Report Outlines Plan for Atlanta Beltline (GA)

December 20, 2004

ATLANTA, 12/20/2004 - A proposed Beltline corridor of transit, parks and trails would significantly enhance future development for Atlanta, according to a plan released today by the Trust for Public Land (TPL).

The TPL plan, developed by renowned Yale University Professor Alexander Garvin, calls for the Beltline corridor to frame a new park system that will add more than 1,400 acres of green space to the city, including four new parks, four expanded parks and five park-centered mixed-use developments.

According to the plan, the Beltline will be the foundation a new 2,544-acre park system. Garvin has coined the Beltline and its adjacent parks the Emerald Necklace, after Frederick Law Olmsted's famous Emerald Necklace of parks in Boston. The Atlanta Emerald Necklace will connect 46 of the city's historic neighborhoods and include a 23-mile Beltline Trail for running and bicycling, a 20-mile Beltline Transit System, and 13 new Beltline "Jewels":

  • Four new parks, totaling more than 330 acres;
  • Four expanded parks, collectively growing by more than 100 acres; and
  • Five park-centered mixed-use communities that would include nearly 800 acres of new green space.

In addition, the TPL plan proposes adding three new MARTA stations to link the Beltline to Atlanta's existing transit network.

"The Beltline offers Atlanta an opportunity that far exceeds that of any other American city," said Garvin, one of the nation's top land planners. "Atlanta has an historic opportunity to create stronger, better communities through a well-planned new public park system that will benefit the citizens of Atlanta for decades."

The Beltline concept, conceived by Georgia Tech graduate student Ryan Gravel in 1999, calls for turning more than 20 miles of old railroad tracks and other land into a linear recreation and transit loop, linking some of the city's oldest neighborhoods. Building on Gravel's idea, TPL commissioned the Garvin team to explore open space opportunities along the Beltline.

After reviewing every foot of the corridor, the research team identified ways for the Beltline to meet Atlanta's growing need for more green space, in-town transit options, recreation opportunities, redevelopment of low-income areas, and new affordable housing.

"We have an opportunity in Atlanta to use the Beltline to create a great park system for the 21st century," said Jim Langford, state director of the Trust for Public Land in Georgia. "This is an unprecedented chance to change the face of our city, but timing, funding and cooperation are absolutely critical to making it happen."

TPL has a long history of land conservation work in Atlanta. TPL worked closely with other conservation organizations and led the effort to preserve almost 70 miles of river frontage along the Chattahoochee River; protected land for the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site; and recently worked with the city to expand parkland in Southeast Atlanta.

Garvin's team envisions the Beltline Emerald Necklace as a way to spur the city's in-town development. "Atlanta's history as a railroad hub has provided quite a legacy," said Garvin. "The promise of the Beltline is to improve the daily life of residents both along the corridor and throughout the city by providing transit and recreation connections on a city-wide level. No city has ever had this extraordinary opportunity to combine these two elements and create a public realm framework around which the city will grow for generations to come."

Both MARTA and the Atlanta Development Authority are currently conducting independent feasibility studies on the Beltline to examine transit and economic development options for the corridor. Working with the city, TPL established a Beltline Greenspace Steering Committee and Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin created the Beltline Steering Committee, co-chaired by Georgia State University President Carl Patton and Barney Simms, Senior Vice President of the Atlanta Housing Authority.

"All the elements for a Beltline corridor are here," said Langford. "Much of the infrastructure is in place along an existing right-of-way, so this really is a remarkable, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to Atlanta bring together in a dynamic way, add 50 percent more park space and refresh a forgotten history."

Only 3.8 percent of Atlanta's land area is preserved as parks, ranking it near the bottom among major American cities in terms of green space. Atlanta offers only 7.8 acres of green space for every 1,000 residents, also less than most other major American cities.

"We believe that access to parks, trails and natural areas is essential to human health and well-being, and is a cornerstone of livable communities," said Langford. "We are committed to helping Atlanta realize the possibilities of the Beltline."

Further information, including a copy or summary of the plan and maps of the route are available at www.tpl.org/atlantabeltline.

Founded in 1972, the Trust for Public Land is a national nonprofit land conservation organization that conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens and other natural places, ensuring livable communities for generations to come. Across the nation, TPL has saved more than 1.9 million acres of land. In Georgia, TPL has helped protect land throughout the state including areas along Georgia's coast and rivers. For more information, see www.tpl.org/georgia.