High Line’s Next Phase: Less Glitz, More Intimacy

By COREY KILGANNON – New York Times
 
 
Photographs by Ruth Fremson/The New York Times - Construction continues on the new section of the High Line, from 20th to 30th Street.

Thirty feet above street level and just west of 10th Avenue near 25th Street, the view westward between a pair of old buildings reveals tall smokestacks and a sliver of the Hudson River in the distance.
“This is a piece of lost New York that still exists,” said Peter Mullan, a planning official for the next phase of the High Line, set to open sometime next spring.
Mr. Mullan, a vice president of Friends of the High Line, was standing on the elevated line near a section of the park that was once a sort of fertile urban valley above the street, where wild trees and plants thrived in the trapped moisture and heat in a canyonlike stretch of track between two buildings.
Designers of the second phase of the High Line worked this quirk into the park design, creating a “Woodland Flyover” section in which a steel walkway eight feet above the park’s surface allows for expansive planting beds and dense vegetation.
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DeKalb reports major sewage spill near Emory Briarcliff Campus

By Megan Matteucci
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
DeKalb County officials say 12,600 gallons of raw sewage spilled near Emory University’s Briarcliff Campus off Briarcliff Road on Thursday, 9 December 2010.
A sewer pipe under Hancock Drive in Briarwood Hills burst, spilling the untreated sewage into a tributary of Peachtree Creek behind the college’s Briarcliff campus (formerly GA Mental Health Institute), according to DeKalb watershed management records.
On Monday, the federal Environmental Protection Agency issued a consent decree, mandating DeKalb do $700 million in sewer upgrades. The county has reported more than 800 raw sewage spills in five years.

The US Environmental Protection Agency announced test results for asbestos contamination


The US Environmental Protection Agency announced test results for asbestos contamination of public land along the South Fork of Peachtree Creek Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010. The news encouraged green space supporters hoping to build trails for public use near the creek.
Last spring federal agents gathered soil and air samples near the trail site, looking for remaining traces of asbestos from a closed vermiculite processing plant at Zonolite Road near Emory University. The results revealed at a community meeting at Westminster Presbyterian Church on Sheridan Road found no measurable asbestos on most of the site.  Only at one site did the  EPA find what it called “barely detectable” asbestos contamination.
EPA coordinator Terry Stilman says “the risks from exposure to airborne asbestos are very low for recreational users.” 
Neighbors  want a creek side trail linking the park to Daniel Johnson-Herbert Taylor Park just upstream, across Johnson Road, and a community garden in the 13 acres now owned by DeKalb County. Another large public park, the Morningside Nature Preserve, is nearby downstream.  
The single spot still suspected of contamination is a mound or plateau about 170 x 250 feet, between the former Zonolite plant and the South Fork of Peachtree Creek.  “This site needs some action,” Stilman told a crowd of two dozen neighbors, trail and park supporters, and green space officials from DeKalb County. “It has a barely detectable amount of asbestos present. Without the presence of the plateau, we (The EPA) would not have any stake in this land.” 
The EPA’s stake means pressure on the former manufacturer, WR Grace, to clean up the contamination, allowing the public safe use of the parkland. Failing that, Stilman says EPA Superfund dollars are appropriate for this site, which he called a Legacy Vermiculite Site, one of dozens around the country currently being assessed by the EPA.
The news left DeKalb Commissioner Jeff Rader enthusiastic for the future of Zonolite Park.  When Stilman said the EPA will design the remedy, neighbor Mike Morton asked if the community would be included in the design. Commissioner Rader said “Yes. I can make that clear, since we own the land.”

Sally Sears, Chair - South Fork Conservancy

“We want a good design, using this flood plain for protecting the creek and allowing the public safe access to a sensitive piece of Piedmont  woodland for trails and recreation,” says Sally Sears, chair of the South Fork Conservancy. 
Rich Sussman, Environmental Coordinator of the Lindbergh-LaVista Corridor Coalition, believes the news is positive for neighbors eager for more green space close to their homes and businesses.  The two organizations lead community work days helping to create trails along the south and north forks of Peachtree Creek, from Lindbergh Drive to Johnson Road.
More samples from the plateau are in EPA hands, taken Monday, December 6, 2010. Stilman says the EPA will analyze the results, and determine a method of reducing the risk by mid-January, 2011.
More information at:   www.epaosc.org/VermiculiteExpansionWRGraceAtlantaGAO144               
EPA information officer: bryant.kyle@epa.gov
Reported by Sally Sears, Chair of the South Fork Conservancy

