Winter 2010: Of Note
From Brownfields to BeltLines
Sustainability director Mandy Mahoney 99OX 01C 06L aims for a cleaner Atlanta
By Mallory Goldberg 10C
In early November, Forbes.com named Atlanta the most toxic city in the country, describing it as “the U.S. metro in the worst environmental shape.”
But Atlanta has also made news in recent years for its commitment to sustainability and for Mayor Shirley Franklin’s ambitious plans to get the city on a “green” track.
Mandy Schmitt Mahoney 99OX 01C 06L, director of sustainability for the city, has been charged with making this happen.“Working on the environment is my calling,” Mahoney says. “There’s not a time in my life that I can remember not having this passion.”
Mahoney recognizes that even with the city’s committed leadership and resources, significant obstacles remain in its path toward sustainability.“I think the [Forbes] story was a good wake-up call for Atlanta,” Mahoney says. “The rating was based on brownfields—polluted tracts of land—that are a result of old industry sites like gas stations and dry cleaners.”
A byproduct of Atlanta’s industrial heritage, the polluted land must be cleaned up before it is suitable for people to use again. “Look at Atlantic Station,” Mahoney says of the vibrant live-work-shop district. “That’s the largest brownfield remediation in the country. It was formerly a steel mill and very polluted . . . now it has totally transformed that part of town.”
The city has a brownfields program that uses federal, state, and local funds to buy, remediate, and redevelop these properties. Atlanta’s BeltLine project is one of the largest such efforts, planning the transformation of twenty-two miles of historic rail segments in Atlanta by combining green space, trails, transit, and new development.
Georgia has the second-highest number of counties of any state except Texas, with competing interests trying to solve regional environmental problems. “It’s critical to have the strong urban core for the region,” Mahoney says. “But we have little control when it comes to the flow of natural resources and planning into, out of, and around the city.”
Mahoney works closely with Bill Hosken 09MBA, the city’s budget and policy manager. “Bill is the financial brains behind our operation,” she says. “That’s critical because we are launching a number of new, innovative projects and we must have funding to do it and do it well. He is currently developing the first energy-efficiency financing program by a municipality in the state of Georgia. He also spearheads the city’s green fleet initiative and develops our new renewable energy projects.”
Mahoney, who was the first recipient of the bachelor of environmental sciences degree from Emory, credits Emory as a “true model” in showing other organizations what they can accomplish. “Whether it’s about green building, commuter options, or alternative food, Emory has a huge impact on showing what is feasible,” Mahoney says.
The Macon native has made sustainability a priority in her personal life as well, as evidenced by her eco-friendly wedding this past May, which included hemp silk bridesmaid dresses and an organic strawberry wedding cake.