The New Power Structure
Forty years ago in most metro areas there were small groups of business leaders who were involved in nearly every major civic project, from building airports and universities to designating where interstate highways ought to go. The name some gave to these civic leaders was "the power structure." In the years since, these homegrown leaders have mostly faded away.
Now, though, it's possible to see a successor to the power structure in a set of organizations that, like the business leaders of the 1950s and 1960s, seems to be involved in every major civic undertaking. Best example: Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce.
The Atlanta Chamber is largely responsible for two new regional bodies, the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, which controls transportation funding in the Atlanta area, and a similar body for water projects. Latest chamber cause: changing the way the state allocates transportation spending. Specifically, the chamber has identified 17 transportation bottlenecks that it says endanger the region's economy. It wants the state to change the way it identifies and funds high-priority projects.
This is a political minefield, involving billions of dollars and a jungle of interests, but because of the chamber's success in other areas, many observers think it'll win this one too. Says one, "They don't take many initiatives on . . . and they've been very successful in limiting their focus to things that can be important to quality of life." The head of the Georgia Conservancy, an environmental organization, agrees, adding that the chamber's power is that it doesn't just complain. It comes with well-researched answers. "My view is that what the chamber is doing is really important," he said. "Non-governmental entities in the transportation debate are going to have to bring solutions to the table." Posted 9/1/2002
Postscript: The Atlanta Chamber's ability to get big things done waxed and waned in recent years, depending on the governor and mayor in power, but its basic approach of calling attention to major needs and offering solutions based on facts and research still seems a promising way of tackling big problems, not only in Atlanta but everywhere. What would make it even more effective is if it had a stronger citizen engagement process, so the citizens were part of shaping the proposed solutions.
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