Atlanta Jumps Into Smart Growth Movement

BeltLine project to create eco-friendly infrastructure in urban community

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The Atlanta BeltLine will connect the city by creating green space, trails, transit, and new development along historic rail segments. (Source: Atlanta BeltLine Inc.)

When Terri Montague moved from Baltimore to Atlanta to lead the largest redevelopment project in the country, she saw decades of neglect firsthand. Transportation routes separated neighborhoods. Annual walkable cities lists put Atlanta near the bottom for its dependence on cars and lack of sidewalks. Most civil servants drive out from the city center where they work until they can afford to buy a home, which can be miles away. Commutes that used to be half an hour turned into two-hour ordeals. Unchecked urban sprawl disproportionately affected African American communities here, leading to soaring asthma rates and epidemic juvenile diabetes.

Such interrelated problems can’t just be fixed merely by planting a few trees and extending bus routes. For Montague, environmental sustainability is part of a larger smart growth movement. “People don’t live in silos,” she says. “The wave of the future is to plan and grow with more integration across disciplines. We’ve got to get rid of the silos.”

Developing a concept

Montague, 43, is president and CEO of the quasi-governmental organization Atlanta BeltLine Inc., which is leading coordination and planning for the massive BeltLine project. When completed around 2030, the BeltLine will connect Atlanta by creating green space, trails, transit, and new development along 22 miles of historic rail segments that encircle the city’s urban core.  The BeltLine will primarily affect African American communities, particularly along the loop’s southern and western sides. “It will also feature extensive new public transportation routes to ease travel for the city’s quarter million daily commuters,” Montague says.

The $2.8 billion project began as a 1999 Georgia Tech student thesis that was championed by the city council, studied for feasibility, and supported by Mayor Shirley Franklin. It currently includes plans for 1,300 acres of new parks and green spaces, 28,000 new affordable homes, acres of environmental remediation, job centers, and landmarked sites all linked by an electric light-rail system along a historic rail corridor. In order to accomplish all this, Montague must convince traditionally underserved communities that the ambitious project will be achieved with their input.

The Atlanta BeltLine’s motto is “Atlanta connected.” “There are many dimensions to that,” Montague says. “It’s reaching across what are, right now, distinctive neighborhoods and communities. I think that distinctiveness will be celebrated, but it will be more accessible.”

“The BeltLine is a big concept that will forever change the face of Atlanta. It will knit together those neighborhoods that were disconnected by geography, railroads, segregation, and federal highway development,” says Carl Patton, president of Georgia State University and an early adviser to the project. “A lot of the success I think we’re going to see with the project is the way Terri has organized the process so far, her ability to work with the city council, with community groups, the lending community, the bankers,

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  • L. Barrow

    I believe this would be and will be a wonderful idea for Atlanta; where growth and developement is a success and progress is continual, regardless of the pressures of the city; the people can be open minded to ideas that may an can be beneficial to their city. Patience is a virtue an we will soon see the outcome of Terri Montague redevelopment project for the city of Dreams.
    Atlanta is a beautiful city allowing easier mobility for the residents and the visitors, giving the city high marks.

  • Angela Grimes

    Simply GREAT, Simmply GREAT!

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  • Ron

    What a great example of what “can” be done. I think when it comes to environmental issues African Americans have become disallusioned about how it can impact their own lives. It’s not just a “hobby” but leads to sustainable communities and better lives for all of us.

  • Mark

    Seeing this level of Govenment & NGO backed infrastructure programme only demonstrates the increasing importance of similar projects, not just in the US but Globally. More focused developments, such as this, are required in all maner of cities and towns which have suffered from a lack of funding for many years……..THIS money is well worth spending!