Built Environments #2: Beltline Bus Tour

The Beltline Tour is a guided bus trip that follows as closely along the planned 22-miles of light rail and mixed use trail that will eventually encircle the city of Atlanta. It is exactly the sort of thing I think of when I think of Built Environments.

The Beltline will provide new economic opportunities, limit the use of cars in certain busy corridors, provide access to a beautifully paved, mixed-use trail, and get Atlantans out and about. That’s awesome and ambitious. I just worry about who will have access to the physical and economic opportunities this “Emerald Necklace” will bring when all is said and done. So, I took the tour, because it’s nice to have the impossible to replicate experience of a before and after.

Hopefully, I can give you that perspective as well. This might be a little stream-of-consciousness. But I was scribbling along on the tour and it’ll be sequential at the very least.

Before the tour starts I overhear an older white couple talking behind me. The woman is conveying her limited knowledge of Metro-Atlanta as fact. We’ve all got friends like that. You know, friends who are experts on everything, but totally aren’t. It was this woman that provoked me to bust out the pen and pencil with her description of Little Five Points. “It’s a good neighborhood right next to a bad neighborhood.”

I am the only black person the bus. Actually, I think I’m the only POC on the bus at all. Unless the driver, who I can’t see, is a POC.

Lucy the Tour Guide, Atlanta Beltline Partnership: I would totally recommend her. She was knowledgeable and polite. And she had a gentile Southern accent that I hadn’t heard in real life. Most of the quotes that follow you can imagine being spoken in a fried green tomatoes and peach sweet tea sort of accent.

The tour locations are a mix of “vibrant neighborhoods with very thriving economic and residential developments” and “we’ll go through blighted neighborhoods as well.”

The Beltline $2.8 billion cost will be funded over the next 25 years by TADS.

Inman Park

Inman Park Victorian Home

  • In 1890 Inman Park developed as a suburb of Atlanta, that was when the Victorian houses were built
  • “The neighborhood, like many intown neighborhoods, went downhill in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, but was restored beautifully!”

Reynoldstown

Brick Building on Wylie

  • Historically, Cabbagetown was white and Reynolds town was black. The two towns were created to house workers at the cotton mill
  • The weird two story brick building on Wylie was once a grocery store built and owned by Reynoldstown’s namesake, a freedman named Madison Reynolds
  • “Underutilized land” it seems like the perception is that people haven’t been living, working, and playing in Reynoldstown until it was marked as a prime target for revitalization. Which weird, because I remember being a cheerleader at Lang Carson Park while my younger brothers played football

Glenwood Park

Glenwood Park

  • Designed by Charles Brewer of Mindspring
  • I used to call this exit the “scary exit”, because I got lost on my way home from prom in the twelfth grade. That was obviously a while ago. Like ten years ago. Since then that kudzu encircled kind of haunted gravel mill has become a big live-work-play complex with very expensive homes

Grant Park

The Enclave

  • The Enclave at Grant Park was built on built on brownfield/industrial land.
  • Boulevard Heights, “different amounts of revitalization, there are houses that have been redone and houses that haven’t”
Englewood Manor Housing Projects

Englewood Manor Housing Projects

  • Englewood Manor Housing Projects, the AHA intends the site for mixed income apartments. The abandoned area is huge.
  • DH Stanton Park: A little girl waves to the bus and no one waves back
  • In 1999, a little girl caught fire going down a slide on her playground built on a brownfield, the same girl participates in the reopening ceremony to show her support for her neighborhood and the new DH Stanton Park
  • Getting people living in neighborhoods to support the rail
  • The Beltline could be a way to alleviate safety issues for the kids who cross railroad tracks to get to New School at Carer

Pittsburgh

Concrete Field

Concrete Field

  • “The infamous Pittsburgh Community” was “ground zero” for the mortgage crisis in Atlanta
  • Casey Foundation owns a big chunk of the concrete fields
  • Goals for this neighborhood job center, mixed income developments, and parks

Capitol View/ Adair Park

  • “We just want to name it three different things in Atlanta” about single streets with different names
  • What I heard about streets with different names is that white citizens of Atlanta did not want to live on the same street as black citizens of Atlanta. So, if a street ran from one neighborhood to the other it was renamed where the neighborhoods were separated
  • At Kroger I’m waiting at the counter as the employee fixes my lunch and a woman walks up looking for napkins. She stops the other woman from making my food and insist that the employee find her napkins immediately

“I’m on the bus.”

