CUMBERLAND — Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens addressed a crowd of business leaders, community members and government officials Monday, calling for collaboration between Cobb County and the metro area.
Dickens was introduced to the crowd at the Cobb Chamber of Commerce’s Marquee Monday breakfast by Cobb Commission Chairwoman Lisa Cupid. Cupid, a friend and former Georgia Tech and Georgia State University classmate of Dickens’, applauded his efforts for bringing the region closer together since his term as mayor began seven months ago.
“I am grateful today that he has already begun to strengthen the circle of partnership that the city of Atlanta shares with Cobb County,” Cupid said.
Instead of drawing lines between Atlanta and Cobb, Dickens said he would rather create a circle of inclusion.
“Atlanta is somewhat unique in its positioning,” he said. “It’s the biggest city within a 10-county, 16-county or 20-county metropolitan statistical area depending on what survey or data set you’re using. That positioning requires us to basically lean in to strategic and mutually beneficial relationships.”
Quoting President John F. Kennedy, Dickens said a rising tide lifts all boats, which is what community members want for the entire metro area.
“I believe that those in leadership roles across the metro region ought to keep and be in lockstep with their desire to see economic equity, health equity and housing equity, even if we may not be on the same page politically,” he said. “I believe we all want the same things for our families and our communities. We want to see our communities thrive, our citizens to be safe and our businesses to continue to be safe and thrive.”
Speaking on the pandemic, Dickens said the events of the past two years have happened to everyone, creating similar challenges for communities across the region and nation.
“One of our biggest challenges across the region, of course, is public safety,” he said. “What used to be considered a big city problem has now become a regional, state and even a national problem.”
Some of those examples of working together include crime-fighting initiatives and partnerships the city of Atlanta has implemented with other regional law enforcement agencies, Dickens said. Those programs include the Fugitive Task Force, human trafficking campaigns, repeat offenders tracking units and a recently launched one-state-city campaign where the overall mission is safety, he said.
“Our police force is one of the best in the nation,” he said. “But if you’re smart enough and if you get real honest about it, local policing alone cannot solve all of our public safety challenges. As I’ve mentioned, we are collaborating with key regional and federal partners as we target the root causes of crime in both the long-term and the short-term. Together with our partners, we are targeting gangs, drugs, illegal guns and violent repeat offenders to directly attack the top sources of the violent crimes in our communities.”
Dickens said communities need to reimagine public safety and urged leaders to think clearly about using preventative measures, intervention programs and community transformation initiatives.
“It’s in our best interest to take bad actors off the streets of the entire region,” he said. “Because the criminals don’t know a boundary limit when they crossed into your city or mine.”
In addition to public safety, Dickens said communities should get creative about transportation, a historically difficult civic issue for the metro area. While many of the commuters into Atlanta are drivers from Cobb, Gwinnett and surrounding counties, easy access to public transit for everyone is the ideal, Dickens said.
“It would be great if we had a partnership with MARTA and Cobb and everybody that we can be on one accord,” he said. “I do recognize that some of our neighboring counties are resistant but... I’m gonna leave the door open.”
Despite the region’s challenges, a strong economy, aided by the entertainment and tech industry, has been a significant boost for the area, Dickens said.
“We’re not just surviving in a post-pandemic world. We are thriving,” he said.
Both Cobb County and the city of Atlanta have seen double-digit population growth since 2010, Dickens said, which has driven the economic boom.
“It is also presenting us with some challenges,” he said. “We are all addressing affordable housing issues, environmental issues, workforce equity issues and the list goes on. I am convinced, I am persuaded and convinced that everything that we are facing now are all surmountable.”
Dickens closed by challenging community leaders to step up and manage these issues.
“This is something we are addressing as the city and this is something that we’re addressing as a region... I look forward to our extended partnership going forward,” he said.