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Civic improvement tips from across the globe

How Atlanta could be a better city

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Recently, I spent three months wandering through parts of Europe, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. While I traveled through Tokyo, Rome, Cairo, Calcutta and other great cities, I often wondered, "Why can't Atlanta be more like this?" Here are my suggestions for improving our town.

Encourage more street food: In Bangkok, half my meals came from people selling food out of pushcarts. There's something charming about buying a local delicacy from a vendor on the street. For me, the availability of street food means a vibrant city.

Flood the Downtown Connector: Why is the multi-lane highway running through Atlanta called a "connector" when all it does is separate the two halves of the city? If we flooded the interstate and turned it into a river, we could spent summer nights sitting on its banks or swimming through downtown to beat the heat. Atlanta needs more water, anyway.

Encourage more monks: On my travels, I visited Buddhist, Christian Orthodox, Hindu and Shinto monasteries and was impressed with the monks' calming presence and dedication to something beyond themselves. If we had more monks and fewer self-righteous, right-wing Christians, Atlanta would be a more spiritual place.

Make Peachtree Street pedestrian-only: The world's great cities have large plazas that are closed to cars, while downtown Atlanta has Hooters, Starbucks and bumper-to-bumper traffic. If Peachtree Street were pedestrian-only, it would attract street performers, musicians and artists. Walking would make for a healthier downtown.

Repeal the Second Amendment: After feeling relatively safe on my travels, I returned to Atlanta, where a downtown shopkeeper warned me it wasn't safe to walk the two blocks from the MARTA station to his business at night. The next day, Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head by a man who'd been kicked out of college for his apparent mental illness. Nevertheless, he was able to walk into a store and buy a gun, which he allegedly used to shoot 19 people. If we banned guns in urban areas. I certainly would feel safer.

Allow bike-riding on the sidewalk: In Tokyo, everyone pedals on the sidewalk, and pedestrians and bikers interact just fine. Making Atlanta bike-friendly won't happen unless we start thinking forward now.

Improve our vacation time, health care and public education: While Europeans average 25 paid vacation days a year, Americans only have nine. Europeans have better access to inexpensive public education, but in Georgia we have to rely on the HOPE scholarship. And, despite spending more per capita on health care than any other country in the world, the United States still has higher rates of infant mortality and lower life expectancy than many developed nations. Fixing these problems would greatly relieve our stress level.

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