Here’s the $8.5 billion question: Can suburbanites be convinced to care about cities again?
Urban America is hoping so. For some cities, it’s a matter of life and death. And nowhere is the question more relevant than in Atlanta, where citizens will vote this summer on a massive regional transportation initiative that would stitch together a city and suburbs that have been divided for decades along racial, economic, and political lines.
The all-too-familiar storyline goes like this: Back in the 1960s and ’70s, Americans bolted from urban centers like concert goers from a burning theater, leaving cities smoldering, sometimes literally. And while urban industrial might built the suburbs, suburbanites were content to leave cities on the ash heap of history.
Witness the 1971 vote in Atlanta and its outlying counties over creating a tax to build a regional mass transit system. The vote broke down along racial lines, says Robert Bullard, a longtime Atlantan who is widely considered to be the father of environmental justice. The largely African American city and two counties voted to support the system, while two other counties, both predominantly white, opted out. The joke at the time was that MARTA -- the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority -- was short for “Moving Africans Rapidly Through Atlanta.”