Infrastructure Week, a national series of events elevating infrastructure as a critical issue impacting America, kicked off on May 14 at the Metro Atlanta Chamber with a morning session of panels and speakers. The kickoff united figures from business, government and industry spheres.
Metro Atlanta is known for being a hub of infrastructure innovation, but new challenges arise in building a competitive, resilient and inclusive community. New opportunities and solutions are presented daily – touching areas including transit, Smart Cities technology and affordable, inclusive housing.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, speaking at the Infrastructure Day kickoff, spoke about the region’s designation as a Resilient City by the Rockefeller Foundation. With the status comes a promise to look at issues of sustainability holistically and cover all of the factors that impact resiliency.
“To date, the City of Atlanta has contracted millions to renew the city,” Mayor Bottoms said. “This gives us the opportunity to be forward-thinking about initiatives – especially around transit.”
The kickoff began with a technology and IoT panel discussion with Siemens Chief City Executive Denise Quarles and AT&T Vice President of Internet of Things and General Manager of Smart Cities and Public Private Partnerships Mike Zeto. The panel was moderated by Accenture Managing Director Rob Friess.
“There’s so much happening with cities in terms of infrastructure and smart building,” Quarles said. “The reality is that we have aging infrastructure. The private sphere can be a partner in this.”
Quarles and Zeto spoke to the solutions offered by technology and how Smart Cities will transform approaches to infrastructure. Zeto spoke about AT&T’s commitment to 5G and Atlanta’s status as a connected city. Quarles referenced the value of demonstration projects – such as an initiative in Tampa to bring intelligent traffic studies to commuter cars.
“People were working in silos years ago. Now there is more collaboration because we realized we can’t do everything on our own. I think cities and states should follow that trend,” Zeto said.
The Inclusive, Equitable Infrastructure Panel followed with guests including ULI-Atlanta Executive Director Sarah Kirsch and Atlanta BeltLine Director of Economic Development Jerald Mitchell. Petrina Hall McDaniel, partner at Squire Patton Boggs, served as moderator.
“As we build infrastructure on the BeltLine, we want it to be accessible to everyone,” Mitchell said. “Looking at ways to support small businesses, build strategy around affordable housing and expand transit coverage – all of these things are helping solve questions of inclusivity and equitable infrastructure. We have to be collaborative.”
The discussion highlighted the role of inclusive, equitable development in building the cities and regions of the future. Retaining the long-running businesses and residents of the community while attracting newcomers is a difficult balancing act, and affordable housing will be a key factor in solutions. The millennial demographic has proven to be less city-bound than was once expected, for example.
“Millennials are not locked to living in cities. They’re opting for suburbs, but they want the suburbs to look a little different. More walkable, more connected,” Kirsch said.
The proceeding Transportation and Transit panel covered evolving expectations of residents and corporations toward local transit options. Guests included Georgia Senator and Transportation Committee Chairman Brandon Breach, former USDOT Secretary and Squire Patton Boggs Partner Rodney Slater, and MARTA General Manager and CEO Jeff Parker. The panel was moderated by Kimberly Slaughter, transit/rail market sector leader at HNTB.
“Georgia has done great on roads, and we’re about to do better on transit,” Sen. Beach said. “Talent wants transit – Uber, bike lanes, walkability. Transit is a box CEOs are checking off as an attractive quality for employees.”
“Atlanta is uniquely situated in these times,” Slater added. “Government, philanthropic business and other resources are all working hand-in-hand.”
Parker spoke to the opportunity presented by recently passed legislation expanding funding for transit in Georgia.
“There are now many paths open to us,” Parker said.
Infrastructure Week will continue in Washington, D.C. and around the country May 14-21. Sponsors include Siemens, HNTB, Squire Patton Boggs, AT&T, Atlanta BeltLine, MARTA and the Urban Land Institute Atlanta. For more information on Infrastructure Week and the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s work advocating for infrastructure development, please reach out to Dave Williams.