For the Record: What Atlantans ask of local government in 2023

Here’s this week from Atlanta Documenters, powered by Canopy Atlanta.

By Atlanta Documenters
January 19, 2023


What we’re asking in 2023


After covering more than 50 public meetings, Atlanta Documenters have some questions. In fact, every set of notes taken by Documenters includes their follow-up questions about meetings they cover. 


As we look ahead to 2023, we compiled the biggest themes we’re seeing in Documenters’ questions and what they’ll be looking to answer this year.


How is community input included throughout all facets of governmental decision-making? See: the response around the potential demolition of Lakewood Elementary later in this newsletter. Documenters want to see whether governments’ community engagement efforts appear to be a “checkbox”—versus taking the time to understand what residents want.


Who is affordable housing for, and how “affordable” is it? Documenters are looking closely at new approved developments—especially those with public financing—and assessing how affordable housing programs include legacy residents.


How does Metro Atlanta keep up with other major cities on transportation? With a growing city center and rising costs of living, how are governments’ plans for buses, rail, streetcars, bike paths, and more making our region more accessible? 


Do governing bodies consider people experiencing homelessness as their constituents? How are various proposals—from winter shelters to policing practices—affecting unhoused residents across Metro Atlanta?


What role do governments play in connecting resources to residents in need? And how successful are they? For example, the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership’s Legacy Resident Retention Program assists about 70 people, though an estimated 2,500 homeowners are eligible.


Are governing bodies being transparent about setbacks, failures, and inefficiencies? What are the metrics for success for government decisions? And how can public agencies move beyond PR speak and politicking, and instead embrace accountability?


Follow Atlanta Documenters’ reporting to answer these questions through this newsletter, Twitter, and Documenters.org. Do you have questions to add to this list? Reply to us by email at hello@canopyatlanta.org and let us know!


SCHOOLS: Lakewood Elementary in limbo

THE NOTES: read here



THE BREAKDOWN: Multiple Lakewood Heights community members spoke on concerns about the potential demolition of Lakewood Elementary.


The BOE had voted 7-1 to include the school on a “surplus list,” which designates possible future disposal—through a sale or other means—as voted on by the board. Many residents said they would rather see the building kept as a school, turned into a commercial development, or used as community housing, and wanted more discussion before any decision was made.


Lakewood Elementary closed in 2004 because the school’s current structure, dating back to 1932, had “become unsafe,” according to the Department of City Planning.


WHAT’S NEXT: The board will seek feedback and approval from the NPU unit prior to anything happening with the facility. 

FOOD ACCESS: More funds for urban farms

THE NOTES: read here



THE BREAKDOWN: Atlanta’s Department of City Planning plans to expand its Urban Agriculture program with a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and, in the upcoming month, announce a grant that will enable a citywide composting program. 


Olu Baiyewu, the city’s urban agriculture director, hopes the grant could also be used toward irrigation storage sheds, raised bed soil amendments, and a partnership with Groundwork Atlanta for an environmental analysis study. The city also hopes to collaborate with Atlanta Housing and potentially Atlanta Public Schools to install urban farms.


READ MORE: Projects that may be supported by this include Urban Food Forest at Browns Millnot far from Lakewood Heights, where CA is currently doing listening work.

DEVELOPMENT: What should we rename Memorial Drive?

THE NOTES: read here



THE BREAKDOWN: DeKalb County is currently working on a Memorial Drive Revitalization Corridor Plan in an attempt to “rebrand” the corridor’s eastern portion between I-285 and Stone Mountain. Overall, this plan hinges on the need to change the perception of the Memorial Drive corridor by emphasizing new business opportunities.


The rebrand would entail rethinking public spaces on the corridor, and possibly a renaming—to which one online attendee asked, “What is it that we are memorializing, is it the Confederacy?”

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“Why aren’t we designing these strategies with these kids in the room?”

— Taylor Borden, Atlanta resident

IN CONTEXT: This quote comes from the 12/13 Atlanta Public Safety Commission meeting in a discussion about youth safety and violence. One common theme from the 31 residents who offered public comment was the need to include kids in the discussion of solutions to violence. Many programs only engage 18+ year olds, with no focus on middle school–aged children. Documented by Genia Billingsley.


NAME: Naya Clark


FAVORITE MEETINGS: My favorite local public agency to cover is the Atlanta BeltLine Inc. It’s very interesting to see a long-term development being formed and shaped in my lifetime and note how they’ve incorporated public opinion and values in the process. It’s something we can all keep an eye on and give input to in real time. 

WHY DOCUMENT? I started off as a freelance writer before becoming a Canopy Atlanta West End Fellow, which built my confidence as a journalist. Documenters has deepened my appreciation for accessible knowledge of what is going on in our cities and the decisions made on residents’ behalf.

WHAT I’VE LEARNED: It’s empowering to know that we can all participate and have an impact on these decisions. I’d love to see more people tune into these meetings and learn how available important city meetings can be. I look forward to seeing how Documenters can play a major role in everyday people’s participation in their cities.

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