The privatized town of Sandy Springs

Outsourced_EverythingSprings

This time a post by our PHD candidate Els Leclercq, who wrote an interesting piece on Sandy Springs, Atlanta, USA: a privatized white-flight city that handed off about every service to private enterprises.

The city of Sandy Springs used to be a wealthy suburb to the north of Atlanta. However, following a referendum in 2005, 94% of its residents voted for Sandy Springs to become a city in its own right. This decision demonstrated the discontent with the county’s policies of redistribution of the tax revenue to less affluent parts of the county. Citizens consequently voted a mayor and six Councillors who embarked on a bold project of creating a public-private partnership, outsourcing all municipal services to a private contractor.

This route was chosen for several reasons including recognition of the amount of time it takes to establish an effective municipal apparatus but also -more importantly- out of belief in, and support for the competitive working of the market following the logic that one can achieve the best quality for the lowest price. During the first years, the city services were outsourced to the consultancy company CH2M Hill, but when the contract ended in 2011, the City Council appointed five different companies to manage the General Government and Financial and Information Services for a total of 10 million dollar for the next 5 years. The change of contractor saves the City around 7 million a year, claims the City Manager.

How does a privatized city care for its public space and the democratic process of creating this  space? In January 2012 the City Council announced the start of a City Centre Master planning exercise. A design consultant led the process and embarked on a participatory route which has so far lasted for 6 months. In those months local citizens were offered numerous opportunities to participate or comment on the draft plans. The whole process has been made completely transparent through a website, on which all information of the community sessions, draft proposals, etc. can be found. Although some participants claim their comments were not taken into account, the majority of the people thinks differently. So a private municipality and a democratic process to create public space can apparently be named in one sentence?