Atlanta: Problems and Promise
As former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young prepares to take office here as mayor, this multi-faceted city abounds with signs of prosperity and promise - but also with signs of perplexing problems.Skip to next paragraph
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Atlanta's skyline continues to change, with a massive amount of construction under way of hotels, offices, and apartments in or near downtown. Many neighborhoods have been renovated and under the city charter have a stronger voice in both planning and budgeting than in most other big cities in the country. Cultural activities fill a hefty pull-out section of the weekend newspaper. The world's largest air passenger terminal opened here last year and another small portion of the rapid rail system is about to open.
But that rail system is hemmed in by three of the surrounding counties which have not yet approved a local sales tax to enable them to help pay for extension of the system into their areas. In these mostly white counties, the number of people, businesses, and jobs has increased rapidly, while Atlanta has steadily lost businesses and people since l970.
In the past 20 years, Atlanta has switched from about one-third black to one-third white. The school system is predominantly black. Many whites have left. White control of City Hall ended with incumbent Mayor Maynard Jackson's election eight years ago; black control continues with Mr. Young's election. Many whites are still not accustomed to being a minority here.
About one-fourth of all Atlantans, most of them black, live in persistent poverty, according to the city's own estimates. Many lack a basic education and job training.
So far, contrary to President Reagan's thesis that the private sector will step into the gap left by reduced federal help, some analysts complain that the powerful (mostly white) business community here has done more talking than acting to help hire and train the hard-core jobless.
While Atlanta may be one of the most integrated cities in the nation from 9 to 5 workdays, some critics complains that it is one of the most segregated the rest of the time. Yet there is a large and growing black middle class. And race relations - still a major issue - are at least talked about openly. Black and white leaders sit together on numerous city panels and study groups tackling problems.
Talking with a cross-section of the city's leaders and residents reveals a mixture of enthusiasm and hope, discouragement and pessimism about Atlanta. But a common denominator among those interviewed is concern for their city. How that concern is translated into actions and how it affects attitudes will have a great deal to do with Atlanta's future.
'Atlanta is changing,'' says Leon Eplan, a local professor and past president of the American Institute of Planners. ''It's renovating, it's revitalizing,'' he says.
But he is not sure the jobless will get jobs and the untrained become trained. He sees the need for more downtown businesses and housing to add to city revenues which will be ''hurt enormously'' by federal budget cuts.
Nevertheless, on balance, Mr. Eplan sees more positive signs in Atlanta than negative ones.
''I think it is the self-deprecation of a city that hurts,'' he says. Mr. Eplan, a native Atlantan, says he believes the negative images of Atlanta as crime-ridden, racially divided, with whites and businesses fleeing to the suburbs, are counterbalanced by the arrival of young families, the opportunities for blacks, the cultural and entertainment life of the city, and the strong neighborhoods - black and white - that have more political clout than in any other city.