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Show #20/6007. Atlanta Beltline

Summary of Show

Amazing Urban Development
In this Episode GardenSMART visits one of the most AMAZING URBAN DEVELOPMENTS on the east coast. And, it’s soon to be one of the largest contiguous arboretums in the world. Many American cities are changing rapidly and the way people use space is evolving, long commutes are being traded for public transportation or short bike rides and walks. In this transition many Americans no longer have their own gardens, rather rely on public green space to enjoy nature.
For More Information Click here

Built On An Old Rail Line
The Atlanta Beltline is built on an OLD RAIL LINE that circled the inner city and at one time was used to deliver provisions to businesses along its path. This forgotten pathway was quite overgrown in many places. And, it took a tremendous effort to pull together the right mix of public support, funding from the city, as well as private sources.
For More Information Click here

Ryan Gravel
As a student at Georgia Tech, RYAN GRAVEL often contemplated ways in which Atlanta could address the growing problems of inadequate transportation and preserving green space in a rapidly growing city. Atlanta is a city in the forest, but as more development creeps in those majestic forests start to slip away, often never to return. Ryan chose to tackle this challenge with his master's thesis to pave the way for a vision that is currently the Atlanta Beltline.
For More Information Click here

Ryan’s Philosophy
Eric would like for Ryan to talk some about his PHILOSOPHY when thinking about what is good urban development, what does that look like? Ryan feels he comes into this with the perspective of a designer. He strives to think about architecture, at a city scale. If one thinks about all the great cities in the world they're enormously complex, not just from a technical standpoint, but transportation and water and sewer but also super complex in the social and cultural conditions that make them up, all of those things. His role as a designer is to not be an expert in any of those fields, rather bring those people together and design sort of the physical and social infrastructure that allows them to all do their good work and make their contributions in the world.
For More Information Click here

Ryan’s Vision
The IDEA WAS TO RECLAIM IT AND REPURPOSE IT for some other use, some other kind of infrastructure that would revitalize those communities and incentivize economic development. It was built around transit and it added sort of this trail and greenway concept. It was just a crazy idea that Ryan never imagined would actually happen. He just wanted to graduate, which he did. He then went to work at an architecture firm. They were doing mixed use kind of projects.
For More Information Click here

Economic Development Aspect
Eric would like to talk about the ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT aspect of the Beltline because it's undeniable that many of the neighborhoods that are now connected by the Beltline had a tremendous amount of new, fresh air injected into those communities. All of a sudden we see communities that were kind of tired and run down that now have this really, really vibrant energy. There has been about half a billion dollars spent on the Beltline so far, and in that same time period, over the last 28 years, we've seen almost $6 billion of economic investment.
For More Information Click here

Future Parks
Eric would like for Ryan to talk about some of the FUTURE PARKS that are planned. Not all have been built. There are 1400 acres of proposed new parks, which remember was not too long ago old industrial land now made into parks and it is dramatic. The most significant is the Westside Park, the quarry park. It was just a harebrained idea somebody had 16 years ago. Westside Park is an old quarry, the idea is to fill it with drinking water from the river.
For More Information Click here

Kevin Burke
Another fascinating person who has had a significant impact on the Beltline project is KEVIN BURKE. Kevin works as the principal landscape architect for the Atlanta Beltline.
For More Information Click here

The Beltline From A Landscaping Standpoint
Standpoint Eric brings Kevin up to speed on the show. We just had a great conversation with Ryan who gave us an overview of the Beltline and the importance of the Beltline from a standpoint of urban development and planning. Kevin's role is very central to the Beltline as one of the lead landscape architects. Talk a little bit about THE BELTLINE FROM A LANDSCAPING STANDPOINT, the planting of it, kind of the overview of the scope of the project and what went into the Beltline. Everything they've done was predicated on master plans done 10, 11, 12 years ago. They have a partner in this organization called Trees Atlanta. Their sole function is, as their name implies, planting trees throughout the city and a little bit beyond.
For More Information Click here

