Working to make the Westside better

Atlanta’s Westside neighborhoods have a rich historyas a center for the city’s intellectual life and a catalyst for civil rights. Vine City, English Avenue, Ashview Heights, Castleberry Hill and the Atlanta University Center are home to some of Atlanta’s oldest and most influential houses of worship and the nation’s most prestigious historically black colleges and universities. The rail lines that form the area’s eastern border supported much of Atlanta’s early industry, fueling the growth of our city as the capital of the New South.

Yet time, and lack of urban planning took a toll on these neighborhoods and much of downtown. The Centennial Olympic Games sparked the transformation of the central city, yielding impressive results over the past 20 years. And now the momentum is shifting west.

We can now focus on reversing decades of disinvestment and stalled redevelopment efforts on the Westside. We have a great opportunity to improve existing homes, create new housing, retail and services, welcome the Mercedes-Benz Stadium and to invest in a vibrant future. Our next two decades will be definedby what happens on the Westside — how residents, community leaders, corporate citizens, nonprofits, philanthropic supporters, government officials and other stakeholders work to achieve sustainable outcomes.

To seize this opportunity, the Atlanta Committee for Progress established the Westside Future Fund in Dec. 2014. Our task is to bring investments and action together, coordinating both people-based and place-based plans that will revitalize the area and uplift residents.

Rather than offer piecemeal solutions, the Fund will create one collaborative and comprehensive strategic plan for Atlanta’s Westside, facilitating change in education, economic development, public safety, housing, land use and health and well-being.

We have hired an experienced executive director, Quince Brinkley, and begun the day-to-day work of planning, fundraising and advocating for these projects. We are proud to report that many developments are already underway:

The Atlanta Housing Authority/City of Atlanta received a game-changing $30 million Choice Neighborhoods grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to redevelop distressed public housing and jumpstart initiatives to enhance housing stock.

PulteGroup is stepping up to improve public safety by constructing homes, at cost, for police officers, complementing the Atlanta Police Foundation’s installation of security cameras and community patrols.

Atlanta’s Department of Watershed Management is partnering with the Department of Parks and Recreation, Park Pride, The Conservation Fund, The Trust for Public Landand others to solve flooding issues and increase public greenspace, starting with Lindsay Street Park.

To support longer-term revitalization, the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation has made a commitment of $15 million, primarily targeting human capital investments. Westside Works is an early demonstration of this commitment, having placed 221 individuals in living wage jobs with an 84 percent job retention rate. Invest Atlanta has pledged another $15 million for infrastructure improvements.

With the strong backing of Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, the Fund is up and running with initial operating support from Chick-fil-A, Delta Air Lines, The Home Depot, the Blank Foundation, PulteGroupand a growing list of others.

The Westside Future Fund will coordinate the efforts of many partners to return a historic part of our city to prominence and significance. Community and resident engagement is our priority and the key to future success.

It is an exciting time to be part of the dynamic resurgence of Atlanta’s Westside. When Mayor Reed asked me to chair the Westside Future Fund, I was honored and energized, recognizing how well this work fits with PulteGroup’s commitment to Atlanta, a city where we have been operating for decades and where we chose to relocate our headquarters in 2014.

As newcomers or lifetime residents, we all have something important to contribute to this unprecedented collective effort, and I invite you to join us in restoring vitality to the Westside.

Richard J. Dugas Jr., president and CEO of PulteGroup, Inc., is chairman of the Westside Future Fund.

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