Andrew McCann: Atlanta's Beltline Project

Urban Milwaukee:

One of largest-scale urban redevelopment programs ever undertaken in the United States is the Atlanta BeltLine, a sustainable redevelopment project in Atlanta, GA. The project is converting 22 miles of disused Civil War-era railroad tracks encircling the city into a new transit greenway – a walkable green space – that links over 40 neighborhoods across the city like never before. The project is still in its early stages, but has already stimulated dramatic changes in people’s understanding of where they live and how they interact with their space. With plans underway to incorporate the city’s existing subway system, its new streetcar, and a system of multi-use trails across the city, the BeltLine is fast becoming one of Atlanta’s defining features.
The project’s origin is just as remarkable. The BeltLine began as a “kernel of an idea,” the subject of a Georgia Tech graduate student’s 1999 Master’s thesis on architecture and urban planning. Now an urban designer at Perkins+Will, Ryan Gravel’s original vision for the BeltLine has expanded beyond what anybody imagined in the project’s early days.

“Today the vision…include[s] ideas like 1,400 acres of new parks, a linear arboretum, public art, new streetscapes, brownfield remediation, significant investments in affordable housing, and a list that continues to grow,” says Gravel.

The BeltLine made its public debut in 2001 and began its implementation in 2005. Though still in the early stages of development – worst-case projections are for a 2031 completion date – it’s already had an enormous impact on the city.

“It is not only changing the physical form of the city, it’s changing the way we think about this place we live in and the decisions we make about living here,” says Gravel.