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Black Atlantans Stranded by Legacy of Inequality (Part 2 of 3)

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No Stimulus for Black-Owned Businesses

Atlanta needs a strong and healthy regional transit system.Transit projects are the most effective way of reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT), congestion, and emissions. Transit projects have a multiplier effect from environmentally friendly technology to renewed development in underserved areas. They also offer a less sprawl-inducing and less costly way to accommodate the anticipated 300,000 people that will be added to Atlanta's population by 2030.

Every $1 invested in public transportation generates $6 in local economic activity. Every $1 billion invested in public transportation infrastructure supports approximately 47,500 jobs. Investment in green transportation and clean energy could save money and save lives. The clean energy investment agenda could improve the accessibility and convenience, improve air quality, and reduce air-pollution related illnesses. Metro Atlantans could save 1 - 4 percent of their incomes if they increase their use of public transportation to between 25 percent and 50 percent of their local travel. Households that limit their use to one car could reduce their living costs by roughly 10 percent.

Nationally, and in Metro Atlanta, African Americans businesses are getting shorted in stimulus contracts under the Recovery Act. According to statistics from the Transportation Equity Network (TEN), in December 2009, the U.S. Department of Transportation had awarded $163.8 million in direct contract, with only $16.8 million, or about 10 percent, going to minority-owned businesses, $4.7 million, or about 3 percent, had been awarded to Hispanic-owned firms. No black-owned firm had received a single contract from the DOT stimulus pot of money. The shortchanging of black and other minority firms has trickled down to local governments.

Black businesses also need to be stimulated in these tough economic times. Atlanta's black-owned firms still face discrimination when it comes to city contracts. This is not a small point since more than 60 percent of the employees of minority-owned firms are people of color. According to a 2006 disparity study, black and other minority-owned firms accounted for 48 percent of city service contracts in fiscal year 2005, up from 33 percent in 2001. Minority firms won $150 million of the total $312 million contracts in 2005 for private construction, engineering and related services. The expansion of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport was fertile ground for contracts. However, minority firms received a much smaller share of city goods and commodities contracts.

With nearly 64,000 firms, Metro Atlanta is home to more black-owned businesses per-capita than anywhere in the U.S. except the nation's capital. These firms employ mostly African Americans. This shortchanging of black-owned firms will likely continue unabated if some type of "set-aside" program and stronger accountability and transparency in tracking the use of all federal funds for economic stimulus and job creation. The awarding of stimulus dollars is one clear signal that we are not living in a "post-racial" society--even with the election of President Barack Obama, the nation's first black president.


Clearly, race underlies and interpenetrates with other factors in explaining much of the socio-spatial layout of residential amenities in our Atlanta and the surrounding suburbs, including the quality of schools, the location of job centers, housing patterns, streets and highway configuration, and commercial development. Many factors in our social environment contribute to or detract from the health and well being of individuals and communities. These factors include socioeconomic status, transportation, housing, access to services, discrimination by social grouping (e.g., race, gender, or class), and social or environmental stressors. Inequitable distribution of these conditions across various populations is a significant contributor to persistent and pervasive health disparities in Atlanta.

Although Atlanta's share of the metropolitan population has declined over the years, the health of this majority African American city is still important to the overall metropolitan region's vitality. Atlanta is going green and becoming more sustainable at an accelerated rate. Black Atlanta is shrinking demographically and politically at the same time the city's public infrastructure is being dismantled. A "Green Atlanta" needs a healthy Black Atlanta. If current trends hold, Green Atlanta will bypass Black Atlanta. Metro Atlanta needs a strong regional transit system. Black businesses need to be included in the new green economy.

While the city goes green, it also needs to address the legacy of pollution and environmental racism that place African Americans and other people of color at risk. New policy initiatives and resources need to be directed to make the environment where African Americans live, work, play, and learn greener, healthier, and more sustainable. All of Atlanta African American students have a right to high performance green schools--not just a few affluent white students who form a minority in the district.

Concerted public-private initiatives are needed to reverse these disturbing trends. Atlanta needs a policy surge and renewed commitment to human rights, social, economic, health equity, and environmental justice. It also needs leaders who are willingness to work on and root out those barriers that create, maintain, and exacerbate racial inequality.

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Robert D. Bullard is Dean of the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University in Houston. His most recent book is entitled "The Wrong Complexion for Protection: How the Government Response to Disaster Endangers (more...)

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