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.