A few inches of snow fell in Atlanta and the city shut down. People died, children slept at school, and general chaos ensued. Cities like Chicago, Boston, and New York see far more snow than that every year and have populations much larger but life continues to go on as usual throughout the winter. So, Atlanta, what is the problem there?
Critics of urban sprawl say that the death and inefficiency seen on a surprisingly regular basis can be blamed on poor infrastructure planning. Atlanta, alongside other major modern-style cities in the south, have fallen victim to urban sprawl. The Atlanta metro area is hyper-expanded to a space larger than the entirely of Massachusetts.
Following the recent snowfall, Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed acknowledged that some of the issue was related to his decision to allow the closing of all businesses, schools, and government offices at the same time. If Atlanta had transportation options that might not have been such an issue but that is not the reality of the situation. While there is one train system serving the city, it does not span the extent of the metro and reach even a small portion of its 6 million citizens. Just from the downtown area alone, following the closures, there were suddenly one million vehicles all headed in the same direction and the same time.
The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) only serves two counties within the immediate area of Atlanta’s center. Due to a lack of funding and minimal public support, reform after reform has failed to affect the transit system of Atlanta.
While the voting public has not done much to affect the infrastructure, they were very ready for change after the snow started to fall. There were more than 2,000 children that were kept from their homes and wound up sleeping in buses, police stations, or just still stranded at school. Home Depots turned into makeshift shelters for everyone and Waffle Houses served the desperate hungry masses. People were trapped in their cars for as long as 20 hours.
A search for #SnowedOutAtlanta shows how crazy things actually got. Apparently if a person could get a space on the floor at the Walgreens at Roswell Rd and E Piedmont, they were in better shape than many. What may have been an inconvenience for some was downright scary for the people dealing with young children and elderly parents who feared that their snowy urban nightmare might lead to death as much needed supplies and care was delayed.
Many others have criticized Atlanta for having too many leaders with too few connections to each other. There is no coordination when it comes to school closing so everyone is on their own to make a decision. While the effects of this were not catastrophic, the disconnects were certainly seen by many as a sign that Atlanta could not manage an emergency on a larger scale.
The urban sprawl and lack of public transport is not just creating periodic issues like this. The sprawling modern megacity has long been criticized for creating health and environmental issues by keeping everyone off their feet and in the car. The ever-expanding cities have been blamed for slow emergency response time, increased obesity rates, less urban green space, as well as more urban and suburban ethnic segregation.
While there is not much that anyone can do to cause Atlanta to shrink, many are hoping to see the death of urban sprawl as its increasingly negative effects begin to be seen.
By Nicci Mende