“I’m on the bus too.”

“I don’t want them to leave me!”

She insist even after the clerk tells her that she’s making my food

Ashview Heights

Booker T Washington High

Booker T Washington High

Washington Park

  • New station in between Buckhead and Ashley

Chappell Rd., Mason Turner

Abandoned Complex

Abandoned Complex

  • In this 2 miles or so is the most horrific blight I’ve seen since Detroit, maybe even worse than Detroit
  • There are several abandoned complexes
  • Maddox Park, earlier park
  • Soccer field, ball field “I’ve never seen it in use on any Saturday tour!”
  • There are kids playing basketball, I guess the lack of use of the soccer field and the ball park a reflection on the communities lack of interest in the park as a whole and not an indicator of a poorly designed park
  • Quarry being turned into a reservoir and then into a very large park

Collier Heights

  • “well-kept”
  • Atlanta Beltline runs behind
  • Northside trail
  • Tanyard Creek Park, civil war green space
  • Louise G. Howard Park

Ansley Golf Club

Sherwood Forest/Ansley Park

  • Beltline runs along a private golf course
  • Runs behind Ansley Mall
  • The Beltline lets out at Park Tavern
  • Grady High School is on the Beltline
  • City Hall East-> Jamestown Properties, Greenstreet Properties
  • My only question on the tour: What is the Atlanta Beltline doing to prevent displacing current residents of this neighborhood and avoiding gentrifying the low income communities?
  • The Affordable Housing Trust Fund is the Beltline’s answer to combating gentrification
  • The plan to offer incentives for mixed income developments
  • Also offers incentives to City of Atlanta employees (fire fighters, teachers, policemen) to move into neighborhoods that have a large number of home vacancies

The Beltline tour concludes near the Eastside Trail, where it started. It is a study in several things. First, it’s a study in Built Environments. Along the tour you see people engaged in activity according to the spaces available to them. In places where the trail has already been built (the Eastside Trail and the Westside Trail) there are people walking, jogging, and biking. We pass several public parks and even though the morning is overcast there are already teenagers out playing sports. Along streets where there weren’t any sidewalks people had worn dirt paths in the grass. In other places, there was traffic and no green space. In the parks there were areas that appeared to get heavy use and other areas that seemed to get no use at all. I think that adding walking paths in densely populated neighborhoods is a great idea. Adding walking paths that actually go someplace is an even better idea.

Public transportation is a great way to encourage exercise if it’s in close proximity to communities. People might be more willing to walk a mile if there’s a train at the other end. People might be more willing to hop on a bicycle if they can get over to the park or to school without having to deal with cycling on the streets. Many of the mixed-income developments they are intending are very close to parks and recreation centers. That closeness makes for better access to exercise which makes for better access to a change of routine that could reduce the risks of a sedentary lifestyle. I’m excited about of the potential health benefits Atlanta Beltline might provide.

The overall theme of the tour was the idea that areas need revitalization. That is, access to economic opportunities, upgrades to the infrastructure, population growth in areas that have many vacant houses, parks and intentional landscaping and designs, safety, and all of the other things that people think of when they hear that term. The key to revitalization is money. It takes money to make a neighborhood shiny and new, and usually its current inhabitants don’t possess the monetary or social capital. In an ideal world newly mixed-income neighborhoods don’t displace people. Wealthier people move in, and the poorer people stay. Both the new inhabitants of the community and the old inhabitants of the community reap the benefits of a meticulously planned urban neighborhood. But we often fall short of ideals.

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