As more people move to the City of Atlanta, having quality parks is key

By Saba Long

In route to a plenary session at Park Pride’s annual conference, I passed a small, Midtown residential building located a short walk from Piedmont Park with units starting at $750,000 – a pretty penny for a townhome.

It seemed an appropriate sighting as I headed to a plenary session: Just Green Enough: Contesting Environmental Gentrification. The focus was on the natural challenges of sustainable, equitable development.

Look no further than Atlanta’s Emerald Necklace that, other than the region’s latent interest in developing near transit, has single-handedly boosted the city’s real estate market.

This debate has picked up steam across the country as land-use patterns shift towards denser environments. Atlanta has the BeltLine; Chicago – the 606; New York City – the Highline.

At the border of Brookyln and Queens is Newtown Creek, a watershed remediation project that covers the site of the Greenpoint Oil Spill, which resulted in a paltry $25 million fine. Even so, a developer has plans to build three waterfront, mixed-use, high-rise buildings with sweeping views of Manhattan on the industrial site.

Bellwood Quarry

An aerial view of Atlanta’s Bellwood Quarry (Photo: City of Atlanta)

Presently, the creek receives nearly three billion gallons of raw sewage and polluted storm water, according to the Newtown Creek Alliance. Some call it a constellation of toxicity.

Rezoning and recreating industrial, mixed-use development requires us to think how we do green differently, remarked DePaul University Professor Winifred Curran. Speaking to an attentive audience with their backs to the lush grounds of the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, she warned residents shouldn’t have to choose between jobs or clean air, affordability or clean water and recommended community benefits agreements as a solution to equity concerns.

The industrial environment is now celebrated, and green infrastructure is swiftly becoming common vernacular.

Where there’s a will (and deep pockets), there’s a way.

Atlanta’s own Newtown Creek could easily be the Bellwood Quarry, seen in “The Hunger Games” and “The Walking Dead.” Or it could be Proctor Creek.

A 2012 study from the Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute outlined 1.3 million square feet of land, all located within a half-mile of MARTA rail stations and the BeltLine that would be ideal for the integration of light industry and mixed-use urban development.

Bankhead, Garnett, H.E. Holmes, King Memorial and West End all have thousands of square feet of vacant or underutilized land near the transit stations. These neighborhoods could become a model for housing diverse industries and individuals.

And, they could encourage the city to promote the maker economy, whether it is artisan items or large-scale manufacturing.

If Atlanta’s real estate market continues to rebound at this incredibly fast rate, it’s only a matter of time before the projects move from paper to poles in the ground.

Let’s get all the pieces right now to protect and strengthen the ecological and human aspects of these vital projects .

Saba Long is a communications and political professional who lives in downtown Atlanta. She serves as the senior council aide and communications liaison for Post 2 At-Large Atlanta City Councilman Aaron Watson. Most recently, Saba was the press secretary for MAVEN and Untie Atlanta -- the Metro Chamber’s education and advocacy campaigns in supportive of the Atlanta Regional Transportation Referendum. She has consulted with H.E.G. an analytics and evaluation firm where she lent strategic marketing and social media expertise to numerous political campaigns, including that of Fulton County Chairman John Eaves and the 2010 Clayton County transportation referendum. In 2009, Saba served as the deputy campaign manager for the campaign of City Council President Ceasar Mitchell. Previously, Saba was a Junior Account Executive at iFusion Marketing, where she lent fractional marketing strategy to various ATDC technology startups operating out of the Georgia Tech incubator, ATDC. For the past two years, Saba has presented on online marketing and politics to the incoming fellows of the Atlanta chapter of the New Leaders Council.

3 replies
  1. ATLWalker says:

    I would note that Atlanta’s densities are much lower than historically, and the center city has a much lower population than it did in the 1950s. I also think we need to talk about how low density the development around the BeltLine and the surrounding neighborhoods is, whether it be due to NIMBYs, developer prerogatives, or zoning. The result of this is that the huge demand for this publicly funded amenity has made the areas around it much more expensive, and out of reach for even those who are not the target of affordable housing policy. We would have to build less green infrastructure if we clustered more of our development around our current assets, which means reserving the areas nearest to parks for dense multi-story housing and planning/supporting its construction. This is the best way to ensure long-term affordability.Report

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  2. ATLWalker says:

    I would note that Atlanta’s densities are much lower now than in the 1950s, and that the center city still has a dramatically lower population. In light of this, I think we need to talk about how low density the development in the neighborhoods surrounding  the BeltLine is, whether it be due to NIMBYs, developer prerogatives, or down-zoning. The result of this is that the huge demand for parks, publicly funded amenities, has made the in-town neighborhoods much more expensive, and out of reach for even those who are not the target of affordable housing policy (This dampens the real positive story of in-town Atlanta’s revival since the 1990s). We would have to build less green infrastructure and have a more accessible housing market if we clustered more of our development around our current assets, which means reserving the areas nearest to parks for dense multi-story housing and planning/supporting its construction.Report

    Reply

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