Atlanta BeltLine: An Inspiring Vision of Revival

Atlanta stands at a precipice.

As Pendergrast discusses this idea in his book: City on the Verge… In the next few decades, it will take one of two paths. The first is to fall. With the forces of inequality, declining infrastructure, and poor transportation dragging it down, it will crumble. The second is to rise. With the help of economic and infrastructure revival, it will find renewed prosperity. One project that inspires hope is The Atlanta BeltLine.

Check out an overview here:

The BeltLine is an ambitious economic renewal and transportation development project.

For his master thesis, Georgia Tech Student Ryan Gravel breathed life into the project in 1999. The BeltLine wasn’t officially founded until 2005. It’s expected to be complete by 2030 (Atlanta BeltLine). Surrounding the city of Atlanta with “22 miles of modern street car, 33 miles of multi-use trail, and 2,000 acres of parks”, the BeltLine will connect 45 in- town neighborhoods upon its completion (Atlanta Beltline).

All this construction doesn’t come cheap.

Project leaders expect the project to cost 5 billion in total. Where are they getting all this money from? Funds come from a combination of federal, state, local, and private sources. According to McMillan at City Lab, the project relies largely on philanthropy. Businesses like Home Depot, Coca-Cola, Cox Enterprises, UPS, and Kaiser Permanente were and continue to be pivotal to the project. No wonder the project is taking so long to complete with much of its funds coming from donations.

Four trails and eight parks are currently open. However, this is predominantly a transportation project. The company predicts the creation of 30,000 permanent jobs and 48,000 one- year construction jobs to come from it (Atlanta Beltline). The Atlanta BeltLine is the largest and most prevalent project under development in the United States today.

Sustainability is a key factor.

Built on a pre- existing rail corridor that encircles Atlanta, the miles of new street car make use of “underutilized land”. Additionally, workers preserve historic sites, clean up the environment, and create a massive arboretum as part of the project.

From an economic standpoint, it’s doing well.

According to the Atlanta BeltLine website, the “447 million public and private funds invested in the project received [word inserted] a return of 3.7 billion in private redevelopment.” This is an 8 to 1 return on investment. The goal is to generate 10 to 20 billion in 25 years.

The BeltLine is more than just a loop of trails. It’s an inspiring vision.

The founders expect it to reduce income inequality, pollution, and traffic jams and improve infrastructure and transportation. It should also revitalize Atlanta’s society. Trails encourage interaction between people of varying races. They bring together people from different worlds: rich and poor.

McMillian writes that Atlantans are “among the least healthy American urbanites” (City Lab). He says that 79 percent of city residents “do not meet minimum recommended physical activity guidelines” (City Lab). The BeltLine should encourage exercise and improve the health of Atlanta residents.

However, it’s not all sunshine and roses.

McMillian writes about the concerns of Atlanta’s residents. Part of the project’s funding comes from a program called TAD. TAD allocates local resources to help fund the project. It utilizes “property taxes meant for public schools” (McMillian). Residents on one side argue that funding shouldn’t come from school taxes. Those on the other argue that “as the BeltLine attracts new residents and development, the tax base will rise, and eventually that momentum will help the schools” (McMillian).

Next, I’ll talk about the concern of displacement.

McMillian writes that displacement is evident near the Eastside Trail. “Rents and house prices have shot up” due to the completion of the construction there. The Beltline website boasts 5,600 units of affordable housing by the time the project is complete. Unfortunately, McMillian states that they are “far, far from that goal…” (City Lab).

Shockingly, Ryan Gravel “quit the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership board a few months ago to protest lack of focus on affordable housing issues” (City Lab).

Nathaniel Smith, co- founder and chief equity officer, shared Gravel’s concerns in their combined resignation letter. The two founders emphasize issues of affordability, accountability, and inclusivity.

They write that the board is focusing a disproportionate amount of energy on fundraising and not enough on affordability. The board needs to think about the future effects the project will have on Atlantans. Gravel and Smith want any Atlantan, regardless of class, to be able to live on any part of the BeltLine and enjoy it equally.

Next, they mention the sudden firing of executive Chuck Meadows. The executive committee fired Meadows without going to the full board. They write, “If you say the BeltLine is about community engagement and community voice and about equity, we have to live by those values. We can’t say that and do something else.”

Do these concerns mean the project should be abandoned? I don’t think so. Many new efforts to increase affordable housing were announced after Gravel and Smith’s resignation. 12.5 million was spent on affordable housing. Specific programs include “providing dollars to homebuyers through down payment assistance, funding for land acquisition for future affordable housing, and incentives to developers to build affordable housing” (Atlanta BeltLine).

2,000 affordable units have been built since the beginning of the project. Atlanta BeltLine Inc. promises to invest $15 million to support an additional 425 to 600 units in the next three years. 3 billion is also focused on “private economic redevelopment.”

Gravel and Smith believe in the BeltLine.

They aren’t resigning out of feelings of anger or despair. They write, “Our earnest hope, therefore, is that our resignation not be construed as a lack of support for the project’s continued implementation or a lack of confidence in ABP’s vital role going forward. Rather, we hope it is the beginning of a more robust and effective coalition of voices that can ensure that the project’s full, inclusive vision is realized” (Saporta Report).

Gravel and Smith state that who the BeltLine is for is just as important as its completion. They write that without the broad support of Atlantans, Gravel’s idea would have remained just that: an idea.

Read more about their resignation here:

If you’re an Atlanta resident, understand that this project is for you. It’s your responsibility to ensure that Atlanta BeltLine Inc. remains accountable to you. So, do your research. Get involved. This is a massive and expensive project, and it will undoubtedly impact your life.

You just need to make sure the impact is a positive one.

Read more about the project here:

Or here:

Want more Atlanta- based articles?

Your wish is my command:







This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.