How to make the Beltline happen

Atlanta’s game-changing transit loop won’t succeed without big, bold ideas. Here are five.

by Thomas Wheatley – Creative Loafing

Atlantans can be forgiven for having become a bit jaded about the shortage of visible progress in the eight years since the Beltline first burst on the scene.
Sure, railroad segments have been acquired and leased, public art’s been displayed and a smattering of parks have sprung to life. And yes, 2011 will be a big year for the 22-mile loop of parks, trails and transit proposed to circle Atlanta’s urban core and improve city life for generations to come. This spring, three new parks will open, including the first 12 acres of Historic Fourth Ward Park, which will feature a scenic lake, amphitheatre and the city’s first public skate park, near Freedom Parkway. Later this year, a highly anticipated 2.5-mile bike trail connecting Piedmont Park and DeKalb Avenue will welcome its first cyclists.
Yet despite these advancements and other small victories, people still wearily — and understandably — ask if the Beltline “actually will happen.” As a reaction to that cynicism, Mayor Kasim Reed has said he wants the $2.8 billion project to be completed much sooner than the current 25-year time line anticipates. How can that be done? Never mind the occasional ribbon-cuttings or other public unveilings — the best way to shake skeptics’ doubts that the project is nothing more than pretty sketches and pipe dreams is for big, bold steps to be taken.
Here are five initiatives — the most pressing per quadrant, as well as a broader proposal that Beltline officials have been quick to reject — that should be given serious consideration for their ability to could reignite the Beltline’s momentum and make the project more relevant to the public.

The Full Loop: Introduce Atlanta to the Beltline — by building a bike path 6

It’s far less expensive than the project’s transit component and far more feasible in the short-term
  • by Thomas Wheatley | 01.20.11
  • Northwest: Turn a giant hole in the ground into Atlanta’s new waterfront

    The booming Westside would benefit with a 45-acre reservoir and greenspace that’s twice the size of Piedmont Park
    • by Thomas Wheatley | 01.20.11
  • Northeast: Build a rail segment that links Atlanta’s most booming neighborhoods 1

    The crescent-shaped arc between Piedmont Park and DeKalb Avenue has the density to make transit work
    • by Thomas Wheatley | 01.20.11
  • Southeast: Ready the second-most-populous segment for rail — and art

    Secure the Beltline’s most prominent gap — a bucolic, gritty stretch of tracks between Glenwood Park and southwest Atlanta
    • by Thomas Wheatley | 01.20.11
  • Southwest: Turn a 31-acre parking lot into a vibrant southside neighborhood

    With the right project, some of Atlanta’s most beleaguered communities — and the entire city — could benefit
    • by Thomas Wheatley | 01.20.11
  • Urbanism Triumphant: New Year’s Hope?

