City of Atlanta designing for its future

Photo by David Luse

Photo by David Luse

By Maria Saporta

February 22, 2016 – Atlanta currently has about 450,000 residents. Given the demographic trends of people moving to live in central cities, Keane said Atlanta’s population could double in the next 15 years.

So If Atlanta wants to be pro-active, it would try to plan for that growth and direct it to the areas that can absorb new residents.

First on Keane’s list for higher density is downtown Atlanta, which he said could have many more residents. Given the level of transit and walkability, downtown could become much more robust.

“There’s a tremendous amount of unused land in downtown,” Keane said.

But both Keane and Gravel, however, want to start the Atlanta Design Project with its natural environs – the rivers and creeks, the forests, the ridges – the fundamental features that give the city its landscape.

“We are talking about starting with a foundation of green connections,” Keane said. Once they have a good understanding of the natural environment, the planners will then work with community groups and citizens to decide which parts of the city can handle more density.

“Neighborhoods are not going to change substantially,” Keane said.

But what could change are the places in between. Atlanta’s major streets could become more urban; and spaces that have been vacant could be viewed for future development or green space.

Gravel said they are just starting with the Design Atlanta project, learning how other cities have tried to be proactive by adopting enlightened policies. For example, in the 1990s, Vancouver, set policies to protect views of the water and the mountains, to protect the waterfront, to define the heights of buildings and to build narrow towers.

“The idea is to only shape a design that is unique to Atlanta,” Gravel said. “The process needs to be unique to Atlanta as well.”

Gravel said the railroads helped shape Atlanta’s growth – defining the major corridors and helping form the city’s neighborhoods. Then highways split several of those communities apart.

“As the city and the region transitions to a more urban environment, we will do better if we embrace that change,” Gravel said. “Fortunately our relationship with cars is changing with ride share and automation. Think of how much land we dedicate to parking, especially downtown.”

Gravel said there are some givens.

“We know that we love our tree canopy, and we know we love our neighborhoods,” Gravel said. “If Atlanta grows by a half million people, we want to be sure we become more about what Atlanta wants to be. There’s a natural tension between keeping Atlanta green and greater urbanization. It’s about how we strike that balance.”

The plan will be to engage citizens and to figure out how to make decisions “at the local level,” Gravel said, adding that the city will be reaching out to get public participation.

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