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Atlanta: Problems and Promise

(Page 2 of 4)

Atlanta, he says, is an ''exciting'' place to live.

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The level of excitement, however, differs among Atlantans, depending on their present circumstances.

Mozella Alexander, a retired school teacher who lives in one of Atlanta's middle-income black neighborhoods, says she appreciates Atlanta's ballets and theater, but worries about the poor, especially the ''little children (who) are suffering.''

In a series of killings lasting nearly two years, which apparently ended last May, 28 young blacks were murdered. A black man has been indicted for two of the murders and officials here say he may be linked to more. Some people here blame poverty for making the youths more vulnerable to crime; quite a few of the victims were known to have been out on the streets much of the time - sometimes late at night and far from home - trying to earn money.

During the height of warnings for children not to approach strangers, plainclothes policemen conducted a test, trying to lure young black children into their cars with the promise of $10. According to Mayor Jackson, every child approached fell for the bait, a sign, he says, of their desperate need for money.

Mary Sanford is president of the tenants association at Perry Homes, the largest public housing project in the city with some 8,000 residents, according to her estimate. She is concerned about unemployment and hunger among the poor. Many low-income families on food stamps and welfare are beginning to feel the added pressure of federal cuts in those programs, says Mrs. Sanford. Even before the cuts, many families had gotten used to trying to stretch their collards and dried beans to last out the month until the next government check arrived.

Many taxpayers are reluctant to support welfare programs for people unwilling to work, and there have been cases of abuse in such programs. But many Perry Homes residents work as maids and travel long hours to and from affluent white neighborhoods. Black leaders here say many more would work if they could get work.

''If you can bring the dignity of working back to people, you can work on the other ills,'' says Mrs. Sanford.

Dan Sweat Jr. is excited about Atlanta - and concerned. As president of Central Atlanta Progress, an association of downtown businesses, he points with pride to some of the massive amount of new construction in and around downtown: Southern Bell's new office building for some 3,500 employees; the high-rise headquarters of Georgia-Pacific; a 500,000-square-foot office building just off the renovated Central City Park; several major new hotels and expansions.

The World Congress Center, the main convention hall, is being greatly expanded; so is the city museum. A 22-block section of downtown is being renovated with public and private funds, fitted with pedestrian malls, and spruced up. Some 2,200 housing units, the majority of them for middle-income families, are being consructed near downtown in the Bedford Pines area, where Mr. Sweat himself is moving from a suburb.

''We're still in the catbird seat for the future,'' says Sweat, between bites of a sandwich at his desk in a downtown bank building. But the city will be ''lost'' if the crucial problems of crime and unemployment are not solved, he says candidly. Atlanta is in tough competion with other Sunbelt cities to attract new hotels, offices, and other investments, he says.

''The thing that's hurting us more than anything else is crime and the fear of crime,'' he says.