Few people involved in the work of the Atlanta BeltLine better exemplify its vision of enabling, engaging and empowering the people of Atlanta than Lynnette Reid. As Director of Planning for the Atlanta BeltLine, she is involved in virtually every aspect of the project and is a true believer in working directly with community members and all stakeholders to build bridges (both metaphorical and literal) and make connections that bring people together. She thinks it is imperative that the BeltLine team is responsive to the needs of the community and respectful of the culture, history and objectives of every neighborhood it touches.
Lynnette grew up in an inner city, working class neighborhood of East Orange, New Jersey and witnessed first-hand the value of walkable communities and access to things such as parks and fresh produce. She says, “I walked everywhere as a child. I walked to school. I walked to the park. But we didn’t have certain amenities. I remember being about 15 or 16 and wondering why we had every major fast-food chain on one main road, but there wasn’t a grocery store. I remember noticing that before there was any such thing as a ‘food desert’ that I was aware of.” Her subsequent volunteer work led to engagements with the East Orange city planning department and a realization that this is where decisions about these kinds of issues get made. This instilled in her a lifelong desire to work to make neighborhoods and cities better, and she has spent her professional life doing just that.
After obtaining a B.A. in Public Administration from Trenton State College and a Masters in City and Regional Planning from Georgia Tech, Lynnette embarked on a career in public service. She worked with Sam Massell at the Buckhead Coalition and in Fulton County’s department of environmental and community development, and ultimately arrived at the Atlanta BeltLine in 2011.
In her initial BeltLine role as a community engagement advocate, it was her job “to get people plugged in and involved. I was responsible for meeting community groups and learning who the advocates were.” This allowed her to forge invaluable relationships that served her well after she was elevated to a role as a Senior Planner. In this position, she was responsible for ensuring the implementation of the overlay and master plans. There are 10 subareas along the BeltLine corridor, each with a master plan for that specific geography, and these must be updated periodically as the dynamics – and needs – of the neighborhood evolve.
“We do our very best to connect those visions with what is desired in the area,” she says. “People need a grocery store. They need a daycare. You can only have so many yoga spots and breweries. You have to include things people need and use day to day.”
Lynnette was part of the team responsible for creating the Design Review Committee, an advisory board that meets monthly to ensure compliance with the BeltLine overlay. She also does policy writing for the BeltLine, such as working with city officials on distance requirements (from the BeltLine) for businesses like storage units, e-commerce facilities and data centers that may not be conducive to the long-term plans for transit-oriented development.
In the spring of 2021, Lynnette was promoted to Director of Planning, which she says is a continuation of her work as a Senior Planner but on a larger scale. She works closely with developers, planners, community advocates, city officials, and other stakeholders working to implement master plans and serve community objectives. “I like to think of myself as a connector. If there is a need that we can’t address directly at the BeltLine, I do my very best to put you in touch with the agency or individual or business that can do it. My job is to connect people, and that is my passion.”
She points out that the BeltLine touches 65-plus neighborhoods that have different desires, opinions and perspectives. “There are different needs in each community and meeting every need can be a challenge. We work in a lot of areas that have a lack of investment historically, but we must do it in a way that is equitable.” She calls it hard and necessary work. “There is a great team of people at the BeltLine having honest, hard conversations every day. We are constantly reaching out and looking for better ways to meet people where they are. With planning and community engagement, you’re in a constant state of thinking about who can I connect with next? Who have I not heard from? We are always seeking ideas and reaching out, and we are always open to feedback.”
Lynnette acknowledges there have been many hurdles, but she believes the BeltLine is on a great trajectory to benefit communities and businesses alike. She says ABI is working hard to achieve housing objectives and “control the depths of affordability.” Asked to identify her favorite segment of the BeltLine, she demurred. “What I love about the BeltLine is that every neighborhood offers a different and unique experience. It just depends on the day and what I want to do.”
Lynnette Reid is Director of Planning for the Atlanta BeltLine and also a wife and mom to two young boys.