Beltline Plants
Eric would like for Kevin to talk a little bit about the PLANTS that are part of the design here. One thing that is particularly impressive is the diversity. There's so much to experience. On the trails one of the things in addition to Trees Atlanta's arboretum is they've utilized warm season native grass meadows with an idea that this 22 miles creates an amazing opportunity as a pollinator necklace, if you will, around the core of Atlanta.
For More Information Click here

Old Fourth Ward Park
Eric would like for Kevin to talk about what is one of Eric’s favorite parks in this whole chain of parks off the Beltline, and that's the OLD FOURTH WARD PARK. As a native Georgian he remembers this part of town fairly well, and it is very, very different today. Talk us through the process of transforming this from kind of a more burned out, industrial part of town into this oasis in the middle of a city. First and foremost, as viewers travel through the park, what they need to keep in mind is that the pond here, as nice as it looks, is actually serving the function of a storm water detention pond.
For More Information Click here

Old Fourth Ward Park Plants
All the PLANTS - the bald cypress, sweet bay magnolias, river birch, everything down there is designed knowing the area will periodically flood. That was all designed on purpose. When we get beyond the pond, we don't have that concern. On the north parcel a number of years ago, they planted tilia americana, basswood.
For More Information Click here

What The Park Offers The Community
Eric would like for Kevin to talk us through some of the more significant features so we can get a sense of the scope of the park and what it OFFERS THE COMMUNITY? There is a quarter mile loop down in the bottom of the basin. It was specifically designed that size so people who want to exercise and walk will know how far they're going. They built the theater at the end of the pond, specifically at the request of the arts community. In the spring and fall every single weekend, they have had a wedding going on in that theater.
For More Information Click here

LINKS:

Atlanta Beltline
Atlanta BeltLine // Where Atlanta Comes Together.

Ryan Gravel
ABOUT – ryangravel

Kevin Burke
Kevin Burke // Atlanta Beltline
The Atlanta Beltline: An Interview with the Principal Landscape Architect, Part 2 – The Field

Trees Atlanta
Our Locations | Trees Atlanta

Plant List

Show #20/6007. Atlanta Beltline

Transcript of Show

In this Episode GardenSMART visits one of the most AMAZING URBAN DEVELOPMENTS on the east coast. And, it’s soon to be one of the largest contiguous arboretums in the world. Many American cities are changing rapidly and the way people use space is evolving, long commutes are being traded for public transportation or short bike rides and walks. In this transition many Americans no longer have their own gardens, rather rely on public green space to enjoy nature. These concerns are becoming a meaningful part of the way cities think about urban development. An understanding about how people want to enjoy nature is of paramount importance. Every city faces unique challenges, in this show we take a look at how Atlanta, Georgia has sought to address the issues of transportation and connecting a city with nature.
Top

The Atlanta Beltline is built on an OLD RAIL LINE that circled the inner city and at one time was used to deliver provisions to businesses along its path. This forgotten pathway was quite overgrown in many places. And, it took a tremendous effort to pull together the right mix of public support, funding from the city, as well as private sources. There's still much work to be done to complete the Beltline, but the two large sections that are open have been received by the city with open arms and has brought thousands of new residents into the neighborhoods that it touches. The Beltline has become a new way of seeing the world and a recognition that we can shape the world around us into something that is beautiful even when the obstacles are high. Top

As a student at Georgia Tech, RYAN GRAVEL often contemplated ways in which Atlanta could address the growing problems of inadequate transportation and preserving green space in a rapidly growing city. Atlanta is a city in the forest, but as more development creeps in those majestic forests start to slip away, often never to return. Ryan chose to tackle this challenge with his master's thesis to pave the way for a vision that is currently the Atlanta Beltline. Ryan is an urban thinker, designer, author, speaker, and builder, who works with cities designing ideas that make for a better future. In this episode GardenSMART gets a deeper look into the mind of Ryan Gravel and the Beltline that he dreamed of many years ago.
Top

