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Best of Atlanta Urbanism, 2017

These are our favorite advances in good urbanism in the City of Atlanta from 2017.

1. Projects that set a new standard for public engagement

MARTA’s public meetings for how to spend the new tax money were really well done. The public meetings and input were handled very well for the Downtown Atlanta Master Plan (DAMP) too.

Also, DAMP’s delivery of the fruit of that engagement labor was top notch. Take a look at the resulting draft document online. In the wake of public-engagement failures such as the sale of Turner Field, Underground Atlanta, and Fort Mac, these are much-needed reminders of how transparency in government-led urban development projects should work.

2. The PATH Parkway

This path turned out great, particularly the section on Tech Parkway that’s north of North Avenue and runs alongside Georgia Tech. According to the PATH Foundation website, the concept of separating users was originally proposed by a group of Georgia Tech civil engineering students being mentored by PATH.

This is a local example of the excellence that can be accomplished in bike/pedestrian infrastructure at street level, and it’s capturing national attention.

Here’s a before (top) and after (bottom) of the stretch of PATH Parkway that really shines. Tech Parkway in Atlanta was all for cars, with north and south lanes divided by a median. With the parkway, the amount of space for cars was cut in half, with a bike path and pedestrian path added. No wonder it was named best bikeway of the year by People for Bikes.

PATH Parkway
Before (top photo): Tech Parkway in Atlanta was all for cars, with north and south lanes divided by a median. After (bottom photo):  PATH Parkway cuts the amount of space for cars in half and adds a bike path and pedestrian path added.

3. Affordability of housing finally gets the spotlight

Affordable housing is finally being taken seriously as a problem worth prioritizing in Atlanta, and we’ve finally gotten to a point where you can’t have a substantial conversation about housing here without addressing the issue.

A few things worth highlighting on this front: Dan Immergluck’s Twitter feed has become a great place to get introduced to the housing-justice side of urbanism, and Andre Dickens’ pursuit of a path toward an increase in affordable housing has been particularly inspiring.

4. Growing criticism of the $24 million stadium bridge

2017 saw an increase in criticism of the expensive, misguided, gleaming tapeworm of a pedestrian bridge across Northside Drive to the Mercedes-Benz stadium. One problem: it appears that construction has begun. Can the bridge be appropriately scuttled by the new administration and new council? Time will tell. If not, let’s at least use this wasteful example of bad urbanism as a rallying cry for better judgment.

5. A new respect for saving old commercial buildings

Atlanta’s “tear down whatever you want” attitude toward old  buildings seemed to take a sharp turn this year. The city’s response to the potential demolition of the Nassau Street building, trying to protect it, and new life for the Engineer’s Bookstore building after is was slated for tear-down, but then recommended for landmark status by City Council.

And how cool was it that the city got several proposals for renovating and reusing the (now sold) Constitution Building, rather than ones for tearing it down for new construction? Very cool.

But the most exciting development in this area might be the fact that a German firm, Newport, has purchased at least 25 old buildings in South Downtown with plans to renovate several of them (and to tear down none of them — whew!). It’s an impressive recognition of the value of our architectural history.

Constitution Building
The Constitution Building dates to the late 1940s and overlooks the Five Points MARTA Station.  The company that purchased it this year will renovate the structure and reuse it as commercial space. They’ll also add a new residential structure on empty land beside it.

6. The Atlanta City Design

This well-written (and nicely designed) document got Atlantans thinking optimistically about positive ways to add population growth, and the importance of urban design that is intentional with planning in a large-scale, comprehensive way. Read the whole thing online.

7. Trend toward transit being central to corporate relocation

Amazon HQ2 is controversial for good reason among urbanists. But we can certainly praise the proposed site of it in the Gulch of Downtown, which is rail-adjacent. We can praise the new NCR HQ in Midtown for the same reason. Putting high densities of new office jobs near high-frequency transit — it’s the right thing to do.

8. City Design partnership with Atlanta Public Schools

This is a great idea. Atlanta’s planning department joined forces with APS in 2017 to develop a curriculum on urban planning. Department of City Planning Commissioner Tim Keane collaborated  with APS to lead  teachers and Atlanta City Studio staff in a collaborative design the curriculum. Eighth and ninth graders will learn about the City Design in the 2018-2019 academic year.

ThreadATL is an advocacy effort that aims to influence policy around planning and design decisions in the City of Atlanta toward a greater focus on good urbanism, while encouraging residents to take Jane Jacobs’ advice and “get into the thick of the planning job” in their own communities. Learn more about us.