In the new age of urbanization, global cities like Atlanta must learn from the struggles and successes of their counterparts around the world, a high-level British government official told GlobalAtlanta.
Alistair Burt, a minister in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office who handles the United Kingdom‘s relationship with countries in North America and other regions, visited Atlanta Dec. 16 to meet with business leaders and promote the country’s strategy for recruiting foreign investment.
Mr. Burt also met with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who is fresh off a trip to the U.K. The mayor went to London last month to learn about how the city uses a special government office to maintain strong ties with the financial services industry. He hopes to establish a similar office to ensure that Atlanta is responsive to the needs of the local business community.
Mr. Reed also traveled to Dorchester, England, to meet the Prince of Wales and learn about sustainable urban development. The city will work with the prince’s architectural foundation to revitalize disadvantaged neighborhoods in Atlanta.
Mr. Reed has vowed to create a new international relations department at the city early next year to manage such collaborations. A two-person department was closed in 2008 by Mr. Reed’s predecessor, Shirley Franklin, amid budget cuts.
Mr. Burt, who from 2005-08 was in charge of the Conservative Party‘s relationships with the U.K.’s local governments, didn’t meet Mr. Reed in the U.K. But after spending time with him in Atlanta, Mr. Burt said the mayor understands the need to look outward for solutions to problems commonly faced by large cities.
Global cities relate far more with each other than with smaller neighbors at home, he added. With growing populations, large metropolitan areas face the need to provide ample employment, water and housing and efficient transportation across wide land areas, Mr. Burt said.
“A lot of world cities are going through exactly the same things. You don’t want to reinvent the wheel. You want to learn from the mistakes of others,” he said, calling Mr. Reed an “international mayor” at the helm of an Olympic city.
He noted that the world is entering its first decade when more people are living in cities than in the countryside and that the need for more efficient city management will only increase. Cities must be integrated with global partners to share ideas.
“No one’s pulling up the drawbridge any more. You learn things from other people and I think big cities share with each other,” he said.
Mr. Burt met Mr. Reed before talking with business leaders from a range of sectors about how the U.K. consulate and trade and investment promotion office in Atlanta could better serve their interests
Just as cities must work together to deal with new challenges, partner nations should strengthen their economic alliances during times of distress, he said. The U.S. and U.K. are each other’s largest investors, with more than 1 million jobs in each country supported by companies from the other.
Some 24,000 Georgians work for British companies, he said, and there’s opportunity for greater partnership if countries can resist protectionist policies and “collectively get ourselves out of (the recession) by trading with each other,” Mr. Burt said.
Though the U.K. already has strong ties with the South, its government wants to show companies that their investments are welcome.
“No relationship in this day and age is absolutely settled,” he said.
London will host the Olympic Games in 2012, affording the U.K. another Atlanta connection.
Mr. Burt first visited Atlanta during the Paralympic Games that followed the 1996 Summer Olympics. He was U.K. minister for people with disabilities. The Atlanta games were a “step-change” in the way the paralympic movement was viewed around the world, Mr. Burt said.
Peering out the British consulate’s 34th-floor window, Mr. Burt eyed Centennial Olympic Park, which has been considered as a place for a replica of the London Eye, the famous sightseeing Ferris wheel on the Thames River.
Home Depot Inc. co-founder Bernie Marcus reportedly held a meeting in Atlanta with the developers of the wheel about the possibility of putting one downtown.
While it’s still a long way from reality, Mr. Burt was sold on the idea, saying the London Eye has been “the single biggest tourist winner for a decade” in his city.
Mr. Reed experienced the wheel during his trip last month.
“He did indeed go up in the London Eye and greatly enjoyed it,” Reese McCranie, a spokesman for Mr. Reed, told GlobalAtlanta. “The mayor believes that something similar to it would be a tremendous addition to Atlanta.”
During his trip, Mr. Burt also visited the Atlanta Beltline and the Carter Center.