    Neil Peirce - Washington Post Writers Group

    “Urbanism” isn’t a word that races many peoples’ motors. But think again. It might just be the key — not only to enrich community life but to achieve a safer energy future and efficient and livable metro regions and insure our place in the larger world.
    That’s the case that famed New Urbanist architect Peter Calthorpe lays out in his book, “Urbanism in the Age of Climate Age,” just published by the Island Press.
    Fighting to reduce our oil and coal burning and combat global warming, much of the buzz surrounds such new “green” technologies as solar and wind power, industrial efficiency, and fuel efficient cars. But add up all the potential carbon savings they promise, argues Calthorpe, and we’ll still fall far short of reducing the United States’ grossly disproportionate use of fossil fuels and contribution to globe-imperiling climate change.
    The only answer, he argues, is to start correcting the spread-out, energy-profligate patterns in how we use our land. In other words, a return to true urbanism, the historic patterns of relatively compact, more energy-efficient growth we once practiced in our cities and towns, but lost in the decades following World War II.
    That means a radical turn from the post-World War II pattern of throwing up clumps of subdivisions, isolated office parks, commercial strips and shopping centers, strung together by arterials and highways, all accommodating the automobile but rarely if ever walkable or encouraging of civic life.
    It’s as if, Calthorpe alleges, we’d gone on a “fast food, high-carbon diet” that let our metropolitan regions, where most of us live, “become obese” through our heavy dependence on oil — “a high-sugar and high-starch diet,” expanding the urban waistline, ballooning our output of carbon into the global atmosphere “without nourishing strength or resilience.”
    The only cure, he argues, must be return to a robust urbanism of efficiently shaped and planned cities and regions.
    So what’s urbanism? You can recognize it by what it delivers, suggests Calthorpe. It is places that feature a diversity of uses — homes, shops, libraries, parks, schools — mixed closely so they’re walkable (or easily bikable). It balances cars with public transit. It supports a rich public life. And it’s cities and other urban places that create, on a per capita basis, the least carbon emissions. (New Yorkers, famously, emit a third of the greenhouse gas emissions of the typical American).
    Urbanism, Calthorpe insists, can come in many forms, scales, or density. It’s not just a big city model. Many of our traditional small towns, village centers and streetcar suburbs, with their mixed uses and walkability, are as “urban” as historic city centers.
    Our big need now, he’s suggesting, is to focus on the co-benefits of carbon reduction and more sustainable urban form. Examples abound. For heating, an adjoining wall (as in an apartment houses and townhouses) is more effective than a detached house’s solar collector. A small neighborhood cogeneration electrical plant that reuses its waste will likely save more carbon per dollar than a distant wind farm (with its inevitable heavy power loss in transmission cables). A walk or a bike ride costs less, generates less carbon, than a hybrid car covering the same ground.
    What we need to do, Calthorphe contends, is to expand urbanism’s historic qualities of compactness and civic connectedness to the metropolitan scale, the citistate regions of our time. Rather than the old model of a city/suburb schism, we need to see regions as interconnected, interdependent networks of places.
    Neighborhood becomes the metaphor of choice here. Just as a neighborhood needs a vital center, its crossroads, the citistate needs a strong center city that’s its cultural heart, its center of trade, and symbol to the greater world.
    But that’s not to eclipse other regional towns and cities. In fact, the pedestrian scale of successful neighborhoods has a mirror in regional transit networks, the lines focusing growth in the vital towns and cities in a region just as main streets focus a neighborhood.
    And there’s an associated big value, Calthorpe argues, in diversity — mixes of all manner of people, the reverse of standard suburbia’s habit of separating us into subdivisions by age and income.
    Is all this a touch Pollyannish, wishing for goodwill and collaboration when the natural tendency among towns and places (not to mention businesses and individuals) is so-often “us-first” competitiveness?
    One might think so. Except that the old formula — easy mortgages, pro-sprawl land patterns, almost total auto dependency enabled by cheap energy — was overturned by the Great Recession. The excessive resources aren’t there to go back to.
    Calthorpe’s substitute — more prosperity for all by smart regional strategies that are civic-, asset- and carbon-conserving — isn’t guaranteed. But it would be a thousand times smarter.


    Design Guidelines for Emory University’s Clifton Community Partnership

    Recognizing that traffic from Atlanta’s regional growth was strangling quality of life, a major university convened a collaborative partnership (“the Partnership”) as a platform where the university, residents, civic and business leaders, and local governments could explore ways to work together to improve the area within three miles of the university’s core campus. The Partnership focuses on four key concepts: Live Locally; Walk Anywhere; Alternative Transportation; Enhance Vibrant Neighborhoods.
    Olmsted‘s office laid out a plan for Druid Hills, the neighborhoods south and west of campus, that evoked the spirit of the City Beautiful movement. Graced by a network of parks that line streets whose curves celebrate the area’s hills and streams, the heavily wooded residential neighborhoods are highly sought addresses. Over the years, however, intersections of arterial streets have become strip shopping centers, and the narrow winding streets are today choked with heavy traffic. Moreover, the metropolitan region is expected to add another million people by 2025, roughly one-fifth of who are expected to settle in this quadrant. The number of cars on local roads and the number of hours lost to congestion have grown even faster than the population.
    Read More>>>

    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.

    New Construction Underway at The Park at LaVista Walk

    The Providence Group’s newest community, The Park at LaVista Walk  is now underway with 20 new townhomes currently under construction. The Park at LaVista Walk is a new upscale townhome community priced from the mid $200s located at the intersection of LaVista and Cheshire Bridge Roads. The community features a variety of three story, brick townhomes with two bedrooms and up to three and one half baths. Each home design offers a basement flex space ideal for a home office, exercise room or bonus room. The community offers convenient access to I-85, shopping, entertainment and a variety of restaurants.  The community is a short drive to Lenox Mall, Phipps Plaza, and everything that Buckhead and downtown Atlanta has to offer. Homeowners can also choose to walk to the many conveniences within the community which features an internet cyber cafe and coffee bar, two private pools, state of the art fitness center, plus a shopping plaza across from the community.

    The Park at LaVista Walk Pool The Park at LaVista Walk offers extensive amenities including two private pools and state of the art fitness center.