Eric welcomes Ryan to the show. Thanks so much for joining us. Ryan responds, it's great to be here, thanks for having me. Ryan you have spent most of your adult life involved in urban development which can be a complicated issue. It certainly is different than the type of development that we typically see happening in the suburbs. Eric would like for Ryan to talk some about his PHILOSOPHY when thinking about what is good urban development, what does that look like? Ryan feels he comes into this with the perspective of a designer. He strives to think about architecture, at a city scale. If one thinks about all the great cities in the world they're enormously complex, not just from a technical standpoint, but transportation and water and sewer but also super complex in the social and cultural conditions that make them up, all of those things. His role as a designer is to not be an expert in any of those fields, rather bring those people together and design sort of the physical and social infrastructure that allows them to all do their good work and make their contributions in the world. When we think about the great cities, when it's done well, it really is a quality of life issue. Think about cities that lack adequate green space or adequate access to transportation, whether something like the Beltline or just the basic road infrastructure. It's a lot of different components that have got to come together to really contribute to a vibrant city and the quality of life in that city. You're not starting from scratch, you’re usually starting with something already existing that has a history and a culture and people are all a part of that. So retrofitting that with some other aspiration that's better suited to the future is a big challenge, but also a lot of fun. And obviously the Beltline is a big part of that story, sort of retrofitting Atlanta into the kind of future we actually want to live in. And as you think about that, you've got historic buildings, you've got new construction, there's just a lot of considerations, concerns and aspects of that kind of development that can be disruptive but it also can be inspirational. But in any case it's needed because the city is going to nearly triple its population in the next 20 years so something's going to happen. We should be thoughtful about what we want that to be.
Top

The Beltline was largely born of Ryan's masters thesis at Georgia Tech a long time ago. For those who are not familiar with the project Eric would like for Ryan to talk us through what the Beltline is in its essence. The idea is Atlanta is a railroad town, it was made by railroads, that's why it exists. But in addition to those central railroads, there's a loop going around the city. It's 22 miles long. By the late nineties, when Ryan finished school, the rail lines were mostly underutilized and abandoned. He had an idea to reclaim that corridor for some other purpose. It was connected to 45 different neighborhoods, about 4,000 acres of land that's old industrial land that was obsolete and being abandoned. The IDEA WAS TO RECLAIM IT AND REPURPOSE IT for some other use, some other kind of infrastructure that would revitalize those communities and incentivize economic development. It was built around transit and it added sort of this trail and greenway concept. It was just a crazy idea that Ryan never imagined would actually happen. He just wanted to graduate, which he did. He then went to work at an architecture firm. They were doing mixed use kind of projects. Ryan started telling his coworkers about the idea he had and over the next few years, they created this groundswell of public support, of citizen grassroots activism in support of this idea. It just grew with all these different constituencies, different nonprofit partners, advocating for housing and parks and transit, and all the other pieces. It empowered and ultimately obligated the elected officials in the city to take it on as a project and figure out how to do it. It’s obviously a long story, but it’s been amazing to see it really reinventing how people live their lives in Atlanta. On the one hand, it's about a technical kind of infrastructure, on the other hand, it's about taking this barrier that divided communities and bringing them together. So it's very much a social space where people get out and experience this city. It's been a huge success by any measure and something that was direly needed by the city. Think transportation. Atlanta, is not the worst city to commute in, but it's by no means the best. When one thinks about the longterm solutions for people who live in town, getting from town to town, or borough to borough, the Beltline is an ingenious solution. And it takes a lot of cars off the road. It takes into consideration how we utilize outdoor space just to exercise. Ryan believes that one of the great aspects of the Beltline is that it connects all of the parks. It offers miles of biking trails, provides areas for running but also connects people to other parts of town that really weren't connected before. For example, if you don’t have a tennis court or a natatorium in your neighborhood you can get to one on the Beltline. It not only creates green space, public space, along the way, it is importantly connecting folks to all the city has to offer.
Top

