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The Atlanta BeltLine

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The volume is rising. The “debate intensifies.” Critics are predictably nitpicking the project list for the upcoming Transportation Referendum. What to make of it all? When it comes to the Atlanta BeltLine, sometimes the volume goes up even further. It’s unlike any other project in the region, or the country for that matter. It’s a transformative redevelopment sparked by an ever-expanding grassroots movement that continues to inspire everyone it touches like no other idea for Atlanta. For many people, it is the main reason they will vote in favor of the Referendum.

Why does the Atlanta BeltLine stir such passion? It is a comprehensive, compelling vision for an Atlanta with more jobs, more transportation options, better quality of life, stronger neighborhoods and perhaps most importantly, a sense of community that knits Atlanta together like never before. What else? It’s uniquely Atlanta. A kid from Chamblee wrote a masters’ thesis at Georgia Tech, and the idea caught fire in a way few could have imagined, uniting neighborhoods and the business, environmental, transportation, affordable housing and public health communities.

There’s plenty of data to make the case for the Atlanta BeltLine. (Anyone needing a refresher course can access all of the foundational and planning studies here.) But what sets the project apart from any other is this: the Atlanta BeltLine is not only more and more of a reality every day on the ground, it lives in the imaginations of Atlantans who can see themselves and their children living in ways that they want to live, thriving in ways they want to thrive. The Atlanta BeltLine is an American dream.

What we’re seeing now leading up to the Referendum is a relatively simple debate on complex issues. A recent report by a Libertarian think tank went so far as to put on blinders and declared that “Encouraging economic development and creating a cleaner environment are admirable and desirable goals, but not related to transportation and should not be supported by a transportation tax.” Huh? Transportation should not support economic development?

Economic development and transportation are inextricably linked, and all transportation projects should have the intent to promote economic development, produce more jobs and increase the ability of people to reach employment. Planning transportation separate from economic development – and separate, for that matter, from parks, trails, housing and health – would be a catastrophe for the region. Whether everyone who is so passionate about the Atlanta BeltLine would say so explicitly or whether they just want all of those things for themselves and their children, their support of the project – by the tens of thousands – is a strong endorsement of these sound planning principles.


Join the Discussion

  1. JoeInAtlanta says:

    It’s highly self-serving for Atlanta Beltline to paint itself as the victim of people who just. don’t. understand. how. important. this. all. is!

    It is not unreasonable, though, to paint Atlanta Beltline as the villain — trading promises for money, and then unilaterally informing the citizens that those promises either won’t be kept at all (e.g., North Avenue, Ralph McGill, and Highland Avenue access to the Eastside Trail), or won’t be kept by the originally promised deadline (e.g., every single other promise made by the Beltline).

    At every single public meeting that I’ve attended, I’ve said that it would be an enormously useful tool for the Beltline website to show a predicted (not promised, just predicted) schedule of activities for the Eastside Trail and other initiatives — so that we who see these works from a distance will have a sense of what’s being done, what comes next, and where we are in the long construction process. And every single time I’ve said so, one or more employees of Atlanta Beltline have responded, “That’s a fantastic idea; I’ll mention that back in the office.” But has it happened? I’ve explored your brand-new website pretty thoroughly, and I don’t find this tool that I and others would find enormously satisfying, and that your own employees repeatedly described as a “fantastic idea”.

    And also at a recent meeting, Ryan Gravel presented a beautiful exploration of the landscaping and architectural features that could be installed on the Eastside Trail — with gorgeous maps that covered an entire wall of the presentation space. I asked how much of this was funded in July’s T-SPLOST vote. Ryan told me that this question would be answered later in the presentation — but it never was. I’m guessing that the answer is between 0% and 5% — but who knows, because that promise of an answer, like so many Beltline promises, wasn’t kept.

    So I’m left with the impression of Atlanta Beltline as an organization that takes my money, churns it in secrecy, and then pompously releases an improvement to the city every couple of years — and expects to be treated like a savior for doing so while we stakeholders just want to be treated like partners in the process.

    I’m going to hold my nose and vote for the tax on July 31. But it is Atlanta Beltline’s bad behavior — its penchant for secrecy, its disconnect from its stakeholders, and its repeated and unapologetic failure to meet deadlines — that turned me from an enthusiastic supporter to a reluctant one. And if that bad behavior doesn’t stop, this is the last penny (not penny per dollar, but penny at all) that I will ever advocate giving to Atlanta Beltline.

    Reply | May 25, 2012 at 11:05 am
    • Ethan Davidson says:


      To answer your question which you did not receive an answer to previously, the landscaping on the east side of the corridor (trail side) will for the most part be completed as part of the Eastside Trail, with plantings going in through the fall of 2012. If the referendum passes, it would allow us to develop the west side of the corridor with both the transit infrastructure and landscaping. Regarding connections to the corridor at North, McGill and Highland, those connections are still in the plans and will be made when funding is available. We have always been clear that those connections are contingent on future funding.

      While I respect your opinion, I can tell you that we make every effort to keep the public informed, and this website is a huge step forward in that area. Something that others with similar interest in the project have done is volunteer. There are many opportunities to do this, for example with the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership, Adopt-The-Atlanta-BeltLine, and Art on the Atlanta BeltLine, and for some this is a great way to stay in better contact and remain well informed.

      Reply | May 26, 2012 at 3:06 pm

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