    The Providence Group is offering $7,500 in options to the first homebuyers at The Park at LaVista Walk. Interested homebuyers can register on The Providence Group website or contact the onsite agent directly at 770- 480-9993.

    Varsity Jr. Closes

    Jane Rawlings, President
    Lindridge Martin Manor Neighborhood Association
     

    Jane Rawlings, LMMNA President

    As most of you are probably aware Varsity Jr. has closed its location on Lindbergh Drive. Much rumor and speculation exists surrounding this development and I want to present the facts. 
    As background, beginning in 1999 the Cheshire Bridge Task Force was formed to examine ways to improve the corridor.  From this effort a study was completed, and, ultimately, the corridor was rezoned. While the details of the zoning are complex, the overall net desire and effect of this rezoning was to create a more pedestrian friendly environment. Many area neighborhood associations, businesses, and residents participated on this Task Force including but not limited to LMMNA and Varsity Jr. 
    Fast forward 11 years when Varsity Jr. submitted an application for a Special Administrative Permit or SAP with the City of Atlanta Planning Department on February 8, 2010. As is required the Planning Department reviewed the application and plans and documented its comments. The city pointed out aspects of the plan that were inconsistent with the zoning regulations for the parcel. The Varsity Jr. property was “grandfathered” i.e. was granted legal non-conforming status when the Cheshire Bridge Corridor was rezoned as a result of the efforts of the Cheshire Bridge Task Force. Given the scope of the renovations planned (> 60%) the new regulations would have gone into effect. You can visit the city’s website for an overview of the zoning regulations for MRC-2-C. 
    The applicant was advised by planning of their options to seek a Special Exception to the code. For whatever reason the applicant chose not to pursue such. Had they done so, they would have then been required to appear before the LMMNA to present their plans. LMMNA would then have made a recommendation to NPU-F as to whether or not to support the applicant’s Special Exception. NPU-F would have then made a recommendation to the BZA and, ultimately, the BZA would have decided whether or not a Special Exception was advised. 
    At no time did LMMNA take any official position on this application as it never came before us, since the applicant chose to neither amend the plan, nor file for a Special Exception to the zoning regulations. 
    Moving forward. . .obviously many within the community are saddened by the loss of this business. I ask, however, that area residents learn a very important lesson from this experience. First, when future applications come before us (and they will) I would recommend that folks make decisions based on the merits of the plan and not their emotional attachment to the applicant. Remember, zoning changes stick with the PROPERTY not the applicant. Properties continuously change owners so one cannot rely on the good will of an owner to act in the future best interest of the neighborhood. Instead, neighborhoods must seek zoning regulations that are in the best interest of their neighborhoods and then work to see that the City upholds them. To the best of our ability LMMNA needs to consistently and fairly apply the law. We expect the city to do the same. If, in the future, Varsity Jr. decides to re-file or seek a Special Exception, then LMMNA will have an opportunity to weigh in on the merits of granting such.  

    As most of you are probably aware Varsity Jr. has closed its location on Lindbergh Drive. Much rumor and speculation exists surrounding this development and I want to present the facts. 

    As background, beginning in 1999 the Cheshire Bridge Task Force was formed to examine ways to improve the corridor.  From this effort a study was completed, and, ultimately, the corridor was rezoned. While the details of the zoning are complex, the overall net desire and effect of this rezoning was to create a more pedestrian friendly environment. Many area neighborhood associations, businesses, and residents participated on this Task Force including but not limited to LMMNA and Varsity Jr. 

    Fast forward 11 years when Varsity Jr. submitted an application for a Special Administrative Permit or SAP with the City of Atlanta Planning Department on February 8, 2010. As is required the Planning Department reviewed the application and plans and documented its comments. The city pointed out aspects of the plan that were inconsistent with the zoning regulations for the parcel. The Varsity Jr. property was “grandfathered” i.e. was granted legal non-conforming status when the Cheshire Bridge Corridor was rezoned as a result of the efforts of the Cheshire Bridge Task Force. Given the scope of the renovations planned (> 60%) the new regulations would have gone into effect. You can visit the city’s website for an overview of the zoning regulations for MRC-2-C.  

    The applicant was advised by planning of their options to seek a Special Exception to the code. For whatever reason the applicant chose not to pursue such. Had they done so, they would have then been required to appear before the LMMNA to present their plans. LMMNA would then have made a recommendation to NPU-F as to whether or not to support the applicant’s Special Exception. NPU-F would have then made a recommendation to the BZA and, ultimately, the BZA would have decided whether or not a Special Exception was advised.  

