In downtown Atlanta, amidst the tall office buildings and hallowed halls of Georgia State University, there are a handful of new and old converted buildings that thousands of Atlantans call home. It is true urban living, not unlike one’s romantic view of life in Manhattan or Chicago. Wind billows through the streets, parking is at a premium, small shops and bars and restaurants beckon pedestrians inside. Romanticizing aside though, downtown Atlanta has its unique challenges, and a small dedicated taskforce of residents is leading an effort to improve the neighborhood quality of life.

I don’t live downtown…I live in an Atlanta intown suburb called Druid Hills, just four and a half miles from Downtown but light years away in terms of liveability. I have a house, a yard, a garage, and sometimes I can see the Stepford Wives if I squint looking out my 1950s picture window. Still, as a real estate agent I interface with downtown…I’ve had buyers and sellers downtown…I earned my Masters at Georgia State…and my first job out of college was as Communications Specialist in the grand old downtown Rich’s. I will confess, I love downtown.

So when I received a Facebook invitation to attend a “Casual Discussion to see if there is support for an initiative for Downtown Quality of Life”, I immediately responded “yes”. I know and respect the organizer, and I was interested to see what the meeting would be like. It was cold last Saturday morning. The winter storm had not yet hit–it was still 36 hours away–but the wind was biting. I parked a couple of blocks away from the Dunkin’ Donuts meeting site, fed the parking meter to avoid the wrath of Park Atlanta, zipped up my long down coat, put my gloves on, and walked up the sidewalk to the meeting.

I was late. When you’re me, that’s not really front page news. About 15 or so downtown residents had commandeered one end of Dunkin’ Donuts. They were organized–they had flip charts and pages stuck to the windows and a couple of different colored markers. They evidently had started with the “W”s–Why? What are the issues? Who is charged with the issue? What is our solution? Pages and pages were filled with the answers to these queries. Topics ranged from panhandling to liveability.

One of the more interesting aspects of the meeting was the fact that two of the people in attendance were, or once had been, homeless on the streets of Atlanta. One of the gentlemen had just shown up in Atlanta last week. He had nothing but the clothes he was wearing, no money, and was looking for a better life. He explained how frustrating street living can be. He personally thought that “there were other means than panhandling”–he explained that he made filtered cigarettes and sold them for a quarter each, thus earning the money he needed for a shelter at night. But he wanted more; he just had not been able to figure out how to get assistance. The organizer of the meeting told him if he waited until after the meeting was over, he would escort him to the Gateway Center, a facility that helps the homeless (http://www.gatewayctr.org/). I exited just in front of the organizer and his new friend.

I was inspired by this meeting of dedicated Downtown Atlanta residents. It is evident to me that they love their neighborhood, and find it important to lead an effort to make it a better place to live. This is true grassroots campaigning–not for political gain, but for city and societal gain. One of their ideas is to create a wearable button for downtown residents that says “Ask me–I live here”. Overall, that’s a very good idea.

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