By Gabriel Owens, contributor
Mayoral candidate Peter Aman and author Mark Pendergrast held an hour discussion about the future of the Atlanta Beltline on Sunday, Sept. 17, focusing on housing affordability and transportation.
Pendergrast, now a Vermont resident, is an author and scholar who originally grew up in Atlanta and has written several books, including his latest, “City on the Verge,” which is about his original hometown.
“Atlanta is on the verge of tremendous rebirth – or inexorable decline,” his website’s summation of “Verge” says. “A kind of Petri dish for cities struggling to reinvent themselves, Atlanta has the highest income inequality in the country, gridlocked highways, suburban sprawl, and a history of racial injustice. Yet it is also an energetic, brash young city that prides itself on pragmatic solutions.”
Aman and Pendergrast agreed to a dual Mayoral candidate conversation and book promotion to discuss with Atlanta residents the intricate issues involved with the city’s growing Beltline infrastructure.
“This is not my endorsement for [Aman] as mayor,” said Pendergrast. “He is just the only one who wanted [to do this] with me [after asking several] candidates.”
The discussion kicked off with Pendergrast’s background growing up in Atlanta in the 50s and 60s, and his remembrance of the racial and economic inequality he saw but didn’t recognize at the time, including memories of his African American housekeeper.
“I didn’t know where she lived, or what she did when she wasn’t in my home,” he said. “She was like a second mother to me and lived seven minutes from our house and I had no idea about her life or neighborhood.”
The two delved into topics of the Beltline’s future and how both transportation and housing affordability can affect Atlanta’s future and racial boundaries. Both agreed equitable and diverse transportation is an important part of the Beltline’s future. This included MARTA’s reach and usability of streetcar and bus routes.
“Streetcars that run on the same lines as car traffic aren’t very useful,” said Aman. “If you can walk faster than the streetcar can take you, why use it?”
Aman talked with Pendergrast about the tricky difficulty of creating lanes for MARTA buses and streetcars without taking away existing car lanes, and the importance of creating a usable and practical future for Atlanta transportation.
Both agreed that this in conjunction with inclusion zoning ordinance (“with teeth,” said Pendergrast) is integral to affordable housing and stopping the encroachment of gentrification within the Beltline.
Aman spoke of a proposed 40 million affordable zoning bond, which he said is not enough to stave off the problem. “What we need is a 500 million bond, with matching private bond. One billion can make it work.”
He admitted that was a “long term figure” and would be something to shoot for instead of an immediate solution.
Other topics covered were:
- The dual problem of low pay for police and lack of “implicit bias training” for law enforcement, which Aman thinks can solve both losing good police officers to other areas and retraining existing cops for lessen friction between officers and the community, especially in terms of race and class.
- Pendegrast cited in his studies that Atlanta has one of the biggest gaps between the rich and the poor in any major US city, and one Atlanta needs to focus on or they may see their progress shrink and decay.
The conversation ended with one-on-one talks with the attendees for an hour.
Pendegrast is now on tour for “Verge” around Atlanta. Aman is currently in third place in the race for Atlanta mayor with 12 percent, according to a WSB/Landmark poll conducted August 27. The election is Nov. 7 and early voting begins Oct. 16.