Your Adventure, Your Way

Portland: This could be the core city population of Atlanta

It shouldn’t be funny, but it is. The Atlanta Journal Constitution published an article today (Should Atlanta follow Portland with T-SPLOST?Streetcar neighborhoods lure young, creative types to Oregon city, but face criticism, July 22, 2012, Ariel Hart) that – once you know the answer as to the glaring difference between the two cities – should cause to have a solid laugh.

Well, it’s better to laugh then cry.

What does Hart write?:

Raised in Florida suburbs, J’ena SanCartier and Philip Losasso know Atlanta well — as the traffic jam they dreaded on their way to somewhere else.

Relocating from Florida last year, the artist and software developer never considered Atlanta. They flew 2,500 miles away to a new home in Portland. Now, instead of highways, they travel via streetcar. And that’s how they like it. 

No: “love it,” in SanCartier’s words. 

Multiply their story by thousands and you get a pretty good picture of one way Portland differs from Atlanta: since 2000 it has excelled at attracting young, educated, so-called “creative class” workers. The dominant reason, according to one narrative prevalent among city planners, is that young folks gravitate to high-energy, walkable, eclectic neighborhoods where they don’t need cars — and that projects like Portland’s streetcar help create those neighborhoods. 

Architects of the Atlanta Beltline, a $602 million chunk of the July 31 regional transportation referendum, hail it as just such a cityscape-altering project. They even hired the man who wrote the Portland streetcar’s plan to write a plan for the Beltline. 

“Portland, Oregon, is the model in the U.S.,” Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said in 2010, upon winning a grant to build a streetcar line that he called the “spine” of the Beltline. “We have strong evidence that infrastructure creates jobs and stimulates economic investment.” 

The holy grail for many cities these days is the group some researchers call “young creatives.” They’re educated, relatively affluent and consume less in the way of government services than children or the elderly. 

In the race to attract them, Portland is doing much better than Atlanta. Within the last decade, Atlanta saw a 10 percent increase to Portland’s 24 percent, said Joe Cortright, a researcher who studies the demographic of 25-to-34 year-olds with college degrees. 

Why? Neighborhoods such as the Pearl, where you don’t have to have a car, are one reason, Cortright said. “Transit is sort of part of a package of things that talented young people are looking for in cities.” 

Atlanta is not Portland
Across metro Atlanta, many Beltline opponents don’t much care what people in Portland like.

“We have chosen a land-use pattern,” and it’s not dense, said Baruch Feigenbaum, an analyst with the free-market Reason Foundation. “From my perspective we should be producing the transportation system that people want.” 

Even some transit advocates who support the Beltline shy away from the Portland analogy. “Let’s face it,” said Ashley Robbins, president of Citizens for Progressive Transit, “Atlanta’s not Portland.” 

Eighty-one percent of metro Portlandians commute by car, and in the city itself 6 percent commute by bike, an astronomical number. In metro Atlanta, 88 percent commute by car and the next largest group is telecommuters. 

But Atlanta does have pockets of dense, walkable space, including some neighborhoods that would be linked by the Beltline, such as Inman Park, Georgia Tech and Poncey-Highland. In parts of Atlanta, a quarter of commuting is done by transit, according to the Atlanta Regional Commission.

 What are the similarities between Portland and Atlanta, before we get started with this adventure: for one thing, both are plagued by crime that is primarily the byproduct of each respective city’s Black population. Though, Portland is less than 8 percent Black, the crime rates are comparable to Atlanta’s when it comes to Black domination of police blotter.

With a core urban population that is 78 percent white (and a metro population that 80 percent white), it is precisely this “embarrassing whiteness” that attracts the so-called ‘creative class’ of workers to Portland.

Atlanta’s core urban population is only 36 percent white (and a metro population that is 55 percent white), which means that the “creative class” of workers must act as ‘urban pioneers’ when they move into the city — a proposition that is becoming increasingly dangerous.

