Imagine 500 acres in the middle of your neighborhood that could become anything you want it to be. That’s the scenario Georgia STAND-UP posed to over 150 community members at Fiske Elementary School in southwest Atlanta last August.
Responding to neighborhood leaders’ call to uplift the community voice in the planning process, Georgia STAND-UP stepped up in 2009 to organize, support, and increase the capacity of the community to influence development that will shape their neighborhood. Georgia STAND-UP is an alliance of community, labor, and faith organizations that promote economic justice and smart growth strategies through research and policy advocacy, grassroots leadership education, community organizing, and community benefits campaigns. The Fort McPherson Community Benefits Campaign started as a class project in one of our twice-annual Policy Institutes for Civic Leadership, and has since grown into a community-led vision for the base and beyond.In collaboration with State Senator Vincent Fort and Atlanta City Councilmember Joyce Sheperd, Georgia STAND-UP kicked off our Fort McPherson Community Benefits Campaign by inviting residents to imagine what their community would look like if Fort McPherson – the army base barricaded behind a cement wall and razor wire for over 50 years – took down the wall and became a part of the community once again. With the closure and relocation of the base scheduled for 2011, the planning and development process began in 2005 with the creation of a Local Redevelopment Agency and a series of public meetings.
After the initial community meeting, over 50 people signed up to continue working on the issue and represent their neighbors in a community visioning process. As they filed into the first monthly meeting held in a church basement just around the corner from the base, residents placed a gold star on a map of the neighborhood to represent where they lived – pretty soon, the area surrounding the base was covered in gold. Working with a class of city planning graduate students from Georgia Institute of Technology, these community members broke into seven different working groups to begin charting their vision for the development of the base: Housing, Transportation, Jobs & Economic Development, Education & Culture, Land Use & Zoning, Public Safety, Environment, and Public Health & Open Space.
As residents and students have worked together to translate that community vision into concrete strategies, Georgia STAND-UP has supported working group members to facilitate weekly working group meetings and craft their demands. At the last meeting, members voted to create the McPherson Action Community Coalition (MACC) to begin mobilizing the community and negotiating the benefits.
“The community benefits movement brings the community to the table to demand a fair share of the pie,” says Executive Director Deborah Scott, “if you set the table – people will come.” As a member of the newly formed McPherson Action Community Coalition, Georgia STAND-UP is proud to be at the table with such a committed group of residents and community leaders as they create a vision for Fort McPherson and work to make it real.