    At no time did LMMNA take any official position on this application as it never came before us, since the applicant chose to neither amend the plan, nor file for a Special Exception to the zoning regulations.  

    Moving forward. . .obviously many within the community are saddened by the loss of this business. I ask, however, that area residents learn a very important lesson from this experience. First, when future applications come before us (and they will) I would recommend that folks make decisions based on the merits of the plan and not their emotional attachment to the applicant. Remember, zoning changes stick with the PROPERTY not the applicant. Properties continuously change owners so one cannot rely on the good will of an owner to act in the future best interest of the neighborhood. Instead, neighborhoods must seek zoning regulations that are in the best interest of their neighborhoods and then work to see that the City upholds them. To the best of our ability LMMNA needs to consistently and fairly apply the law. We expect the city to do the same. If, in the future, Varsity Jr. decides to re-file or seek a Special Exception, then LMMNA will have an opportunity to weigh in on the merits of granting such.

    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. 
     

    City needs parking policy that promotes people-friendly streets

    Filed under: Guest Columns — Maria Saporta @ 6:20 am
     
    By Guest Columnist MIKE DOBBINS: a Georgia Tech professor of architecture and planning who also served as the city of Atlanta’s commissioner of planning, development and neighborhood conservation from 1996 to 2002. Dobbins also is author of a new book: ‘Urban Design and People.’
     
    Parking is about a lot more than storing cars and generating revenue.
    Parking, and in the current situation on-street parking, is about access and walkability, retail, restaurant and residential viability, and altogether the character – the attractiveness and functionality – of the more intense parts of town.
    Various studies have confirmed the common sense that cars parked at on-street parking spaces provide a positive frame for a good quality pedestrian environment. They enable not just real and perceived access for car passengers but they also protect pedestrians, streetlights, trees, and sitting places from the rush of curbside traffic.

    For retailers, restaurateurs, and other businesses, they provide the promise and often the reality of more convenient access from which their businesses benefit. For urban dwellers, they provide parking for residents and their visitors, conveniences that complement other amenities for those choosing to live in urban scale communities.
    For those businesses, residents, and visitors who choose to imbibe in urban life, then, supporting that choice becomes an important policy matter for local government. Leading up to the Olympics and for the most part ever since Atlanta has retooled its policy mix to support and encourage those who want to make the urban choice, whether for locating the workplace or the home or for shopping, entertainment, or cultural and sporting events.
    Zoning overhauls, development incentives, streetscape and wayfinding improvements, locating venues for broad audiences, and other initiatives have provided the base from which the city has stimulated its ongoing turnaround. It has attracted to its diversity of places the people, employers, and attractions that have lifted it out of its suburban-driven, white flight decades of decline.
    To now make parking policy choices that reverse this progress, very likely for lack of understanding the larger implications, would be a significant setback. It would fly in the face of the policies that have made the city an ever-improving environment to attract the growing markets of seniors, empty-nesters, jaded suburbanites, and people moving from other places who are finding positive choices in the city.
    Even so, the government — our representatives in our collective ownership of the city’s streets — is responsible for their management and collecting the revenue generated by the use of the streets for parking.
    As many businesses have correctly pointed out, however, the current parking arrangement directly threatens their prospect for generating revenue, much of it taxable at one level or another.
    The city has responded, wisely, by declaring a moratorium on the privatization agreement that they entered into last year, with a view toward reviewing and hopefully reworking that agreement.
    At least two tracks should be taken in this review: 1) how to establish a parking policy that will reinforce, instead of threaten, its urban-friendly policies that have been successful from the mid-nineties; 2) generate a cost-benefit analysis of the current parking contract that takes into account not just the narrowly conceived parking revenue/enforcement arrangement but also estimates the certain declines in overall revenues that maintaining the current contract would cause.
    It would appear that what happened is that the deal struck took into account neither of these lines of analysis. Instead, the machines and their two hour limit and 24/7 enforcement seem the simplest and most remunerative for the private partner. One size fits all, even though the streets and their use for parking are widely variable.
    The city must see the people, the owners of its streets, as customers with varying needs and in the context of attracting ever more customers instead of closing the gate to them. Such a comprehensive analysis might lead to a whole different approach to the more complex problem.
    For example, areas with substantial retail, restaurants, in-and-out businesses, and residential densities could use more on-street parking not less. This could be accomplished by opening up and metering “no parking” streets for parking during the off-peak hours that presently bar parking – even Peachtree Street.
    Except during the peaks, there are few if any streets in the higher intensity parts of the city that have traffic congestion problems. Yet because of their very densities and diversity of activities, such streets could generate considerable parking revenue. To compensate for the heightened enforcement required during the peaks, the penalties could be more severe, using high fines and towing to cover the costs.
    Regardless of the outcome of that idea, the 24/7 enforcement is a killer — the City should get rid of it, unequivocally. No one will come to eat, entertain, take in events, or even choose to live in an environment so draconian. It is killing the very street life that makes a city a city.
    Surely the fancy new toll machines are sophisticated enough to program much more time-sensitive collection and recording apparatus to turn the whole of the parking enterprise into one that is sensible and welcoming, while still generating greater parking revenues than in the past.
    The enforcement period should vary, like for peak hours, and its baseline should allow parking without fees from something like between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. For a city that wants to attract people, the goal should be to balance people’s access needs with legitimate and appropriate penalties for abuse of the access system.
    Parking policy is vital to Atlanta’s future as a place of urban excellence.