Atlanta BeltLine can gain inspiration from the ‘little belt’ in Paris

By Guest Columnist RYAN GRAVEL, senior associate at Perkins+Will, and the original visionary behind the Atlanta BeltLine. From saportareport.com.
In 1994 I was studying abroad in Paris while in college at Georgia Tech and I had no idea I was living half a block from a grand urban experiment.
The old elevated railroad viaduct running east along Avenue Daumesnil in the 12th Arrondissement that I naively passed underneath at least twice a day on my way to the market or laundromat wasn’t just an old abandoned relic. It was months away from the groundbreaking of its transformation into the Promenade Planteé and Viaduc des Arts – a half-mile elevated walking garden up top with arts-related businesses and studios housed in its elegant arched structure marching down the avenue (the Promenade continues off-structure for another couple miles east toward the Bois de Vincennes).

When I saw it fully transformed on a visit during graduate school, I became captivated with the idea that well-conceived infrastructure can transform our lives and change the way our cities grow.
Fast forward to my Atlanta Beltline thesis in 1999. It was exactly that kind of proposal, and the epic sequence of events that unfolded over the 11 years that followed, permitting a crazy idea to evolve into one of the most strategic urban investments underway in the country, which is now enjoying its own series of groundbreakings.
Last month I had the opportunity to go to Paris again. As it turns out, the Promenade Planteé/Viaduc des Arts is not only a transformative project in its own right, it is a prototype for a much grander experiment.

Petite Ceinture near Rue de Charenton

Much like Atlanta’s Beltline, it was initially seen as a pipedream by most. But questions about who would go there faded when it opened and throngs of Parisians and visitors climbed up three stories to enjoy its garden environment and unusual perspective of the city.
It has been a huge success and has inspired similar transformations including the High Line in New York (partially open) and the Bloomingdale Trail in Chicago (in planning and design). But that influence is not its intent; it is the prototype for the much grander Petite Ceinture, or “Little Belt”.
The Petite Ceinture is the Beltline of Paris. It was built as a rail loop for freight exchange encircling the ancient center of Paris. It connects the large train stations that serve central Paris and its 22 mile circumference (the same as Atlanta’s) originally included passenger service. Ridership declined as the subway system expanded after 1900, but freight service continued until it was largely shuttered in 1993.

 Petite Ceinture at Parc Montsouris

The initial vision for the Petite Ceinture’s transformation was even grander than the Promenade Planteé, and much like Atlanta’s Beltline. A linear park with combined transit and trail, it would link different districts together, unobstructed by traffic on city streets and spurring development along its route.
Various circumstances will prevent that vision from being fully implemented, not least of which is the heavy passenger rail (RER C) that now occupies its western front. Furthermore, its eastern end has long, deep tunnels that make reuse for pedestrians or bicycles unlikely.
And in the south, the tramway was built along a parallel roadway (the T3 line on the Boulevard Maréchaux, which is excessively wide; Atlanta has no such parallel roadway). So the most visible reuse of the corridor will likely be a greenway trail along this southern crescent, much like the Promenade Planteé, but possibly without the direct economic and cultural component found in the Viaduc des Arts.

 T3 tram on Boulevard Marechaux

The vision of transformation for the Petite Ceinture may be less comprehensive than the Atlanta Beltline. Except for their origin, circumference and physical appearance, the impact each has on its city will vary as broadly as the two cities themselves.

 Viaduc des Arts in 1995

But the project is still quite relevant for Atlanta. When I arrived in Paris last month after such a long break, I was reminded immediately of the city’s physical immensity and cultural weight. In many ways it is exactly the same place it had been 15 years before.

 Viaduc des Arts in 2010

Paris has sophisticated layers of transportation infrastructure ready to take you across the continent or around the corner. This network is so fully engaged with centuries of city-building that many consider Paris to be “finished.” It is not, but changes will come mostly in the margins, as more car lanes shift to bike and bus lanes, transit is streamlined and buildings become cleaner and greener.
By contrast, Atlanta’s changes will be quite dramatic. We are less established and more impressionable both physically and culturally to substantive, structural change. Our cultural identity is still emerging and our physical construct is very much a work in progress. We have world-class institutions, facilities and corporate leadership; we have a young, energetic and entrepreneurial population; a great climate – these are the things that make Atlanta an interesting place to live and work.

