These are difficult times for our country and for our beloved city. At the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership, we are deeply saddened by the murders of innocent black men and women and the systemic racism their deaths represent. But that is not enough.
Deep sadness does not bring George Floyd or Breonna Taylor or Ahmaud Arbery back to life. It does not right centuries of wrongs. It does not stop the cycle of injustice. It does not create a better future.
As a white man, I know I will never experience the daily discrimination black Americans face. I have not been subjected to generational oppression. I could too easily fall back into being the “white moderate” Dr. King warned of in his Letter from Birmingham Jail – the stumbling block preferring the absence of tension to the presence of justice. And that is not enough – not for me, not for my family, and not for any other white person.
Atlanta is at a crossroads. Given the choice between chaos and community, we must choose community. That might appear to be an obvious choice – but we are seeing now that our past choices have given chaos the opportunity to infiltrate Atlanta’s legacy of peaceful protest.
In the case of the Atlanta BeltLine, choosing community requires all of us to look beyond the construction of parks, trails, and transit – and focus on people. Otherwise, our collective investments will simply perpetuate an “infrastructural racism” where world class amenities are enjoyed by the privileged while communities of color are displaced. We need to be better than that. We need to love our neighbors better than that.
To be clear, the challenges Atlanta is facing right now are much bigger than the BeltLine, yet the project has an important role to play in our collective healing and recovery. If done right – with public, private, and philanthropic investment supporting a strong set of affordable housing, workforce development, and health partners alongside the construction of parks, trails and transit – the BeltLine will be a catalyst for new jobs, economic opportunities, and improved mental and physical health for people who have too often been left behind. While that still may not be enough, it would be a great place to start building a more equitable community.
Rob Brawner, Executive Director
Atlanta BeltLine Partnership