    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.
    Watch Video

    The Architecture of Fear

    05.26.10: The Architecture of Fear – David Byrne’s Journal
    http://journal.davidbyrne.com/2010/05/052610-the-architecture-of-fear.html
    Went to Atlanta for a bikes and cities panel that was different than the others I’ve done. This one was part of a New Urbanism conference. New Urbanism is a movement that developed at least a decade ago, and the goal is to advocate for less sprawl and a return to cities where pedestrians, drivers, cyclists and the rest all interact — where there is vibrant urban life, rather than the dead zones that many of the US downtowns have become. One branch has become associated with purpose-built towns, the most famous being Celebration, the Disney version of a small town — in all senses of the phrase.
    05_26_10_a_celebration
    [Source]
    It’s fakey in a way that makes me squirm, but it can’t be denied that it’s a valid alternative to the sprawl that has proliferated everywhere. My parents moved to one of these places — Columbia, Maryland — when I left for college, and it smelled of a managed tastefulness that was simply lifelessness to me. The town decides what colors you can paint your door, or your house, for example. However, there were little town centers within walking distance of most residents, so that was a big change from the typical suburban developments and malls that were taking over the farmland. There was no realistic public transport in and out of Columbia, so it was an island, and without (being able to drive) a car my parents are trapped there.
    Not all the New Urbanists are about Disney towns; their interests range from retrofitting dead suburban malls to bike lanes, which is sort of where I come in.
    As the taxi pulled up to the Atlanta Hilton, I was surrounded by smiling, handsome black men in a variety of doorman outfits. All charming, and all welcoming me effusively to Atlanta. Southern hospitality — what a change from New York! As I passed through the double doors into the massive lobby, suddenly all the people around me were white. Or at least that was the initial impression. It was like I’d gone through some magical portal — with one group left outside, and another inside. The black people of Atlanta have all the social service jobs and are largely kept separate — outside, if possible — from the white masters. I’m exaggerating, but this is the first impression one gets.
    It’s horribly insulting, but it’s as if the masters have created live lawn jockeys, welcoming visitors to their property. Now, to be fair, Atlanta had Andrew Young as a mayor and has a whole slew of black universities, as well as quite a few major music artists of note; but, well, this was my perception.
    Atlanta has the worst sprawl of almost anywhere in the country — the amount of time people spend commuting and driving (stuck in traffic actually) and parking is beyond belief. So having a conference here about more sustainable towns that foster a sense of urban life is a bit of a poke in the eye to this city.
    In Atlanta, as in many other US cities, in the ’60s, white flight accelerated — fear of a black planet, as the Public Enemy record is titled, had taken hold in a big way. The cities were where you lived if you couldn’t afford to get out. John Portman, the architect and developer, began building massive, futuristic hotel complexes in the center of town. They were so big that once inside, one never had to leave. A fellow conference attendee compared the Marriott Hotel, one of Portman’s projects, to the extraordinary sets for the old sci-fi movie Things To Come, a film directed by William Cameron Menzies.
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    This shit is real! The future is here… and it’s white! (This is the interior of the Marriott that he built.)
    The exteriors of these complexes are awe-inspiring and forbidding; they don’t relate to the street at all — no surprise there — but rather present from the outside a gleaming tower with “fortifications” at street level.
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    So the street life surrounding these complexes gets killed, as there are no stores, businesses or anything feeling out to the sidewalks. Everything takes place indoors, and it’s all self-sufficient, depending on what you call living. In subsequent decades what are now referred to as gerbil tubes were added to link adjacent complexes. These second floor aerial walkways connect the mega complexes, so that one doesn’t have to come in contact with the dreaded street — or the black people that might be lurking out there — even if one had to, for some strange reason, leave one mega building to enter another across the way. Stores then sprung up on the second floors to cater to these gerbils who never venture onto the streets. Obviously any folks who might have been on the streets, walking or strolling from here to there, were once excluded from those establishments. In fact, to them, those establishments were invisible.
