The wow factor

IMG_7584One presenter crossed the stage at the Fox Theater on an electric scooter; another on an ebike. Other presenters arrived on different scooters and bikes, and Kevin Green, the CEO of Midtown Alliance, took center stage amidst great applause on an electric skateboard. It was all very gutsy, especially when considering they were facing an early-morning dark-suited business audience that had just had coffee mere minutes before.

I loved when Kevin said that for every project undertaken by this non-profit membership organization and coalition of leading business and community leaders (in an increasingly-dense one-square-mile section of Atlanta straddling Peachtree Street), they ask, “Is it exceptional? Is it a wow? If not, what would make it a wow? And then let’s do that.”

He showed before and after photos of buildings and streets that were so exciting in their transformation that they evoked audible gasps from the audience. It’s no wonder that both business and residential growth is booming, transportation innovation is skyrocketing (hello, new protected bike lanes), and the positive changes to date seem like just the beginning. There are lots of statistics and stories to support this, and I may get around to telling you some of them in the next few days or so (or, rather, just visit this link). But first, I have to go back in time, before the presentation, and take you outside to the patio where I found the lone man.

IMG_7603I had hit my introvert-overload level in the Fox Theater’s ornate Egyptian Ballroom during the pre-presentation “Stand Up Breakfast”  when I decided to step outside to catch some chilly morning air and perhaps a view of the city, and there he was, in the corner. I said pretty immediately, “Ah, there’s my kind of person, hanging out in the quiet.” He laughed and introduced himself as Eddie Dill.

Turns out he’s the Director of Development for Crossroads, a nonprofit organization located in Midtown Atlanta serving those experiencing homelessness. As someone who is interested in all aspects of triple-bottom-line sustainability, including the social implications of change, I asked a few questions about how the surge in Midtown’s growth and obvious gentrification has affected his organization and the people they serve, and he shared some insights.

Snapped back to the reality of what “growth” really means to existing community,  I carried a bit of a heavy heart back into the theater for the main presentation. And then all the hoopla happened and the abundance of amenities on the drawing board came at us one after another after another (such as rooftop yoga at the new four-story Whole Foods, which will have 300 parking spots even though there are already 64,000 parking spots in Midtown), so much so that the people being displaced would have been easy to forget. But then Kevin Green talked about turning public space into pocket parks and how some people don’t want them because they could attract those who are homeless, and he said that a city is for everyone and we don’t design public space in order to exclude. Gosh, that sounded good. I may have even said wow. And then Kevin talked about a big citywide project intended to lift more people-in-need up out of homelessness this year, and how the Midtown Alliance was dedicating three staff people to the effort, and again it felt like wow.

But I know how this usually goes. You know how this goes. And it doesn’t typically end with wow.

Stay tuned. I will see if I can find out more details about that program, and maybe we can track what actually happens to those now on the edges who used to call this place home. Maybe everyone will be a winner. Maybe the transformation of Midtown Atlanta will truly be, well, exceptional.



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