Eric would like to talk about the ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT aspect of the Beltline because it's undeniable that many of the neighborhoods that are now connected by the Beltline had a tremendous amount of new, fresh air injected into those communities. All of a sudden we see communities that were kind of tired and run down that now have this really, really vibrant energy. There has been about half a billion dollars spent on the Beltline so far, and in that same time period, over the last 28 years, we've seen almost $6 billion of economic investment. That's a pretty great return on investment from an economic standpoint. What's really driving that is the Beltline is creating lives that people want and that in turn attracts people and companies who want to invest and who want to hire those people. So it's a sort of virtuous cycle of supporting communities to revitalize, providing new services, new homes, new places to work, and that makes it even more attractive for other people to come to the area.

Eric would like to talk a little about some of the plans for the future on the Beltline. Light rail has been something that’s been discussed. As a transportation solution, it makes incredible sense. All of a sudden areas of town that would seem impractical to get to at certain times of the day, light rail creates a solution for that. This 22 mile sort of loop going through all these different communities, right at the edge of the communities, means capacity for higher density. The trail becomes this sort of connecting hub between all these different trails across the region. Similarly, the transit can connect to MARTA at each of the four compass points with other future transit lines that could come in and out of the city to help circulate people who live in the city to the places that they need to go. So the Beltline becomes this sort of idea on which a lot of other ideas become possible including all these hundreds of acres of new parks and the arboretum in addition to all the beautiful little things along the way. It is a great opportunity to expose Atlantans to nature. Importantly most of of the trees planted along the Beltline include name markers so it is also very educational. Trees Atlanta has all kinds of educational programs for kids and adults that involve tree plantings in the arboretum and on the Beltline. Many are walking tours that teach folks about the trees and plants so that people living in an increasingly more urban environment are still connected to nature in a way that's meaningful and restorative.
Top

Eric would like for Ryan to talk about some of the FUTURE PARKS that are planned. Not all have been built. There are 1400 acres of proposed new parks, which remember was not too long ago old industrial land now made into parks and it is dramatic. The most significant is the Westside Park, the quarry park. It was just a harebrained idea somebody had 16 years ago. Westside Park is an old quarry, the idea is to fill it with drinking water from the river. It will preserve 30 days of emergency drinking water for the city. So it's a technical and a structural kind of project as well. This project has been16 years in the making. About a month ago the water started filling up, it's about halfway up the quarry now, and they're starting to open the land around the quarry for the park itself. It will be about a 350 acre park, really unusual with views of the city and of course the quarry lake. He’s doing a project with the nature conservancy right now on a 3,500 acre park in an underutilized, underperforming part of town. It’s a big landscape made up of landfills and truck yards, Ryan is trying to make something else out of it. Obviously with the success of the Beltline he has a lot of speaking engagements all around the world where he talks about the Beltline. All around the world, everywhere you go, every city, every town, every community, those people are also doing something like it. It might be different, it might be a different scale, but it’s similar enough that we can learn from each other. So there's a real sort of exchange there. And, he has a lot of other ideas. Ryan started a nonprofit dealing with and about big ideas. The nonprofit's focused around creating a platform for sharing those voices and those ideas with the world. So there is lots going on, but it's all fun. And that's wonderful.
Eric thanks Ryan for his time, it was a real pleasure meet and learn what’s going on with the Beltline and in Ryan’s world. Thanks so much for spending the day with us. Eric is excited to see where his work is going. We really appreciate you sharing your knowledge with us. Ryan in turn thanks GardenSMART for inviting him on the show.
Top

