July 22, 2008

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Maria Saporta Column

By Maria Saporta, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Jul. 22--Over the next two years, the Atlanta Regional Commission will embark on its Fifty Forward planning initiative to help steer the way metro Atlanta will be in 2060.

The kick-off meeting of the Fifty Forward steering committee Monday confirmed that this will be a massive undertaking tackling a host of issues such as sustainability; demographics and diversity; megaregions, globalization and the economy; science, technology and innovation; land use and planning; pubic health and health care; workforce development and education; transportation; and energy.

Individual forums will be held on each topic followed by a series of community meetings that will be convened by the Civic League for Regional Atlanta.

"What we hope we will get in Fifty Forward will be to engage in different kinds of thinking," said Tom Weyandt, the ARC's director of comprehensive planning.

It will be a public, private and nonprofit initiative. That make-up is reflected in the leadership of the Fifty Forward steering committee with its three co-chairs. Secretary of State Karen Handel is representing the government sector. Suzanne Sitherwood, president of Atlanta Gas Light, is representing the private sector. And Milton Little, president of the United Way of Metro Atlanta is representing nonprofits.

About 33 people attended the first steering committee meeting Monday morning at the offices of the Nelson Mullins law firm in Atlantic Station.

Raymond King, an executive vice president of SunTrust, questioned whether the planning process would conclude with an action plan so the vision for the region could be implemented.

"Our hope is that there will be some specific action taken," Weyandt said.

The group also discussed whether there were more issues that should be looked at. Jim Stokes, president of the Georgia Conservancy, wondered if water, the environment and land conservation needed more attention.

Ray Christman with the Urban Land Institute's Terwilliger Center for Workforce Housing questioned whether the issue of governments and governance needed to be explored. He mentioned the increasing number of local governments and the region's relationship with the state as issues that needed to be addressed.

Kay Pippin, president of the Henry County Chamber of Commerce, said it all boils down to leadership in the region. How would leadership development be included, she asked.

And Alicia Philipp, president of the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, said the effort should include others that the traditional leaders.

"We need to get younger people involved because we won't be here in 50 years," Philipp said.

This is not the first time there's been a long-term visioning process for the region. Back in the 1990s, former Georgia Gov. George Busbee chaired a comprehensive effort called Vision 2020.

The Fifty Forward initiative will hold its next forum on Demographics and Diversity on Sept. 10 at the Leadership Center at Morehouse College.


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