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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Reed: Abandoned, vacant homes could become greenspace

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A few weeks ago, Scott Henry and I reported that Mayor Kasim Reed aimed to use stiffer fines and an registry of property owners to help chip away at the glut of vacant and dilapidated homes plaguing certain neighborhoods across the city.

Standing before a banquet room filled with greenies, park advocates and landscape design professionals at yesterday's Park Pride conference, the mayor added another initiative to address the problem: demolish select deteriorating homes and replace them with greenspace.

Last year, Reed told the crowd at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, the city only tore down 40 such homes — a drop in the bucket when thousands of vacant and deteriorating structures exist within Atlanta's limits. In such neighborhoods as Pittsburgh and Mechanicsville, approximately 50 percent of homes are vacant, a characteristic that's contributed to crime. In the past, Reed said, the city has lacked the political will and energy to seriously address the issue.

"The game's gonna change in Atlanta," the mayor said. "We're going to develop two mechanisms for fines in the city. There'll be one set of fines for people who live in the neighborhood. And an entirely separate set of fines for people who are simply buying large numbers of properties and holding them while the neighborhood decays. We're going to raise the fines, take the property as appropriate, clear the property and create greenspace through that function."

Reed's appearance at the conference, he said, was to show them he understood the importance of sustainability. He said his administration would soon conduct a "green audit" -- and actually act on recommendations that made financial sense. He championed the progress of the city's $4 billion court-ordered sewer overhaul and how it's strengthened relationships with downstream neighbors far outside of Atlanta.

And the message that earned him the loudest applause (and which he repeated several times): His commitment to expanding greenspace and parks — and maintaining what the city already has — is "total and absolute." Citing Harvard economist Edward Glaeser's recent New York Times article that said Atlanta's still a city that shouldn't be overlooked, Reed said parks contribute to quality of life — which is vital to maintaining the city's well-educated young and old residents. And it's also a recruiting tool to lure new residents into her limits.

"Despite the budget we have coming up, we're not backing away from parks, and we're not backing away from greenspace," Reed said. "You'll see us tighten our belts and you'll see us continue to make sure we have appropriate funding for park maintenance and for maintenance of the Beltline. If we fail on our part and don't show that we're absolutely committed to making our city one of the greenest cities in America, then we'll lose your energy, vigor and passion."

(Photo by Thomas Wheatley)

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