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THE ATLANTA REGIONAL COMMISSION

Councils of Government are now the predominant mechanism for metropolitan-area planning, as well as for multi county and other multijurisdiction efforts outside metropolitan areas. The Atlanta Regional Commission, which bills itself as the "oldest and largest publicly supported, multi-county planning agency in the United States," is also one of the most respected.

The history of metropolitan-area planning in the Atlanta region began in 1938. Recognizing that growth beyond municipal borders was producing problems, the city of Atlanta, Fulton County, which contains most of the city, and the city's Chamber of Commerce commissioned a consultant to study and make recommendations regarding intermunicipal cooperation in the Atlanta region. The consultant, Dr. Thomas Reed of the National Municipal League, came out strongly in favor of a regional planning agency:

We feel that the institution of a metropolitan planning commission would be the beginning of a new day in the growth of the Atlanta region. Planned development is the only sure development. No man today trusts himself to build a structure much bigger than a chicken coop without a set of blueprints. How can such a vast and complicated affair as a great metropolitan community have orderly growth without a plan?9

This quote from Thomas Reed perhaps shows a little more faith in our ability to shape the future through planning than the modern planner, with the benefit of hindsight into the unplanned effects of major programs like Urban Renewal and the Interstate Highway System, might have. In that sense it is very representative of the 1930s outlook (see Chapter 3).

The region's move toward regional planning was delayed by World War II. However, in 1947 a Metropolitan Planning Commission (MPC) was created by act of the Georgia state legislature. The membership of the Commission was small: only the city of Atlanta and two counties, Fulton and DeKalb. The Commission focused primarily on transportation and open space, which appeared to be the critical issues in a growing region. As the region gained population, the initial organization grew. In 1960, Clayton, Cobb, and Gwinnett Counties joined, approximately doubling the land area in the planning region, and a new organization was formed, the Atlanta Region Metropolitan Planning Commission (ARMPC). During the 1960s, regional planning for a variety of purposes grew, largely as a result of the flow of federal funding noted earlier. The result was that there were several regional planning agencies operating within the Atlanta region. Beyond the ARMPC were separate regional agencies for health, crime, and highways. To bring order out of the situation, the Georgia legislature in a bill titled Act 5 combined these various agencies into a unified agency, the Atlanta Regional Commission, which began operations in 1971. At this point, these separate regional efforts had been transformed into a full-blown Council of Governments.10

At present the Atlanta Regional Commission represents ten counties and a population of over 3 million. The city of Atlanta, with a population estimated at 426,000, represents only about 14 percent of the metropolitan population and, of course, a much smaller percentage of the land area under the purview of the Atlanta Regional Commission. As is true of all other COGs, control of the board of directors is firmly vested in the municipalities that constitute the COG. Twenty-three members of the board of directors are elected officials, mayors, and county commissioners. In addition, there are 15 members at large who cannot be elected or appointed officials or employees of the political subdivisions of the COG. However, they are not elected by the public but chosen by the 23 elected officials on the board.11

What does the Atlanta Regional Commission do? Its organization chart shows its staff divided among five main areas: Communications, Community Services, Comprehensive Planning, Development Services, and Support Services. From the perspective of this book, the two areas of major interest are Comprehensive Planning and Development Services.

As is the case with many other COGs, the Atlanta Regional Commission provides a database for the region's planning efforts. Thus population, water use, traffic, and other projections made by the council provide a common denominator for planning throughout the region. Having such a shared picture of the future is fundamental to being able to cooperate. Many of the council's planning efforts over the years have been devoted to transportation issues. The city of Atlanta was founded as a rail terminal in the 1830s, and its function as a transportation hub has been a key element in its economy ever since. Over the years its efforts in transportation have included planning for the I-285 beltway around Atlanta; Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport; and the region's commuter rail system, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rail Transit Authority (MARTA). After Congress passed the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) in 1991, which included money for so-called enhancements, the council participated in planning for bicycle and pedestrian pathways as well.

The council has also been active in water planning. This has included planning for reservoir development and for the protection of watersheds in the Atlanta region. A 1972 study by the council of the Chattahooche River corridor formed the basis for intermunicipal efforts to protect the river and for the designation of river and environs as a National Recreation Area by the Carter administration in 1978. The council has also engaged in collaborative efforts with the States of Alabama and Florida, which share watersheds with Georgia.

The Development Services section of the Atlanta Regional Commission has taken a modest role in economic development. The agency produces and supplies data and, most recently, a Geographic Information System (GIS) for firms interested in an Atlanta region location. It also seeks to assist the efforts of municipal economic development agencies and chambers of commerce. It does not, by itself, spend monies on economic development projects such as industrial parks.

As is the case in Minneapolis-St. Paul and other metropolitan areas, the chief contribution of a regional planning agency is to be found in a spirit and process of intermunicipal cooperation. In the case of the Atlanta region, the Atlanta Regional Commission has played a significant role in a variety of regional initiatives, particularly in transportation, open space and environmental quality, and water supply.

 
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