Another fascinating person who has had a significant impact on the Beltline project is KEVIN BURKE. Kevin works as the principal landscape architect for the Atlanta Beltline. Kevin started his career working on high end residences, and over time decided that he wanted to be involved in projects that change the fabric of the urban core and leave a legacy for future generations. We meet Kevin in one of Eric's favorite parks on the Beltline to discuss his design philosophy and his role in this amazing project. Eric thanks Kevin for joining us. Kevin appreciates the opportunity, he’s happy to be here.
Top

Eric brings Kevin up to speed on the show. We just had a great conversation with Ryan who gave us an overview of the Beltline and the importance of the Beltline from a standpoint of urban development and planning. Kevin's role is very central to the Beltline as one of the lead landscape architects. Talk a little bit about the BELTLINE FROM A LANDSCAPING STANDPOINT, the planting of it, kind of the overview of the scope of the project and what went into the Beltline. Everything they've done was predicated on master plans done 10, 11, 12 years ago. They have a partner in this organization called Trees Atlanta. Their sole function is, as their name implies, planting trees throughout the city and a little bit beyond. They've been doing this for 25 years and they actually came up with the idea of the arboretum to be used in our transit corridor, a very unique process, 22 miles in length. Kevin is pretty sure there’s no other arboretum like this anywhere in the world. All of the plants are native, or in some cases what we call - adapted. They may not have been here when the Cherokee were on this land, they maybe came here a hundred years ago but they’re living quite comfortably and they're not invasive and they don’t take a lot of work. They’ve tried to focus on using those sorts of plants. His personal view on planting design, particularly here in Atlanta, is to try and have something when somebody walks into one of the parks or onto the trail, something will catch their eye almost every month of the year. It might just be ornamental grass seedheads blowing in the winter wind, but there's something that will attract your eye. And that’s really the premise of how they've designed these parks. One thing Kevin thinks that is particularly special about the Beltline over other types of recreational trails that exist is that part of the central design and purpose of it was to connect a series of parks. Eric would like for Kevin to talk about how many parks are part of the Beltline and what does that side of the project look like? There are a little over 30 parks, either existing or planned, within a quarter to half a mile of the corridor. There's one in the Peoplestown neighborhood that they rebuilt eight, nine years ago. They're really looking to provide as much outdoor space and amenities for the various neighborhoods as is possible. In addition to those parks, that 22 miles encompasses 45 distinct neighborhoods, all of them different in a myriad number of ways. They’re trying to make sure as they go around to provide opportunities for park space in as many of those neighborhoods as is possible. In some of the sections that the Beltline runs through, because it's an old rail line, some of the pieces of property that would be adjacent to it were not the hot desirable pieces of property that contractors looked at building things on. So part of the project was remediating some sections of land that were undesirable or challenging. They really were the leftovers in some cases, areas nobody really wanted to develop for whatever reason. Many areas also included a significant amount of contaminated soils. They've had to remediate leftovers from the pre-industrial times here in Atlanta so that people can come out and safely enjoy these open spaces.
Top

Eric would like for Kevin to talk a little bit about the PLANTS that are part of the design here. One thing that is particularly impressive is the diversity. There's so much to experience. On the trails one of the things in addition to Trees Atlanta's arboretum is they've utilized warm season native grass meadows with an idea that this 22 miles creates an amazing opportunity as a pollinator necklace, if you will, around the core of Atlanta. By choosing the right plants, the right grasses, the right wild flowers, shrubs, things like that they can do their best to increase environmental services, make the corridors resilient. It's not just the trees and the flowers there are field sparrows that live in the grasses, obviously snakes, just a myriad host of flora and fauna. And that Kevin thinks, is unique to what they're doing here in Atlanta versus almost anywhere else.
Top

