Close to Flannery
The Plan and The Myth

Justifying the Airport

I’m more than a little sensitive to construction at the Atlanta airport. Let’s just say I get freaked out about it. As a southside resident and homeowner,  I’ve become convinced of the correlation between the growth and dominance of the airport and the decline and collapse of its surrounding communities. Three of my own childhood homes have been erased–indirectly–by airport expansion. Decimated property values, accelerated white flight and the subsequent collapse of local public institutions– I blame it all on the ever-growing, blight-generating “World’s Busiest Airport.”

And yet the airport indirectly employs us all. It's relatively cheap to fly. We should be grateful. It’s like our very own coal mine or something that simultaneously feeds and eats us. It’s always been a kind of poetic vendetta of mine… blame the airport/thank God for the airport.

A recent announcement of new proposed runway changes tipped me from theoretical musing to a quest for facts. Today I downloaded 75MB worth of PDF materials that constitute the official City of Atlanta/Department of Aviation “DEA” or Draft Environmental Assessment for the project.

It’s really hard to read. I quickly got discouraged and found myself skipping huge chunks of FAA legalese to get to the charts and graphs. Who, exactly, was this written for? Attorneys? Scientists? I think of myself as a citizen with above-average reading comprehension skills, but I couldn’t follow it.

Basically, they want two things: a longer runway and greater departure vectors. International flights, “ultra-long haul departures” and cargo flights are too obese and they struggle to get up on days hotter than 86 degrees, resulting in “lost revenue-producing opportunities.” The longer the runway, the bigger plane, longer flight duration it can support.

Here's the general argument:

Part of maximizing the Atlanta area’s [economic] competitiveness is to provide appropriate aviation infrastructure. While Hartsfield-Jackson has excellent facilities, it currently lacks a runway of sufficient length that would allow the runway length-constrained aircraft to take-off at maximum or near maximum load.

You know what else might help maximize Atlanta’s economic competitiveness? Decent public schools. Steady property values. Neighborhoods that don’t reek of jet fuel.

The document tries to be unbiased, but it was commissioned to prove its own conclusions. The sections on socio-economic impact were laughably thin. I kept smirking at tidbits like this chart that shows how several recent construction projects have been nothing but good news for the area. See the column below. Isn’t it a miracle?


It was thrilled to see a map of the “noise contours” generated by jet engines- one of the mostly vaguely intimidating realities of living near the airport. Someone is actually tracking this stuff! The outer ring represents an area of 65 decibel DNL (day-night sound levels). It gets louder as you move inward. Growing up in Stumptown, we were well outside the 65 DNL blob, yet the roar of decending aircraft was loud enough to pre-empt telephone conversations and TV shows. So they’re only mapping the worst, most unliveable noise levels.

Noise contours

Also riveting was this list of “Environmental Justice-defining adverse affects.” I was trying to be serious about all this, but it reads like a poem, a poem about Stumptown. I particularly love the blunt, single word lines:

Bodily impairment, infirmity, illness or death
Water pollution or soil contamination
Destruction or disruption of man-made or natural resources
Destruction or diminution of aesthetic values
Destruction or disruption of community cohesion or a community’s economic vitality
Destruction or disruption of the availability of public and private facilities and services
Adverse employment effects
Displacement of persons, businesses, farms, or nonprofit organizations
Increased traffic congestion
Exclusion or separation of minority or low-income individuals within a given community or from the broader community
Disproportionately high and adverse effect on minority and low-income populations means an adverse effect that:
Is predominately borne by a minority population and/or low-income population; or
Will be suffered by the minority population and/or low-income population and is appreciably more severe or greater in magnitude than the adverse effect that will be suffered by the non-minority population and/or non-low-income population.

The draft goes on to assert that none of these adverse effects will be set in motion by the current proposal. And this is probably true. We're only talking about adding 500 feet to an existing runway. Will it really make life any worse? But I've read has made me wonder... have these criteria been effectively applied over the last 30 years of airport planning? The list reads like a blueprint for what has come to pass.



The airport will be a hot issue concerning SSA. Just like Golem loved and hated the ring we do the same with the airport. As we see our old neighborhoods decline into uninspired suburban blight. I see that in a few years it will be rebuilt and thrive to the neighborhoods of yesteryear. I'll take L5P and Cabbage Town as a for instance. East Point and College Park are steering in the direction as well. Hope is never far off.

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