    As in LA, many of the entrances to shops and businesses are primarily through the parking lot. The entrances and facades turned away from the streets, and towards either an interior atrium or a parking structure. In Atlanta you can walk for blocks in the center of downtown and find no shops — not any visible ones anyway. There are some restaurants and bars, but no other establishments. There might be interior courts with drug stores, stationary stores, copy shops, newsstands or clothing stores, but access to these from the street isn’t possible.
    Now one might say that this inward turning could be viewed in a less skeptical manner; that there might be a kind of civic life that could arise in the food courts and gerbil tubes — a kind of street equivalent — and that I am just being old school and prejudiced. However, it sure doesn’t seem like that is what has happened. People do get supplies at the drug store or gift shop, but the life has been drained out. Any risk of randomness has been eliminated. The reference to gerbils by the locals isn’t that accidental. It seems like an architecture of racism to me… everything is designed to facilitate avoidance of contact with the other.
    Here is an early similar structure — the great walled city of Carcassonne in France. Within its walls only those vetted to be appropriate to that town were allowed in.
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    It’s claimed that when Napoleon III widened the streets of Paris with the help of Baron Haussmann, it was to enable troop movements and to make the avenues sufficiently wide that they couldn’t be barricaded as they were during the revolution. The straightening of these boulevards, it is also claimed, was to allow the troops a straight line of fire on any insurrectionists.
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    Before the renovation, various social classes lived on different floors of Parisian buildings, so there was a fair amount of mixing, though limited. Afterwards one result of the changes was that rents went up, and the poor were driven to live on the outskirts of town, where they still are today. In a sense segregation was effected that has been partially maintained ever since.
    There were quite a few benefits to this urban renewal project too — benefits that significantly improved the lives of the poor — and in this respect, the project was surprisingly enlightened. Sewers were added and access to fresh drinking water (the Seine was long since too polluted to drink) was installed. The right of eminent domain was claimed as many large houses had to be eliminated in order to widen and straighten the boulevards.
    There were aesthetic “improvements” as well — buildings next to one another had to have their floors the same height, and it was a rule that quarry stone had to be used on the facades, giving the center of Paris the uniform look we know it by today.
    The wide sidewalks and ample air and light on these wide boulevards made sitting in the sidewalk cafes and restaurants pleasurable — and they proliferated, adding to the life of the city.
    So, though there may have been some military principles behind the plan, it had its human side too.
    Not so for a lot of contemporary government buildings and condos. I’d propose that almost all government buildings have a slight fuck you attitude — they’re meant to be inspiring, but that often comes off as imposing and intimidating. That attitude seems to carry over to luxury condos — maybe it’s the testosterone.
    Here are some new condos in my neighborhood:
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    Here is what could be a dinky condo, but is actually the Chinese Embassy in NY. It used to be a Holiday Inn, with a revolving restaurant and a view of… the Circle Line.
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    Here is the proposal for new US embassy in London — a modern version of Carcassonne, complete with a moat! We’re back where we started. Every sort of direct approach from the street is blocked, and of course the relationship to the street, where people meet and mingle, is distant and suspicious.
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    I live in New York, and Manhattan in particular over the last decade or so has sadly moved further in this direction. Though thankfully there is still plenty of life left on most streets, it’s being chipped away at. How can places like Atlanta bring some life into their urban center? I think it’s a long haul, and they should…umm…think small. When I was there, I asked if there were some neighborhoods and communities that might become less car dependent and more people friendly. A couple, maybe, was the reply. I don’t know where they are, but in the center they are not. One could imagine that if there were little town centers outside of the towering urban hospitality zone that one might bike or walk from one’s home to a transportation hub that would then get you to a place of concentrated offices. You’d leave your bike at a parking shelter, like they have at Millennium Park in Chicago. Park and ride, only without the massive car parking. One could also take public transport in, and pick up your bike at a parking/storage place in town and ride to work from there. Or maybe even walk from that drop off point.
    If those options or others aren’t available soon, I would suggest that Atlanta residents move to nearby Athens or Savannah if they want a more pleasant life.