 Promenade Plantee (Paris photos taken by Ryan Gravel)

But we are also facing some pivotal questions about our economic and environmental sustainability. If we are honest and courageous in our response to these questions about what infrastructure is required for sustainable regional growth, then we can resolve the problems we have created, and in the process reclaim our leadership role in the nation.
With this perspective, the Atlanta Beltline becomes phenomenally important because it demonstrates locally how well-conceived infrastructure can transform our lives for the better, not only by changing the physical form of the city, but perhaps more importantly, by changing the way we think about how we construct our future.
Note to readers: Don’t miss “Grand Plans/Everyday Life: Le Grand Paris / Atlanta BeltLine” on Saturday, December 4, 2010. To learn more and register, click here.

Results of Environmental Protection Agency Testing

Join us for a meeting convened by DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader at a public meeting to discuss the results of the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent testing for contaminants in the county parkland at Zonolite and the South Fork of Peachtree Creek.
Neighbors and groups interested in trail building and public garden planning are invited.
Hear what we can hope for the restoration of this important floodplain in the South Fork Watershed.
Speakers:
Dr. Francis Kung’U, head of DeKalb County Watershed Department
Terry Stilman, EPA on-site coordinator
Jeff Rader, DeKalb County Commissioner
7-8 PM Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010
Westminster Presbyterian Church
1438 Sheridan Road, NE
Atlanta, GA 30324
 For more details, Debbie Schneider in Jeff Rader’s office at dkschneider@dekalbcountyga.gov.

Better Block 2

 Sep 14, 2010  by Jason Roberts

Amid the wonderful smells of smoked barbeque, and just beyond the music, we managed our second “Better Block” project, where we took a gray, concrete, and car-focused block and converted it into a more humane space that placed people first. First off, big thanks go to SWA Group, and Metheney for providing us with amazing landscaping plans and with 42 trees and 100 shrubs which were strategically placed throughout the area.  We started with the 1300 Block of West Davis: 
 
The area is filled with 1920’s – 1940’s structures built to the sidewalk with one exception…a gas station set back that breaks the people-friendly form.  The businesses built in the area received a large portion of their foot traffic from the streetcar which ran along Seventh Street and turned onto Edgefield. Once the streetcar was removed in 1956, the block was retrofitted over time to push people aside for cars. As sprawl developed and zoning laws changed, businesses that could survive in these spaces had a hard time managing Dallas’ post-war transition.  Lanes were widened creating faster traffic patterns, landscaping was uprooted to allow for more parking, and building windows were filled with mirrored glass, making the space unusable for window-shopping, and allowing little light to pass through. Though it took half a century to devolve, we were able to revive the space in under 24 hours: 
 
 David Thompson at SWA Group was instrumental in helping us walk the block and outline a plan of attack. First, we had to bring landscaping back. Dallas is hot, and people want shade…seeing these old buildings tree lined dramatically improved the area.  The middle turn lane, which is only needed at the intersections but runs the entire length of the block, was reclaimed with 100 shrubs that gave an extra layer of safety for families crossing the street. 
 
To make a space feel more humane, and inviting to people, we looked at all of the obstacles facing us. Intersections were the most glaring with little to no cross walks. Here, we recreated our own Abbey Road. 
 
Mid-century lights, which had burned out years ago were painted lively colors and given a second chance at life. When looking at what is necessary to bring people out in a community, perception of safety ranks as the highest priority. Lighting is a key element, and an easy way to revive an area is to begin changing burned-out/broken light bulbs. 
 
An abandoned telephone pole sat waiting for some kind of treatment. We decided to do our own version of the Nasher pole in downtown Dallas. 
 
As the morning unfolded, two construction vehicles went to work lining the street with 42 trees that were set to be installed at another client site the following week. The landscaping group, Metheney, pulled off a coup by letting us install them on our block before they were set to be planted. As we watched each of the trees roll out of the semi-trailer, you could feel the block coming back to life. 
 
We worked with local vendors and asked them to bring their merchandise outdoors and to the block to help draw life and activity to the street.  This tienda had just opened a few weeks prior, but the owner said business had been slow…at the end of Better Block he said, “We needed this!”.  
 
On the North East corner of the 1300 Block sat a glass building that had been covered in mirrored tint, and was vacant for over a year. We immediately removed the tint to open the space and allow window shopping and light to permeate the space. This light adds to the perception of safety in the area at night as well. We worked with local artists to bring out as many products highlighting the talented crafters of OC. 
 