Perhaps that’s why Portland can have public transportation that works, for the “creative class” has no desire to spend hours upon hours of their precious time commuting to and from work in a metal coffin, which is the price of living a safe existence in the metro Atlanta area — courtesy of the Black Undertow.

Portland’s Black Undertow population is still being courted to enjoy the fruits of white people’s labor when it comes to creating sustainable cities that have safe streets for commuting to and from work on bikes:

The staff at Community Cycling Center, a 15 year old Portland-based nonprofit that aims to increase access to bicycling, has been doing some soul searching in the last few years.

In the process, community and programs director Alison Hill Graves says they started looking around the area they serve (a five-mile radius around their NE 17th and Alberta retail shop). “We saw a big divide in terms of who’s riding bikes and who isn’t.”

Alison Graves

Or, to put it more plainly, “The people riding and making decisions about bicycles is a white, middle class group.”

The result: The CCC is undertaking an initiative it calls Understanding Barriers to Bicycling. The effort is funded by a grant from Metro that comes with a social justice stipulation.

Their first step in the process was to spend much of 2009 meeting with area leaders and organizations, particularly those that represent African Americans, African immigrants, Latinos/Hispanics, Native Americans, and Asian Americans. CCC staff told the groups about their work, and then asked questions about what might be preventing people from riding bicycles.

 If you were to replace the population of the core city of Portland (550,000 — 78 percent of whom are white), with the population of the core city of Atlanta (432,000 — 36 percent of whom are white), what would happen? What would the fate of each city be?

Where would you rather live? The new and improved Portland, which would see a reduction of its overall core city population by 22 percent, conceivably making congestion a thing of that “embarrassing white” past; or would you rather venture down south to that ghastly new Atlanta, with a population of… overwhelming white people.

78 percent to be exact.

Well, it should be obvious that the Atlanta Beltline project would instantly attract massive outside investors, who would be lining up to take advantage of an improvement to the city’s infrastructure that no longer has the shadow of Blackness —  which plagues MARTA — hanging ominously in the background.

In fact, Atlanta’s metro system — with the “creative class” and ‘whiteness’ imported from Portland — would find new life that it has been desperate for since… its inception in 1973. Just look at this February 11, 2001 article from the Atlanta Journal Constitution by John McCosh (MARTA calls on marketers for image aid/Can soft drinks fill empty seats?), which laments the reputation MARTA had unceremoniously acquired:

MARTA’s No. 1 image problem is a perception that the system is unsafe, but that could be fixed, in part, with a few well-placed Coca-Cola vending machines. So says a marketing proposal to renovate MARTA’s image as the transit agency embarks on a $700,000 program this month to win more riders and expand its reach. People feel safe and comforted when they’re near the familiar red-and-white Coke logo, says the Atlanta marketing firm Turner Fernandez Turner.

Acknowledging “this is going to sound crazy,” the firm suggests that putting Coke vending machines on MARTA trains would conjure up “all sorts of positive images of childhood, security, stability and Americana.”

Naturally, the proposal notes, giving MARTA riders a Coke and a smile would require the transit agency to consider ending its long ban on consuming beverages on its buses and rail cars.

Clayton and Gwinnett counties, which declined to join the MARTA system in past years, are starting their own bus services this year. That effectively walls off MARTA’s expansion to the northeast and south, elements of the agency’s long-range plan for three decades.

For the first time in decades, MARTA is in a no-growth mode, with no new rail stations funded or under construction.

MARTA’s core jurisdictions — Atlanta and DeKalb and Fulton counties — recently declined to extend their commitment to collecting a 1 percent sales tax for support of the system, a decision that could be reconsidered later this year. If at least two of the three jurisdictions don’t change their position, the system will fall out of line for future federal funding.

MARTA is concerned, and it will be addressing its image this year as part of a national campaign pushed by the American Public Transit Association to boost the public perception of mass transit. The association, which is holding a marketing workshop in Atlanta later this month, is hoping to fund a $5 million nationwide campaign over five years to win more riders.

“We did some polling and focus groups and did a list of priorities, and as an industry public transit’s image just wasn’t very good,” said Amy Coggins, a spokeswoman for the association. Also, a survey a year ago found that, when asked to rank public transit as a concern, people placed it well below education and crime.

