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The city too busy for children

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Tap, tap. Screeetttch. Tap. Hey, Boss, is this microphone on? It is? And I'm s'posed to say something, right? Like, about Atlanta?

Well, give me a hint. You want me to tell a joke? Maybe about how on my first day back in the Capital of the South, I watched the smog-shrouded sentient glacier of steel and flesh we call traffic inch along I-85?

What's that you say? Yeah, I agree. Everyone knows about the crummy roads.

Then, how 'bout I quip that there are so many FBI agents hanging out in City Hall, Congress is considering declaring the place a National Game Preserve?

Oh, all right, we'll come back to that. Let me think. OK, I've got an idea. Let me whisper it to you first.

(Buzzz, psstt, hubbahubba.)

Why are you running away? C'mon what's the worst that can happen? I'm sure those boys with sheets and ax handles in their car trunks are few and far between nowadays.

I'll tell you what. I'll throw the idea out to the audience here, and we'll see how they react. After all, this is the city too busy to hate or some such folderol, remember?

Here it goes. Hold on....

HELLO, ATLANTA! OF COURSE WE SHOULD PAY REPARATIONS!

Now that I've got your attention, audience, I'm going to hold you in suspense for a week. If there is any city where reparations should be debated, where that issue marks the fault line between races, ideologies and cultures, it's Atlanta. But I'd like to hear what you have to say first. Write, email, call. Maybe we can turn this into a dialogue.

In the meantime, I'll kick off this column with another urgent topic: Children. And how they've been snubbed by the state and city. And how Atlanta's bigshots, notably the Journal-Constitution, befoul themselves with boosterism rather than admit the sad plight of kids in Georgia.

First, I am compelled to admit a gross conflict of interest. I am definitely prejudiced on the subject of kids. Yes, I confess, I have children. Five, to be precise. Ages 10 to 15 and most numerals in between. In an attempt to reduce the several thousand years I'm sure to spend in Purgatory (see "Karma Cleanser" elsewhere in CL), my wife and I adopted the five sibs two years ago.

More to the point, the kids played a big role in our decision to leave Tampa and return to the Big Peach. The move offered the kids a clean break from some ugly past events in their lives, and Florida has for the last decade or so been quick-marching into the 19th Century in its treatment of children. I had heard (the info was decidedly wrong, as it turns out) that, kidwise, there was enlightenment north of the border.

So, we descended on Atlanta, awash in Barbies, bikes and basketballs, settled into a charming neighborhood in the 'burbs, and I arrived at CL's office for my first day of duty. A colleague handed me a study called "Kid-Friendly Cities: Report Card 2001." It looked like a lot of reports newspaper editors get, and I didn't pay too much attention until I noticed the ranking of how America's 25 largest cities treat children.

Atlanta was No. 25. Dead last, at the bottom, in the pits, not even an honorable mention. Zippo, squat, zero when it comes to children. Even urban hell-holes like Detroit topped Atlanta.

Atlanta bottomed out in the environment category - having treble the number of "bad air" days as the average for the 25 cities. Child health issues also scored a big black mark. Our SAT scores were the lowest of any of the metropolitan areas. (Did you notice last week how the AJC tried to declare a victory because Georgia had moved from No. 50 to No. 49 in state rankings on SAT scores?)

"Whoa," I mused to myself, "this is pretty scary. I wonder what the AJC has had to say about this stunning civic black eye." I thumbed through the daily. Nothing. The next day, nothing. Ditto the rest of the week. "Shucks," I thought, "maybe the AJC is prepping a major weekend takeout on kids, with mainbars and sidebars galore, not to mention pretty charts, heart-wrenching anecdotal tales, and thundering Ralph McGill-ish editorials denouncing how tykes are Georgia's forgotten population."

Apparently, children are also the forgotten 2 million-plus Georgians at the AJC. No weekend story.

Finally, on Aug. 27, a week after the "Kid-Friendly Cities" report was released, the AJC (Motto: No excess of coverage is too much for Atlanta's sports teams) found space for 98 words on the study. That's about one word for every 22,000 Georgia kids. Hell, newsprint is expensive nowadays. The little urchins should feel grateful for what they get.

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