Atlanta would do well to learn from other cities in the Americas how to attract private funding for public works projects, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed told GlobalAtlanta following the inaugural mayors meeting of the Americas Competitiveness Forum Nov. 15.
Hosted by law firm McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP’s Atlanta office, the meeting brought together 18 mayors from cities in the Western Hemisphere to discuss best practices for transportation and other projects.
“I am glad to have the opportunity to learn from you all,” Mr. Reed said to the group following a presentation by Barranquilla, Colombia, Mayor Alejandro Char detailing the city’s success in garnering private funds to complement public investment in an energy-efficient bus system.
Mr. Reed noted that while Atlanta’s parking enforcement system is now being operated by a private company, most of the city’s major infrastructure projects, such as the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport expansion, are being funded by public monies. Some Latin American cities, like Barranquilla, have done a good job at soliciting private funding for infrastructure projects and might be good examples for Atlanta to follow, he said.
There is “no question” that Atlanta needs a good deal more private investment for projects such as transportation, Mr. Reed told GlobalAtlanta after the meeting. He affirmed that the Americas Competitiveness Forum will help to bring investment to the city by providing an opportunity for interaction among counterparts from throughout the hemisphere.
“You invest with people you like and in places you know and like, so with 900 private and business leaders spending three days in Atlanta and getting to know our business community and hopefully liking us, real relationships are created,” he said.
Mr. Reed cited the mayors meeting as a perfect example of using relationships to solve common problems. He said that because different governments take different approaches to similar problems, Atlanta authorities can “shorten our learning curve” on key issues such as sustainability, reducing carbon footprints, investing in new technologies and job creation. Candid discussions like the one the mayors had on transportation issues expose “radically different” approaches to problems that many cities faces and highlight alternatives for potential solutions, he added.
Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall told GlobalAtlanta that while the Americas Competitiveness Forum is an excellent venue for exchanging information with partners from throughout the hemisphere, the meetings that take place outside of the official agenda of the forum – such as the mayors meeting – are where deals are made and real value is found.
“We have a lot of best practices and a lot to share. Mayors throughout the Americas want to see how they can do technology transfer and university exchanges with Atlanta,” Mr. Hall said.
He cited the Georgia Institute of Technology and a potential future engineering school at the University of Georgia as resources for municipalities in the Americas region to share technology and know-how, mentioning cooperation on solar energy with Brazil, in particular. He also noted that Atlanta has “a lot to learn” about agricultural technology from cities in the hemisphere that are still in operating on an agrarian economic model.
He said that while Atlanta can offer advice for other cities on logistics issues, it could stand to learn more about transportation efficiency from innovative projects being implemented in Latin American cities. He said Atlanta has borrowed the idea of car-free Sundays from Bogota, Colombia, where commuters use the “ciclovia” bicycle paths rather than driving. Mr. Hall visited Guadalajara, Mexico, to learn how that city has implemented a program to make 23 miles of streets pedestrian-only on Sundays. He said Atlanta has experimented with this idea twice so far, blocking off Peachtree Street and Edgewood Avenue on two separate Sundays.
“We’re really learning and sharing. We hope to do more,” Mr. Hall said of exchanging best practices with other cities in the region via the Americas Competitiveness Forum and related meetings.
Mr. Reed told GlobalAtlanta that there is “no question” he will try to bring the forum back to Atlanta in the future.
“It’s a real opportunity for Atlanta. I’ve already been talking about that with [U.S. Commerce Secretary] Gary Locke, and I hope that we have been a gracious host,” he said. The mayor added that he plans to participate “in a robust way” in next year’s forum in the Dominican Republic.
Mayors attending the regional mayors meeting during the Americas Competitiveness Forum, in addition to Mr. Reed and Mr. Char, included:
Lee Sing, mayor of Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago; Domingo Luis Amaya, mayor of San Miguel de Tucuman, Argentina; Gustavo Reis, mayor of Jaguariuna, Brazil; Eruviel Avila, mayor of Ecatepec, Mexico, and Miguel Angel Isa, mayor of Salta, Argentina.