In many ways, MARTA’s image problems are typical of systems throughout the country.

“People in the suburbs think MARTA is a black, transit-dependent system,” said the agency’s chairman, Bill Moseley. “Some people are saying they don’t like the MARTA name.”

For three decades the MARTA acronym has been the subject of a racially charged joke: “You know what MARTA really stands for, don’t you? Moving Africans Rapidly Through Atlanta.”

“I was told that the first week I moved here in the 1980s,” Moseley said. “Maybe we can change the name to RTA and it can be the Redneck Transit Authority.”

Twelve years ago, the agency considered a name change as it prepared to pitch an expansion to Gwinnett County voters, in part because it was common knowledge that the acronym was being altered into an ethnic joke. An Internet search of the phrase shows it turns up in national publications such as The New Republic and as far away as Turkey.

It’s that kind of ingrained tarnish the marketers will be challenged to fix. And if they can’t, MARTA officials say they’re even open to the idea of changing the name.
But giving up on the MARTA name means giving up an identity many immediately associate with transportation.

“The biggest question is, ‘Is there equity in the current name?’ ” said Mike Paul, a New York marketing consultant who is not among the bidders for the MARTA contract. “If there is equity, then you stay with the name.”

The $700,000 contract to study MARTA’s image will be just the beginning of the promotion effort.

“My friends in marketing tell me you can spend millions and millions on this kind of thing,” Moseley said.

Were the population of Portland to switch with Atlanta’s core city population, the need for a marketing firm to find a new pitch to convince people to ride the system that once moved “Africans Rapidly Through Atlanta” would be… unnecessary. So would the problem addressed in a  December 7, 2000 article the AJC published by Ernie Suggs (Complaint: MARTA hike based on bias), showcasing why MARTA was in so much trouble:

For many, a quarter doesn’t mean that much. But for others, particularly the poor and disabled who depend on MARTA, an impending 25-cent fare increase could be a matter of livelihood. “This will have a negative, disproportionate and discriminatory effect on the system’s transit-dependent riders — with over 75 percent being African-American,” said Temita S. Davis.

Davis is a member of the Metropolitan Atlanta Transportation Equity Coalition or MATEC, a 1-year-old grass-roots organization that looks at transportation issues in metro Atlanta. They held a news conference Wednesday to outline a complaint filed on Nov. 30, with the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Transit Administration against MARTA.

“MARTA hasn’t responded to us verbally, or in writing,” said Davis. “They have overlooked us.”

MARTA spokeswoman Dee Baker said the transportation organization is aware of MATEC’s complaint, but can’t proceed or comment until they hear from the DOT or the FTA.

MARTA announced the increase earlier this year to make up a $6 million shortfall.
Starting Jan. 1, the fare will jump from $1.50 to $1.75; weekly fare cards from $12 to $13; and monthly fare cards from $45 to $52.50.

MATEC’s complaint states that:
The fare increase is based on race, because it would impact the MARTA-dependent African-American community more, while the benefits of the increase would help white communities.

MARTA discriminates against races, by not providing enough security, Spanish language signs and bus shelters in minority communities.

MARTA discriminates against the disabled, by denying them equal access to public buses and poorly maintaining equipment designed to aid the disabled, like bus lifts, escalators and elevators.

So choose your own adventure in the thought-experiment from above: what would happen to Atlanta if Portland’s core city population replaced the current population, which clamors for the passing of the July 31st TSPLOST vote because it means finding new ways to tax the dwindling metro white population to create jobs that go primarily to Black people?

Where would you rather live?

Choose your own adventure.

Now, consider how quickly Atlanta would find solutions to its commuting problems were this scenario of population swapping with Portland to occur; now, consider the quick collapse of Portland as a destination for the “creative class” migration it enjoys now.

Welcome to Black-Run America (BRA), where Ariel Hart can’t bother to mention the glaring elephant in the room when it comes to the difference between Portland and Atlanta.



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