Empowering Change in Atlanta

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Picture this: overgrown fields lush with green grass and weeds after three weeks of rain; a crumbling concrete gate lined with barbed wire and barricades; abandoned office buildings with blacked out windows. Dozens of red-bricked houses built in a style that reads more 1800 than 2020.

This is Fort McPherson, a former military base in Southwest Atlanta and the site of a major redevelopment project. Officially closed by the military in 2015, the City of Atlanta began efforts to revitalize the base and the surrounding neighborhood shortly after.

In the years to come, that lush, green field will become the plot for a school; the barbed wire will be removed from the fence and the lights will flicker on in those office buildings. Where many may have seen the Fort’s closure as a disappointment, Atlanta saw opportunity.

That’s why it made for a perfect first mobile tour for the Women in Municipal Government’s (WIMG) Annual Summer Conference. This year, under the leadership of Atlanta Councilmember and WIMG President Joyce Sheperd, over 70 women in local government from across the country have convened in Atlanta for four days of networking and learning.

This year’s theme: Women Empowering Change.

“I’m serving as president of the Women in Municipal Government this year and I’m pleased to welcome women local elected officials from across the country to Atlanta as we kick off our summer conference this week. We will be showcasing all that our city has to offer and how we are investing in our water infrastructure, as well as in affordable housing and economic development,” said Councilmember Joyce M. Sheperd.

Designed to highlight how women in local government can and have empowered positive change in their community, this year’s content focuses on economic development, infrastructure and local government management. Visiting Fort McPherson is just one piece of the puzzle; throughout the week, the local elected officials will also earn about Atlanta’s BeltLine project, hear from experts on managing internal city affairs and get the chance to share their stories of local empowerment.

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A key example: currently, the City of Atlanta is undertaking a multi-year, multimillion-dollar effort to transform the abandoned Bellwood granite quarry into a reservoir. Led by Atlanta Mayor Kiesha Lance Bottoms, the project demonstrates how women in local government can create change that will impact their residents for years to come.

“The water supply project, under the leadership of Commissioner Kishia Powell, has the city of Atlanta thinking about not just today, but what our efforts are around sustainability in the future,” said Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms at a press conference that kicked-off the WIMG conference. “Such a significant part of that is what we see happening at Bellwood Quarry.”

For many of the women participating in the conference, empowering change means a mix of optimism, practicality and a good dose of creativity. Hearing from others in similar positions, sharing best practices with the people who share the same dedication to their communities — it’s an invaluable experience.

meridith_st_jean_125x150About the author: Meri St. Jean is a communications specialist at the National League of Cities.