(photo by Karla Garcia) 
At the gateway to the Better Block, we coordinated with one of our favorite muralists, Kevin Obregon, to help bring color to the bare white walls of Chango Botanica, and to allow the theme of the store to be highlighted outside of the building.  Our area botanicas bring a mixture of spirituality, culture, and folk art that help identify Oak Cliff. 
  
The most simple, but important element to the Better Block project was just giving people a comfortable, shaded place to sit and linger. In Copenhagen, the city measures its quality of life improvements by the number of outdoor cafe seats that open up each year. Not a bad metric for Oak Cliff to follow. 24 hours prior, there were cars filling this area. The small ice cream shop, which only has two parking spaces, now wants to create seating instead. 
 
The landscaping performed the same element of slowing traffic as with our first Better Block. A main street should be slow and feel safe so that people can see the businesses clearly, and stroll comfortably along the block. When the lanes were widened and cars sped through the area, people felt less inclined to walk with strollers along the sidewalk. Cars that entered the area respected the new lines and commerce was able to increase. 
 
When I was beginning to study urban planning, mentors would regularly tell me, “It all starts with the street…if you get that wrong, everything else breaks.” I didn’t understand that early on,  but as I’ve helped organize these projects, it’s become incredibly notable. Simply put, if you build a wide 6-lane road, you’re going to get a big box styled development with high speed roads and little pedestrian foot traffic. If you build 2 lanes, slow and landscaped, with wide sidewalks and any other multimodal transit options (bike lanes, streetcars, etc.), you’ll get small shops and places that people love to spend time in. 
 
The Dallas Morning News wrote about our city’s pending Bike Plan, and ironically, one of the blog commenters cited the weekend as an example of how it’s “too hot and humid in our city for people to take bicycling seriously”…apparantly Oak Cliff didn’t get that memo. The reality is that all communities face challenges with climate. In Portland it rains 1/3 of the year, in Copenhagen it’s freezing cold 1/3 of the year. Creating safer ways for people to walk and bicycle in an area creates more eyes on the street and adds to an areas feeling of safety as well as creating more life in a community. 
 
In the end, it’s all about the people and giving families young and old a safe, comfortable, and dignified area to live in. When we build for cars only, we make things fast, unsafe, and less humane…we adopted an 8 and 80 rule, where we should look at our community from the eyes of an 8 year old and the eyes of an 80 year old. If it feels safe for those two age ranges, it will be safe for everyone. Our city needs to refocus its priorities and think about what it is that people really want in a community. For the price of a single Calatrava bridge, we could have built a thousand Better Blocks…and made them permanent. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

About the author

Jason has lived in Oak Cliff for 10 years, and when not playing guitar in the Happy Bullets, can be found bicycling throughout the neighborhood searching for old trolley tracks.

The Voyager on Peachtree Creek

David R. Kaufman’s journey down Atlanta’s forgotten waterway
This report was prepared by Ken Edelstein, with assistance from Joeff Davis, Samantha Simon and Tammy Vinson. Online production by Alejandro Leal.
John Wesley Powell had the Colorado. Lewis and Clark explored the Missouri. For Henry Morton Stanley, it was the Nile.
David R. Kaufman set his sights a bit more modestly. Since he moved to Atlanta as a kid in 1971, Kaufman wanted to uncover the mysteries of Peachtree Creek, a neglected stream that drains the northern half of Atlanta.
Now he’s completed his voyage of discovery. Throughout the 1990s – sometimes with a friend, most often alone – Kaufman descended the North and South forks of Peachtree Creek, as well as some of its tributaries.
What he found by canoe and on foot, and what he recorded with a 4-by-5 camera, was a stream whose rich history and natural beauty has largely been pushed aside by roads, buildings, garbage, pollution – by a city that turned its back on what could be a magnificent resource. Yet remnants of that history and beauty remain. 
Kaufman shares his journey in a book, Peachtree Creek: A Natural and Unnatural History of Atlanta’s Watershed (University of Georgia Press, 2007).
Here are some photos and excerpts. 
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Some cities want fewer roadways, not more


Wider roads and new freeways and highways are a big part of the President Obama's stimulus plan, except many urban areas want to tear down highways and freeways, not build them.

