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Will the great ideas & engagement of Downtown Atlanta plan pay off?

The Downtown Atlanta Master Plan (DAMP) has been collecting ideas through several months of public engagement, via web surveys and in-person meetings. The results are all online and are worth a read. See the full report on public input here.

Downtown Atlanta Master Plan

Check out this image above from the survey report – walkability, bike-ability, and architecture all rate highly as assets for Downtown. Sounds like Atlantans are interested in reducing our reliance on cars in the city center and preserving old buildings.

The meetings were well attended and seem to have gathered  good quality input, which speaks to the interest people have in the area and also to Downtown’s ability to inspire ideas about progressive urban design. For instance, there are not a lot of places in Atlanta where people would readily support reducing the number of car-travel lanes on major roads to make room for alternative  transportation modes – but the feedback shows that they support it here.

In September, Central Atlanta Progress will host a public meeting to show a draft of the Master Plan and provide an opportunity for people to weigh in.

This new Downtown Atlanta Master Plan will be an update to a previous one from several years ago. The plans are recognized by Atlanta Regional Commission’s Livable Centers Initiative, a program that provides funding to local governments and nonprofit organizations to…(deep breath)… “prepare and implement plans for the enhancement of existing centers and corridors consistent with regional development policies, and also provides transportation infrastructure funding for projects identified in the LCI plans.”

Whew. That’s a little hard to parse. But at least the public feedback is clear, and the ideas Atlantans have for the city center are encouraging.

You can see the previous LCI Master Plan for Downtown here:

Fair warning:  that previous plan can be a bit of depressing read because it contains so many good ideas that haven’t seen the light of day. Such as:

  • “Creating transit-oriented development around Downtown’s MARTA rail stations, particularly the Five Points, Civic Center and Garnett Street stations”
  • “Reweaving the historic fabric of the Fairlie-Poplar, Castleberry Hill, Marietta Street, South CBD and Sweet Auburn districts with new compatible in-fill development”

Those sound perfect, but in nearly ten years since the plan was released, they haven’t happened. What’s the disconnect? How is it that so many of the great  concepts in the Imagine Downtown plan haven’t seen implementation? Is the hard work to implement these long-term goals being shortchanged for a series of  quick wins that don’t truly result in the level of transformation that’s needed?

Another question to ponder: how can we ensure that the DAMP doesn’t result in disappointment for the people involved in engagement? I have no answers, but these are things that we need to be asking about our master plans and about Atlanta and its leadership if we want these plans — and the community engagement that goes into them — to really mean something.