Eric would like for Kevin to talk about what is one of Eric’s favorite parks in this whole chain of parks off the Beltline, and that's the OLD FOURTH WARD PARK. As a native Georgian he remembers this part of town fairly well, and it is very, very different today. Talk us through the process of transforming this from kind of a more burned out, industrial part of town into this oasis in the middle of a city. First and foremost, as viewers travel through the park, what they need to keep in mind is that the pond here, as nice as it looks, is actually serving the function of a storm water detention pond. Off to the side is Ponce City Market, renovated a number of years ago and now a destination here in Atlanta and regionally. When Sears built it starting in 1926, it wasn't such a big deal that they chose the nexus point of three separate watersheds. Behind him you can see up the hill, water flows down past us, there are two streams that come down by Ponce City Market. So this stormwater pond, was functionally designed to alleviate that problem because they took out the issue of flooding. They now have as an impetus, not just the park, but what goes on around it. There are now over 3000 apartment housing units that didn't exist 12 years ago. And that really is key to the development of the Beltline.
Top

Kevin has been doing this now for almost 38 years, and this is one of his top three coolest projects he's enjoyed working on. He got to the Beltline after the design had been completed, and as he likes to say, that's probably why it's so iconic because he didn’t get to muddle with what was being done. What makes this successful is the pond, there has been water in this the whole time, and that’s predicated on the fact they were able to get down to the water table. Because as a storm water pond, if this went dry and was a stinky mud flat, we wouldn't be standing here because it wouldn’t be the park it is today. So that's really what makes it. All the PLANTS - the bald cypress, sweet bay magnolias, river birch, everything down there is designed knowing the area will periodically flood. That was all designed on purpose. When we get beyond the pond, we don't have that concern. On the north parcel a number of years ago, they planted tilia americana, basswood. Tilia is one of Kevin's favorite plants. To this day he can remember the first time he saw this plant. He was in northern Utah walking down a street and a mature tilia linden was in full bloom. The fragrance is just phenomenal. And Kevin thinks that's part of what planting does. It's not just visual, but it can be olfactory too. Top

Eric would like for Kevin to talk us through some of the more significant features so we can get a sense of the scope of the park and what it OFFERS THE COMMUNITY? There is a quarter mile loop down in the bottom of the basin. It was specifically designed that size so people who want to exercise and walk will know how far they're going. They built the theater at the end of the pond, specifically at the request of the arts community. In the spring and fall every single weekend, they have had a wedding going on in that theater. It’s a great use. The north parcel is where they have the lindens. It was designed as an event space. They've had concerts, the first concert in the park was the Lumineers. The Atlanta Wine and Food Festival was there last year. They’ve had all sorts of festivals, it's been a fantastic space for the community. In the upper part of the park there's this amazing skate park, a huge open soccer field where many times in the evenings there'll be huge group yoga sessions going on, even pick up flag football. It's amazing the way that this park has really galvanized this community. It is their outdoor space. A lot of the buildings around are eight, 10 story apartment living, and this is their backyard. And this is also why they live here. The Trust for Public Land, a national organization, in 2016 listed this park as one of the five top examples of integrating green infrastructure into a public park. It's an amazing recognition of what they've done here in conjunction with consultants and in conjunction with the community. One other thing Kevin wants to point out is that when building this project, be it the trail, be it a park, etc., it’s not about the day they cut the ribbon. This is a legacy project. What one sees here today is going to look different in 20 years, it’s going to look different in 50 years. As these parks build out over the next decade the changes will be be remarkable.

Eric feels this is an incredible endeavor. Taking a stroll on the Atlanta Beltline as well as getting behind the scenes tours has been impressive. Everyone should be super proud of it. It's beautiful. Kevin, thanks so much for spending the day with us. Kevin in turn thanks Eric and GardenSMART for visiting and showing the audience the Atlanta Beltline.
Top

LINKS:

Atlanta Beltline
Atlanta BeltLine // Where Atlanta Comes Together.

Ryan Gravel
ABOUT – ryangravel

Kevin Burke
Kevin Burke // Atlanta Beltline
The Atlanta Beltline: An Interview with the Principal Landscape Architect, Part 2 – The Field

Trees Atlanta
Our Locations | Trees Atlanta

Plant List


   
 
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