November 8, 2023

This article was written by Beth M. Graham, FUSE Executive Fellow (2022 – 23) and City of Atlanta Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and Resilience Stakeholder Engagement Director.

Mayor Andre Dickens has an ambitious vision for Atlanta: One city with one bright future. A city of safe, healthy, connected neighborhoods with an expansive culture of equity, empowering upward mobility and full participation for all residents, embracing youth development, and an innovative, dependable government moving Atlanta forward, together.

Dickens’ Moving Atlanta Forward Agenda focuses on opportunity, public safety, and investment for the future of everyone in Atlanta. As part of this agenda, the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and Resilience is actively engaging the community and strategic partners to lay the foundation for the community-driven, reimagined Sustainability and Climate Resilience “Action” Plan. This plan will launch in 2024 and aims to make Atlanta a more sustainable and resilient city.

“The City of Atlanta has a long history of a commitment to sustainability,” stated Chandra Farley, Atlanta’s Chief Sustainability Officer, “the reimagined Plan builds on the progress of the 2019 Clean Energy Atlanta Plan, the Resilient Atlanta Plan, and the 2015 Climate Action Plan.”  

What’s different today, Farley states, is “the intentional focus on racial equity, environmental justice, climate justice, and recognition of marginalized communities who historically have been left behind.   Advancing a just transition that is equitable and inclusive of all communities in a circular economy as it relates to clean energy.”

Collective Impact of Public-Private Partnerships

The first step in the process for the City of Atlanta’s reimagined plan is a Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and Resilience “Sustainability Innovation Lab.” Supported by the City’s partnership with FUSE, the lab was led by Beth M. Graham, FUSE Executive Fellow (2022 – 23) and currently Stakeholder Engagement Director for the City of Atlanta, and facilitated by FUSE alumna, Stacy Cumberbatch of Blended Impact. 

Through the partnership, FUSE is leaning into a vision that removes social and economic barriers from marginalized communities with a history of systemic racism.

“Atlanta has a rich history in civil and human rights advocacy, and there’s still more work to be done,” Graham says of her mission to build a better future for Atlanta, “Serving as a FUSE Executive Fellow in the City of Atlanta Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and Resilience, in my beloved hometown, leading the ‘Sustainability Innovation Lab’ afforded the opportunity to bring my lived experiences, from our family farm in Wadley, GA, and environmental injustices to engage the community and partners building a more just, sustainable, and equitable future. This involves advancing access to clean energy for all, enhancing food systems, and improving health and well-being in marginalized communities.”

The “Sustainability Innovation Lab,” held on August 23, 2023, at Atlanta City Hall, engaged a diverse intersection of 60 stakeholders, including the Clean Energy Advisory Board, AgLanta partners, Georgia Power, the voices of youth, community-based organizations, academia, nonprofit organizations, and community members from Atlanta’s six most energy burdened Neighborhood Planning Units (NPUs). 

NPUs are citizen-advisory councils that make recommendations to the Mayor and City Council on zoning, land use, and other related planning issues. The City of Atlanta is divided into twenty-five NPUs.

The insight gained from the “Sustainability Innovation Lab” will inform the reimagined City of Atlanta Sustainability and Climate Resilience Action Plan.

With a human-centered approach and science-based targets, the reimagined plan will include updated clean energy goals, climate action goals, and a comprehensive food systems plan, all anchored in environmental justice, racial equity, and in alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals and Mayor Andre Dickens Moving Atlanta Forward Agenda.

City of Atlanta Innovation Lab

Creating a Vision for a City Built for the Future

Woven throughout the Mayor’s vision is sustainability, racial equity, and environmental justice, and synonymous with a city of safe, healthy, and connected neighborhoods for all Atlantans.

The Innovation Lab started with a visioning exercise where attendees shared their long-term vision for the City of Atlanta in alignment with the Mayor’s vision. The exercise illustrated, in real-time, diverse perspectives and challenges in aligning multiple goals.

The outcome? A significant Visioning Board with 65 aspirational statements to shape the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and Resilience vision for a City Built for the Future.

Laying the Foundation: Defining the Key Pillars for a Reimagined Sustainability and Climate Resilience Action Plan

Mayor Andre Dickens is Moving Atlanta Forward through a progressive agenda focused on opportunity, safety, and investment for the future – for everyone. This agenda is built on four pillars: One Safe City, A City of Opportunity for All, A City Built for the Future, and Effective and Ethical Government. Sustainability, resilience, and food systems fall at the intersection of all four pillars. 

The attendees moved on to ideate across the eight tables their recommendations for the top pillars for long-term sustainability, clean energy, and climate resilience goals for a City Built for the Future to serve as the foundation of decision-making. 

The pillars created through the ideation were written across eight flip charts, with five goals listed on each and hung around the room, visible to all. Everyone received five stars to “vote” on the pillars that resonated most with them and their organizations. 

Over 40 recommendations were captured and will inform the key pillars selected for the community-wide engagement process for the reimagined Sustainability and Climate Resilience Action Plan.

Moving Atlanta Forward. Together.

The “Sustainability Innovation Lab” is the first step in a longer stakeholder engagement process and serves as a pivotal moment in guiding the City of Atlanta on the journey to build the reimagined Sustainability and Climate Resilience Action Plan.  

In addition to her work supporting the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and Resilience over the last year, Graham says convenings, like the Innovation Lab, help “build community-based and community-driven strategy, strengthen public-private partnerships, and advance nature-based solutions to address the climate crisis anchored in equity and environmental justice.”

As next steps, the City of Atlanta Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and Resilience will synthesize the data gained through the “Sustainability Innovation Lab” and the over 150 responses from the pre- and post-event and community surveys. A second internal “Sustainability Innovation Lab” is planned for City of Atlanta departments and offices. 

This cross-departmental, community-wide collaboration is a testament to Mayor Dickens’ favorite phrase, “Atlanta is a group project.” This is how we keep Moving Atlanta Forward, together for a sustainable, resilient, and equitable City Built for the future!

Left to right: The City of Atlanta Deputy Chief Sustainability Officer John R. Seydel, Chief Sustainability Officer Chandra Farley, Clean Energy Programs Associate Michelle Midanier, Director of Urban Agriculture j. olu baiyewu, and Stakeholder Engagement Director and FUSE Executive Fellow (2022–23) Beth M. Graham.