships with the dozens of counties and cities that constitute metro Atlanta – the Atlanta Regional Commission. ARC's forward-thinking Livable Centers Initiative has helped 120 local jurisdictions plan walkable communities that offer increased transportation options. ARC staffs the Metropolitan North Georgia Water District, which has helped the region reduce water consumption by 10% since 2001, despite adding 1 million new residents.

In the years to come, The Trust for Public Land hopes to work with the ARC and other partners to develop regional frameworks for reducing flooding, improving water quality, protecting & expanding tree canopy, and connecting the region with greenways that serve as wildlife and transportation corridors.

As Atlanta's Chief Resiliency Officer, Stephanie Stuckey, was unveiling the Resiliency Strategy, she introduced the concept of "coopetition." Yes, Atlanta would cooperate with the other 99 in the 100 Resilient Cities initiative – sharing experiences, promoting best practices and ensuring that the cities built upon each other's success. But Atlanta also wanted to be the best; it would work a little bit harder and aim a little bit higher.

Similarly, resiliency efforts in our region would benefit from cooperation (and a little less competition). Count The Trust for Public Land among the nonprofits and civic leaders looking to work with the ARC, local governments, and the state of Georgia to make our region the most resilient in the world.