Tuesday, August 30, 2005

On the Horizon

We received some disturbing news Monday morning as the Bride and I were poking around on the web at work to read what has become a Monday tradition for each of us for the last few years:

The Horizon section in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. www.ajc.com (subscription required...a pain, I know)

This weekly section was started in 1997 by David Goldberg, who really pushed for its creation and proved its feasibility by covering growth and development issues in the Atlanta area for the four previous years. Since most of you aren't familiar with the AJC, much less the Horizon section, it was basically a weekly section that dove headfirst into the issues of growth, transit, congestion, and other development issues that faced Atlantans on a daily basis. And it was different

The writers who worked the Horizon beat understood the issues, inside and out. It wasn't a run-down each week of what was being built, or what planning comissions were talking about, it was an in-depth report that looked at the future of the city, by analyzing what was happening today. The reporters understood the principles of New Urbanism and smart growth, and reported things with an eye towards pointing out the logic of those patterns of development. Now I know that sounds like a bias, but it was no more biased than a business reporter talking about business in a pro-business fashion.

It wasn't bias, per se, it was an acknowledgement and understanding of the issues that you don't often see in a mainstream newspaper. We were used to reading some of this type of writing in the Flagpole in Athens, albeit much more vitriolic, but not in a major daily newspaper.

I certainly read the section pretty consistently through the second half of college, but the Bride counted down the days until she could read the next Horizon section. In fact, that section had a clear influence on her job selection here in Bentonville. She's always wanted to do exactly what those reporters did, just in a different place. And the goal wasn't to make all the readers bow down and pay homage to "New Urbanism" or some other mantra, but rather to begin to see that we as citizens should be in control of how our places are built. And that they way they are built have MASSIVE ramifications on the ins and outs of our daily lives.

It sounds like these rumors have been circulating around Atlanta for awhile and Creative Loafing got their hands on it. Ignore the "AJC are hack journalists with no commitment to the truth" vibe and listen to what John Sugg of CL had to say here

(John Sugg posted an update to that last post here. As you can tell, those beholders of the true and right and pure journalism over at Creative Loafing didn't care much for the Horizon section. Apparently the AJC/Horizon folks didn't curse and swear enough or tell people that they have to get rid of their cars immediately. And you have to bad-mouth any development by rich people, even if it is a smashingly beautiful development by MindSpring founder Charles Brewer in Glenwood. Oh yeah, read some more about the project and Charles Brewer in this article.)

I can't find it on their site now (I think they removed it) but the AJC Horizon editor posted a note about the future of the Horizon section. She insisted that the Horizon issues will continue to be reported by the same staff, but will be moved to more biz, metro and A1 fronts in the newspaper with more space devoted to them.

So in the future, rather than tuning in on Monday to find out what was going on around my native city, now I have to peruse the entire newspaper to try and find the stories that I would have found in the Horizon section. I'd like to think that this means that they think that the Horizon beat has outgrown that section and they're going to fill the newspaper with some of those stories, but I don't think that the track record of the AJC shows that they're interested in the actual issues.

The Horizon section likely had poor readership numbers and they decided that it wasn't worth its own section each week. At one point, the founder of the section, David Goldberg, was even on the editorial board at the AJC. He has since gone on to work for www.smartgrowthamerica.com

The support for the Horizon section has been flowing in to the letters department of the AJC. Here's a sample from the paper that I'll copy in its entirety so you don't have to register on the AJC's website.

Horizon will be greatly missed.

As someone who has played an active role in the air quality and transportation debate over the past eight years, I'd like to recognize the void created by the loss of the Horizon section, whose last issue will be Sept. 5.

The reportage that set the tone for the section by David Goldberg and Lucy Soto in the mid-to-late 1990s set a high benchmark for the role of the newspaper in defining the growth challenges that faced metro Atlanta. Julie Hairston and Janet Frankston continued that tradition. Throughout this time, columnist Maria Saporta (and editorial writers Jay Bookman and Martha Ezzard) gave voice to how we wanted to grow and prosper moving forward. These individuals---and others I've failed to mention---made The Atlanta Journal-Constitution the place that regional issues were defined.

Thanks to Horizon, we all know about Atlantic Station, the Livable Centers Initiative and the expansion of air pollution requirements. We are eagerly following developments with the Beltline, the Peachtree trolley and the coming aquarium. All good things must come to pass, but Monday mornings will never be the same without Horizon.

Halicki, of Atlanta, is communications director of the Clean Air Campaign.

The Atlanta Regional Commission, a regional planning commission for the entire metro area even got in the act. Read their letter to the AJC publisher.

If you're curious what a Horizon article sounds/looks like, read an article on a transit group from May 2005 in the Horizon.

I shudder to think what would be the status of the Beltline project in Atlanta without the Horizon section helping to educate the masses in Atlanta on the ins and outs of the project. They even did a 5-day video project, walking most of the proposed path around the city. Fantastic stuff.

We're hoping for expanded coverage on these issues to come in the AJC. We're sad to see this one-stop section go, but hoping for the best. Might we be a bit naive? Unfortunately, I think so.