Look’s like the Atlanta Beltline won’t be able to provide affordable housing as promised.
A far-reaching plan to transform 22 miles of unused railway into a ring of parks, paths, public art, and urban greenways that knit together the fast-growing Atlanta metro region by 2030, the new greenway has already shown incredible impact on both investment and development, as well as the city’s collective imagination.
Even opponents of some aspects of the far-reaching plan admit that it’s been an engine for economic growth. But within that success lie the twin specters of decreased affordability and displacement, which have made the Beltline an important case study for not just the region, but the nation.
As the project expands—last Friday, the long-awaited $43 million Westside Trail portion officially opened, running through traditionally African-American neighborhoods that have long been underinvested and underappreciated—the adaptive reuse concept is running headlong into issues that have plagued other, similar projects, like New York’s High Line and Chicago’s 606, and a wave of urban redevelopment across the country. How can we develop an equitable city for everyone, and both draw development while preserving and even expanding affordability?
“If Atlanta can figure out a way to assertively reduce the wealth divide, it could become a model for the nation and the world,” says Michael Dobbins, the city’s former planning commissioner and a professor at Georgia Tech’s College of Architecture and City and Regional Planning. “But it hasn’t yet.”
That vision has been core to the Beltline experiment since its inception. A scheme conceived by urban planner Ryan Gravel—who nearly two decades ago, as a master’s student at Georgia Tech, proposed the rails-to-trails project as his thesis—the Beltline came to fruition via a grassroots community campaign.
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