The Atlanta Beltline, a rails to trails project linking together over 40 mixed use Atlanta neighborhoods, will bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in development to the region. It started as a master’s thesis project by Ryan Gravel in 1999 and has now turned into a massive community mobilizer and development opportunity. Kevin Burke, a senior landscape architect,has been leading the Atlanta Beltline, Inc, a non-profit organization, since 2009 and has been tasked with heading the development of multiple projects occurring along the Beltline. As he had been in the private sector for most of his career, over 29 years, Burke aims to make sure that he brings a “private sector mentality and quality of work to the public sector.” Atlanta Beltline, Inc doesn’t actually conduct design work for the Beltline but are in fact the ‘clients’ so to say of it. They are responsible for sending out RFQs (Request for Qualifications) and RFPs (Request for Proposals) and choosing the designers/ design firms of the projects that populate the Beltline. One of the major firms commissioned for the initial Master Planning of the project was Perkins+Will, Atlanta, who conducted the early studies and design work that laid the foundation for future design development along the Beltline.

As it is 46 miles long with over 33 miles of new trails and 1.6 million visitors per year, the Beltline is an amazing driver of business development. Businesses that had turned their backs and place back of house (BOH) facing the old overrun rail line now have to contemplate the very real fact that now they have two entrances to their space. Burke did confirm that all of this rapid development over 10 years comes with a cost as property values across the entire Beltline have increased sharply leading to deep gentrification. This has caused many previous home and land owners to no longer be able to afford the cost of living and working along the Beltline. Gentrification is a major problem that many designers and developers have been dealing with for decades. How do you provide a renovation of an architecture, landscape, or city without driving away the people that gave it is character in the first place. This is the reason Ryan Gravel, the master’s student who first envisioned this idea and worked at Atlanta Beltline, Inc until December of 2016, left. This risk must be carefully considered in every design project going forward and is certainly not an easy issue to address.

Image Credit: Atlanta Beltline Corridor Image by Perkins+Will

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