: RYSSDALKAI  
Vice President Joe Biden took the wraps off the administration’s most recent report card on the economic stimulus package today. The White House says — and this number is probably subject to political interpretation — that it has created roughly three million jobs in the past year or so. A lot of that work is being done on infrastructure, building and fixing bridges and highways. Dozens of cities around the country have just the opposite in mind though. They want to tear down parts of some freeways. 
From WNYC in New York City, Andrea Bernstein reports. 
: BERNSTEIN ANDREA 
Near the lower tip of Manhattan, Michael Sorkin is standing just yards from the East River and Brooklyn Bridge, but you can barely see them. So he looks up. 
MICHAEL SORKIN:  
We see traffic that is in at least three different levels. There’s the FDR Drive. There’s an interchange to get people onto the Brooklyn Bridge that’s flying over the FDR Drive, and then flying over that is the Brooklyn Bridge. 
Sorkin is an architect and head of urban design at City College of New York. He’s drawn up a different blueprint for this patch of Manhattan. Tear down a section of the elevated highway, the on-ramps and cloverleafs. 
SORKIN:  
You would see one of the most beautiful architectural achievements in the history of consciousness, the Brooklyn Bridge. 
There would be parks, plazas, restaurants. 
SORKIN:  
You would see boats cruising by. 
Sorkin drew up these designs as part of an international exhibition by the group Institute for Transportation Development Policy. As crazy as it sounds, the idea of tearing down highways in dense urban areas is ricocheting around the country. 
Cleveland is planning to convert a lake-front expressway to a boulevard by 2012, and Seattle is moving to tear down adouble deck highway by that same year. 
CARMEN GAND:  
I think it’s ridiculous. 
Back in New York, teacher Carmen Gand was walking her dogs near the FDR Drive. Her reaction to a proposed teardown is typical. 
GAND:  
People are going to drive into Manhattan regardless, so why not make as many roads or possibilities to get into Manhattan as possible? 
It turns out that New York actually tore down an elevated highway in the 1970s. Sam Schwartz was the chief engineer for the NYC Department of Transportation then. 
SAM SCHWARTZ:  
And people panicked. They thought that was Armageddon. 
The highway had begun to crumble, so the city dismantled 60 blocks and replaced it with a regular street. 
SCHWARTZ:  
After that, we had trouble tracing about one-third of the people. Transit went up. We had the same number of people coming in, but they weren’t coming in by cars. 
San Francisco also lost freeways in the 1989 earthquake. Some years later, the San Francisco Chronicle wrote a story about it. The headline: “Traffic Planners Baffled by Success: No Central Freeway, No Gridlock, and No Explanation.” Engineers found that traffic volume had dropped from 93,000 cars a day to 45,000. But what happens in city where there isn’t a lot of public transit? 
JOHN NORQUIST:  
“You want to do what? Tear down a freeway?” Oh, they thought I was nuts. 
John Norquist was mayor of Milwaukee from 1988 to 2004. He wanted to take down the Park East Freeway, which ran through downtown. 
NORQUIST:  
A lot of people realized it was ugly and all that, but they said what would you do with the 40,000 cars a day that use it? 
Norquist is now the president of the Congress for the New Urbanism, a group that promotes denser communities. He says in 2002, when he tore down the highway, downtown congestion didn’t jump. Instead, it dispersed all around city streets and business activity in the area went up. 
NORQUIST:  
I’d don’t there’d be many people who say, “Milwaukee was a great place till that freeway got torn down.” 
Skeptics remain, like Robert “Buzz” Paaswell. He says goods and services must be able to move through cities. 
ROBERT “BUZZ” PAASWELL:  
You just can’t take out a link in a highway and expect nothing to happen. 
Paaswell is an engineer who’s interim president of City College of New York. He says without city highways, some people will find it harder to get around. New York officials haven’t endorsed any plans to dismantle the southern tip of the FDR Drive. But around the country, mayors and governors are eying urban highway teardowns as the road to development, not congestion. 
In New York, I’m Andrea Bernstein, for Marketplace. 
KAI RYSSDAL:  
The report is part of the public radio Transportation Nation project. For photos and links to some of the traffic studies, go to Marketplace.org. 
 

5% Day at Whole Foods Market Briarcliff

 

Shop for a cause at Whole Foods Market Briarcliff! On Wednesday, June 30, Whole Foods Market will donate 5% of their net sales to the Lindbergh LaVista Corridor Coalition. Funds will be used for the continual development of the Confluence Trail system along the North and South forks of Peachtree Creek. Stop by the Briarcliff location to show your support and help raise important funds for the LLCC!

American Makeover: Sprawlanta

American Makeover is a six-part web series on new urbanism, the antidote to sprawl.
Episode 1 was filmed on location in Atlanta, Georgia and Glenwood Park, a new urbanist influenced neighborhood near downtown Atlanta.
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