Two-thirds of the employees at Atlanta, BeltLine, Inc. are women, many of whom hold executive and senior leadership roles. In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re highlighting some of the powerhouse women behind the scenes of the Atlanta BeltLine project.
Who would have guessed that a small-town girl from Coastal Georgia would one day find herself in the middle of the design and construction of one of the state’s most ambitious urban redevelopment projects? Certainly not Meghan Injaychock as she sat in her undergraduate sustainability class learning about the Atlanta BeltLine project at the University of Georgia in 2009. Yet a chance opportunity to serve as an Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. (ABI) Fellow in 2012 placed her under the tutelage of the seasoned urban landscape architect, Kevin Burke as she completed her master’s thesis on the BeltLine’s first Urban Farm. In 2013, she officially joined ABI’s Design & Construction team, and now, as Senior Landscape Architect, she has led some of the BeltLine’s most complicated design and construction projects.
“Most of what I do every day is construction and community engagement, and I love that. It’s not what we learned in school,” shared Injaychock, who confessed to having purposely selected UGA’s most male-dominated field—landscape architecture—to get an extra edge for college admission, back before she knew it would be a field she would love.
In the early days of the Atlanta BeltLine, when things were still very grassroots and all hands were on deck to do whatever job was necessary, Injaychock would walk future BeltLine trails with colleagues and dream.
“It was so cool to see it before we got technical with it, to see something that hasn’t been fully visualized yet. We could just dream it and then watch the project evolve.”
Injaychock’s ABI project management portfolio runs the gamut of the design for the splashpads at Perkerson Park and Boulevard Crossing Park (future Phase II) to the construction of Northeast Trail- Segment 2 (also known as Hairpin), Westside BeltLine Connector Segments 1 and 2, and Bill Kennedy Way interim safety improvements.
Her first construction management project was the Eastside Trail’s southern extension from Irwin Street to Memorial Drive. Rather than using the traditional abandoned railroad corridor that the BeltLine is known for, this segment was ABI’s first time using public right-of way on Wylie Street to create a trail, which presented many additional hurdles.
“It was very much a baptism by fire, learning to navigate the many unforeseeable challenges of taking over a public right-of-way to create the corridor or having close involvement with the community. That taught me a lot about engagement,” she recalled.
“When segment 1 [the stretch along Wylie Street] went so well, I gave myself more freedom for segment 2 such as saving the railroad vestiges, which were not in the original plan, or in my selection of vegetation.”
As one would imagine from moving around a bunch of dirt to build new infrastructure, Injaychock has discovered all kinds of historical treasures underground—from rail spikes to early twentieth century water storm conveyances to buried basements of tires from the 1920s—that have fed her love of history.
“It is extremely interesting to learn about the history of construction and how materials have evolved. Most of the artifacts are really durable, and they tell a lot about the history of the city and how the railroad was built out.”
Now practically an expert at managing BeltLine trail construction in the public right-of-way, she recently began construction on what will be her third trail of this kind. The Westside Trail-Segment 3 is a segment of mainline BeltLine trail that will cut into Marietta Boulevard and connect the recently completed Westside BeltLine Connector spur trail, built in partnership with the PATH Foundation, to the future Westside Trail – Segment 4, and eventually connect to the Silver Comet, the Westside Park, and the future Northwest Trail.
Although she loves the construction work, the reality is that construction remains a traditionally male-dominated field. With her small stature and quiet demeanor, it has not always been easy to lead construction projects. In this regard, her strong-willed nature has proved most useful.
Rigorous and thoughtful, analytical and meticulous, it is only recently that Injaychock has learned to take off her work hat while on the BeltLine and just enjoy it while on a run or walking her dogs, Tipper Gore and Abbigail Adams, rather than scrutinizing what could be improved or what needs to get fixed.
“It always amazes us when we open to the public these projects that we’ve spent literally years of our lives working on, and to observe how they use it—in ways we never thought. It’s incredibly rewarding in that sense, to watch how people enjoy these trails that we’ve spent so much time creating.”
As she looks to the future and years remaining to complete the BeltLine, her mind is already set on maintenance.
“The most important part of any public project is how you’re going to maintain it. You can have the best design ever, but if you can’t maintain it, what’s the point?” she mused.
“The next step is what does the Beltline become? How does it evolve—either in a conservancy form or maintenance as more of a legacy project? I would love to carry it to its full potential and make sure it stays around. It’s going to be a constant project that always needs upkeep or new additions to it, and I’d love to stay involved.”