Atlanta’s Emerald Necklace

Here’s an inspirational story from the US Trust for Public Land (TPL) web site, about Atlanta’s BeltLine Initiative: “…a 22- mile ribbon of interconnected parks, trails, light-rail routes, and landscape friendly development encircling downtown…”

A few excerpts:

“With funding from three Atlanta-based foundations, TPL commissioned Yale University professor Alexander Garvin to complete a landscape assessment and a report that would help Atlanta residents visualize what a BeltLine system of parks, trails, and transit might look like.

Garvin entitled his report The BeltLine Emerald Necklace: Atlanta’s New Public Realm, positioning the project in the grand tradition of 19th-century park pioneers Frederick Law Olmsted, a creator of New York’s Central Park, and Daniel Burnham, who laid out Chicago’s breathtaking network of public green spaces along Lake Michigan. The prototypical “emerald necklace” was Olmsted’s 1878 design for Boston’s five-milelong system of six parks.”

“Only two years after Garvin’s report appeared, the ambitious— some might say audacious—plan for the Atlanta BeltLine has matured from an idea into a reality. To date, TPL has completed more than 20 transactions to acquire almost 50 acres for approximately $30 million, and plans for the park system are moving full steam ahead. This progress is based on the hard-won alignment of political support, a dedicated funding stream, and residents across a wide spectrum realizing that the project will be good for both business and neighborhoods.

One key political supporter is Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, a rising political star whom TPL and others convinced of the plan’s benefits, and who made building the BeltLine a key commitment of her 2005 reelection campaign. Franklin formed the BeltLine Partnership, a citizens group charged with coordinating progress of the project. Members include Reverend Durley and former TPL national board chairman Christopher Glenn Sawyer.

In 2005 the BeltLine scaled a significant hurdle with the approval of a special tax allocation district expected to generate $1.6 billion for the effort over the next 25 years. (See sidebar, page 33.) That funding mechanism, on top of $75 million appropriated through a Fulton County recreation bond, has put the project on the path to a sound financial future.

To supplement the public investment, TPL, the BeltLine Partnership, and the PATH Foundation are currently stewarding a $60 million capital campaign by appealing to Atlanta’s corporations, foundations, and individual donors.”

“In my career as a businessman, I’ve never seen any idea reverberate so loudly and deeply as the BeltLine,” says Ray Weeks, a real estate developer and lifelong Atlanta resident who was tapped by Mayor Franklin to chair the BeltLine Partnership. “When I started to understand it, it scared me to death. It seemed incredibly complex and overwhelming. There weren’t even preliminary resources to pay for the early work. I credit TPL and its partners with stepping forward and methodically laying the groundwork for momentum to grow.”

Erwin – 1 June 2007