From Broken & Abandoned to Reclaimed – The Atlanta Beltline

About a decade ago, the City of Atlanta took on a hefty redevelopment project to use an existing, abandoned 22-mile historic rail corridor as a way to connect 45 intown neighborhoods. The multi-level project is so broad in scope that its target completion date is not until 2030.

The goal is to provide a network of public parks, multi-use trails and transit along this 22-mile corridor circling downtown Atlanta. As of early 2016, 6.75 miles have been completed and three additional miles are under construction. Eventually, 33 miles of multi-use trails will follow or spur off from the corridor.

“The big story is about reconnecting neighborhoods that used to be disconnected by railroads. In doing so, we are reclaiming an old corridor that used to be unsafe and abandoned,” explains Atlanta BeltLine, Inc.’s Communications and Media Relations Manager Jenny Odom. “For more than 150 years, these neighborhoods have been separated.”

The Atlanta BeltLine project is about so much more than walking trails and parks. It’s causing a ripple effect within the numerous Fulton County communities in areas such as the economy, property values in the Atlanta real estate market, safety, streetscapes, increased jobs, affordable homes for sale and better connections to the local MARTA transit system.

It is one of the largest urban redevelopment programs being undertaken in the United States. We plan to profile similar projects in places like Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Paris and Madrid here on the Doorways International website, so be sure to stay tuned!

Much of the land being used for this Atlanta project is old industrial land—areas with vacant warehouses, empty parking lots, etc. Some 3,000 acres of land will become available for public and private redevelopment opportunities. Any pockets of land not needed by the Atlanta BeltLine project are sold off and the money made is put back into the development project.

Many don’t realize that Atlanta proper is not like other cities such as New York and Chicago. In the past, housing was limited and many preferred to live in the suburbs. The Atlanta BeltLine project has a goal of creating 28,000 housing units, 5,600 of which will be affordable housing. Imagine living within walking distance of miles of trails and parks. These homes will be an easy sell, to say the least!

The area’s improvements are already having restaurants, hotels and businesses take notice. Existing businesses are adding signage to the back of buildings for viewing by Beltline guests, painting and cleaning up the rear of properties adjacent to the BeltLine’s trails. New businesses are gravitating to the area. The first hotel on the BeltLine is already in the planning stages.

In addition, fitness is being made a priority of the project as is outdoor artwork displayed at several points along the trail corridor. The Urban Farm has been one of the more recent projects to take off as part of the Atlanta BeltLine. Located alongside the Westside Trail, the farm is expected to be filled with numerous growing vegetables and fruits. Also, a plan for public educational classes is now being considered.

Perhaps one of the most amazing aspects of this project is its beginning. It was first conceived as a master’s thesis by Georgia Tech student Ryan Gravel in 1999! Slowly, the Atlanta BeltLine project grew out of this thesis, as did a grassroots campaign by local citizens and community leaders.

An app has even been developed for the Atlanta BeltLine. It offers advice on planning your visit, provides details about parks, picnic areas, recreational activities, nearby businesses and offers suggested routes to take. Interactive in nature, it covers everything from access points, MARTA stations and parking to upcoming events and volunteer opportunities.

The BeltLine website, beltline.org, is also packed with information,updates, videos and construction updates. Has the project received notice? According to Odom, people are now moving back in from the suburbs, as more housing is constructed. Beltline traffic just on the Eastside Trail alone—between Piedmont Park and Inman Park—was 1.3 million people in 2015.

In addition, the massive project has garnered 28 awards to date, including FIABCI’s Grand Prix of Real Estate Development, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Overall Excellence Award for Smart Growth Achievement, and the National Recreation and Park Association’s National Partnership Award.

In the last year or so, as projects have gone beyond architectural drawings to completion, the media has started covering much more about the Atlanta BeltLine. In early April 2016, the Atlanta Business Chronicle broke the news about a completed rooftop and restaurant project at the new Ponce Market (previously the old Sears building), which is in the middle of the Beltline’s Eastside Trail. Later this Summer a huge mixed use development, a joint project between ABI and Jamestown is scheduled to be completed. It will be the first public plaza on the Beltline.

Who knows what other cities or metropolitan areas may be inspired by the success of the Atlanta BeltLine? While nearly 15 years remain on this project, the benefits are already being reaped for the area in both tangible and intangible ways. It’s a transformation that was sorely needed for this section of Atlanta and a prime example of how unconventional thinking can spur an effort to potentially affect well over a million people.