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Atlanta: Problems and Promise

(Page 3 of 4)



Much of downtown Atlanta at night is deserted. Many city and suburban residents fear to come downtown after dark. Underground Atlanta, a cluster of attractive restaurants and other businesses tucked under some of the city's viaducts, has failed, partially due to this fear. So far the convention business continues to boom, but bookings are made several years in advance and the effect of recent problems may not have been felt yet.

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There is no shortage of studies on Atlanta's problems and what to do about them. But, as newly elected city council member Myrtle Davis notes: ''Everybody's going in a different direction to solve the problems.''

How Atlanta pulls together to tackle the problems of crime, unemployment, and race relations will determine, in large part, what kind of city this will be in 5, 10, or 20 years: Crime

Atlanta's Public Safety Commissioner Lee P. Brown points out that Atlanta's rate of crime increase was actually lower in 1980 than national rates. FBI figures show that nationally serious crimes were up 9 percent and violent crimes increased 11 percent in 1980. Atlanta's serious crime went up only 1 percent and violent crime 3 percent in that same year. This news was obscured by the murders of black youths.

This year, Atlanta's serious crime has fallen for five straight months, including October, says Commissioner Brown. Homicides decreased from 150 the first nine months of 1980 to 142 the first nine months of 1981, an Atlanta police department spokeswoman says.

Brown attributes the turnaround in crime figures in part to specific anticrime plans for each major category of crime. He also praises citizen involvement, such as business and neighborhood crime watch efforts. ''Our city has not accepted crime as a way of life,'' he says.

During the mayoral campaign, crime was repeatedly raised as an issue. Mayor-elect Young promises to use a system already begun by the police department of assigning officers to specific neighborhoods for long periods, rather than rotating them often. And he hopes to get mopeds for police to use in downtown areas to be more visible and accessible to the public.

But Commissioner Brown claims ''a direct relationship between unemployment and crime,'' and predicts increased crime if the number of jobless increases. Unemployment

Numerous people in the business community strongly opposed the election of Mr. Young and backed white state Rep. Sidney Marcus. But Young knows he must have business cooperation to run the city and help spur investments that will increase jobs. Already he has met with some key business leaders to close the gap that had developed between Mayor Jackson, the city's first black mayor, and the business community.

The jobless rate among inner city black males is ''at least 18 percent'' and among black teen-agers it is ''at least 45 percent,'' according to a spokesman for the Atlanta Office of Economic Opportunity, the federal antipoverty agency.

Private industry makes substantial contributions to United Way, says Paul Morgan, deputy director for the Office of Economic Opportunity here. But when he has approached industries to solicit their help in employing the hard-core jobless, ''They thanked us for thinking of them, but said they didn't have the money at this time,'' he says.

Private efforts to help train and hire the hard-core unemployed have been ''miniscule'' to date compared to the need, asserts Alan M. Ross, executive vice-president of the Private Industry Council of Atlanta.

Winning private cooperation has ''been a very difficult nut to crack,'' he says, but adds that the nut is ''beginning to crack.''''