Atlanta’s Westside neighborhoods have deep connections to the city’s, and the nation’s, civil rights movement. The Westside is where the adult home of Martin Luther King, Jr. is located, and where people connected and organized during the civil rights movement. The Westside was then, and still is, predominantly African American and poor.
The new Falcon’s stadium, located in the heart of the Westside, is displacing current residents. The goal of the City Accelerator project in Atlanta is to develop an inclusive and transparent process in the asymmetrical relationship between the city and many of its poorest residents. Given the tensions surrounding this topic, the city of Atlanta’s team knew that elements of inclusion and transparency were vital to their work. While the team originally intended to collect narratives from the neighborhoods, they pivoted toward supporting existing neighborhood efforts, instead of surfacing new content. They invested time researching how Westside neighborhoods would like to be communicated with through a series of engagement workshops. They also interviewed close to 100 city employees to understand their communication practices. The results gave the team methods and tactics for how the city could be a productive partner on future public projects.
The Atlanta team then created a two-part Community Engagement Playbook for city officials and community advocates to use during project planning. The playbook emphasizes themes of transparency and responsiveness and provides a clear framework for implementation. Although the residents of the Westside neighborhoods were not engaged in the initial planning for the stadium, the playbook has created a framework for all future efforts.
The Playbook is a clear outcome, but it emerged out of relationships, open dialogue, and collaboration. Importantly, this project was accomplished through a strong relationship between the City and a faculty member at Georgia Tech. The university collaboration provided stability, access to researchers and students, and a rigorous method that would not have been possible otherwise (see the next section on university partnerships).