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Best of Atlanta Urbanism, 2016

Thread ATL presents our first annual “Best and Worst of Atlanta Urbanism” list. As is the case with everything we do, we focused on things happening within the City of Atlanta limits for these lists. First up…the good stuff!

Thanks to everyone who gave us input on this list through the online form. We took those entries and added our own, and ended up with this as the top ten best things to happen with the urbanism of the city this year. Coming up soon, the 10-worst list and things to watch for in 2017

1. MARTA & TSPLOST tax passed
City of Atlanta voters decided to invest in a lot of great things by passing the MARTA and TSPLOST referenda in November (and by a big margin). The TSPLOST tax will last 5 years and will fund complete streets, expanded bike-share service, greenways and more. The MARTA tax will collect $2.5 billion (!!) over 40 years. Potential projects are listed here, but the final list will be decided upon following a public engagement process the transit agency will lead.

2. Reuse of old buildings
The renovated Olympia Building, Georgia Beer Garden, Flatiron City, Switchyards — these are examples of some of the best reuse of old structures in the city. These buildings will continue to connect us to our city’s past while also signaling a bright future for the neighborhoods and organizations they serve. 

3. Relay Bike Share
After a modest (but exciting) start this year to Atlanta’s bike share program, 500 new bikes at dozens of new hubs around the city are being added in coming months. It has some things that other bike share programs don’t, like geo-tracking of bikes (you can access a map through the program’s app) and the way you can return the bike anywhere within the sharing zone and not necessarily at a specific hub.

4. Protected bike lanes
On Westview Drive in West End, and on the Portman Path in Downtown, Atlanta’s newest protected lanes are a great model for the kind of bike infrastructure we need on busy roads in Atlanta. Clear data shows a direct relationship between protected lanes and significant growth in cycling traffic. Atlanta is now on its way toward generating some of that growth.

5. Building homes but not adding parking
When the Seventh Midtown condos finished construction, some Atlantans might have scratched their heads at the sight of a new multifamily tower on Peachtree Street that had no new parking built along with it. This building (and at least one other underway in Midtown) is making use of existing parking capacity from nearby decks rather than adding more. That could mark a big change in how we grow in the city center.

6. Serious talk about Dekalb Avenue
The start of a Dekalb Avenue Redesign Project & the big turnout for bike lanes at the kickoff public event were good signs of the potential for improvements for a very dangerous street. It’s past time for this road that connects many neighborhoods and several MARTA stations to get an overhaul — one that reflects the changing urbanism of the city and not the “car sewer” designs of the past.

7. Atlanta City Design Project
Ryan Gravel (Atlanta BeltLine mastermind) and city planning chief Tim Keane are heading up this effort to plan ahead for a population boom in the region — and to capture as much of that growth as we can intown. A good design plan for the built environment will make sure that the additional population can benefit the city.

8. Atlanta City Studio
This is an example of the City of Atlanta doing something for urbanism that goes above and beyond what you find in other cities. Described as “a pop-up design studio within the City of Atlanta’s Department of Planning and Community Development,” it’s a space where people can attend events and engage with installations that focus on our urban form. Seriously, just look at the events page for the studio on on Facebook: book clubs, movie screenings, educational sessions…all centered around the design of the city. It’s been at Ponce City Market this year but the studio staff has said that they’re moving to a new location in 2017, with an intention of giving residents around Atlanta access to the goodness.

9. Angel Poventud rallying people on the issue of the Beltline alignment at Dekalb Avenue/Krog
Angel Poventud, a champion of the Atlanta BeltLine, did an awesome job at giving a big crowd of people a tour around Dekalb Avenue and answering questions about how this section of the BeltLine presents some difficulties with the alignment design for rail. The speed and efficiency of rail at this spot will determine its usefulness to Atlantans for generations. Get it right. (BTW, you can read here about the resolution of the controversy about the alignment — we think it turned out well.)

10. Conversion of vacant, boarded-up apartments to Vine City Park
This is one of the coolest things that happened in Atlanta this year. In Vine City, the blight of abandoned apartment buildings was transformed into a neighborhood park — one with a “rain garden” to help mitigate flooding that’s plagued the neighborhood for years. The first phase of it opened a couple of years ago, but in 2016 the final phase of expansion was completed and it’s a wonderful thing.