By David Pendered
Southwest Atlanta has received less than 6 percent of the $126.8 million invested in parks and trails by the Atlanta BeltLine, according to a little known report that’s now one year old.
The BeltLine has provided public amenities, such as trails and parks, in the north and has provided most of its affordable housing in south Atlanta, according to the report commissioned by the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership.
The report was not distributed to the general public following its submission in September 2013. The report’s title is, “An Atlanta BeltLine for All: Equitable Development Assessment.”
The purpose of the report was to determine the extent to which the BeltLine is fulfilling its social contract with Atlanta residents. Atlanta’s city council and school board have dedicated a portion of the city’s property taxes to help pay for the development of the BeltLine’s planned network of trails, transit and parks.
This context may address the city’s intense interest in forging ahead with the 2.5 stretch of planned BeltLine in the southwest corridor.
The BeltLine’s southwest area has received 5.5 percent of the total funds invested in BeltLine parks and trails, according to figures in the report. The actual investment is $7 million out of a total investment, as of the date of the report, of $126.8 million.
Atlanta is preparing to chop down hundreds of trees to make way for two aspects of the BeltLine’s southwest corridor: A multipurpose trail, and a transit line that hasn’t been designed or funded.
In addition, Atlanta has taken steps to condemn property in the corridor, if deals can’t be reached with landowners, in order to obligate $18 million in federal funds before a Sept. 30 deadline. Atlanta will lose the TIGER V grant if the funds aren’t obligated by that time, according to terms of the grant.
The Atlanta BeltLine Partnership sponsored the study and the Ford Foundation paid for the work by consultants Nexus Research Group and Davidson Consulting. The purpose was to evaluate progress made over five years on the BeltLine’s Equitable Development Plan. The Atlanta City Council created the plan in 2008, after public outcry over three significant acquisitions for the BeltLine in and adjacent to northeast Atlanta.
At the time, as investments elsewhere along the BeltLine lagged, the BeltLine acquired:
- 66 acres along a 4.5-mile section that passes beside Piedmont Park; the BeltLine paid $66 million to Gwinnett County investor Wayne Mason.
21 acres near Grant Park.
- 16 acres that became part of the Historic Old Fourth Ward Park.
As envisioned in legislation the council adopted, the Equitable Development Plan intended to: “Ensure balanced and inclusive development across geographic sections of the BeltLine, as measured over time.”
The report observes that the BeltLine has been cast before the public as a way to address an enormous amount of Atlanta’s historic inequities.
Atlanta is laced with “race, place and class.” Income disparity in Atlanta is greater than in Iran, Nigeria and Swaziland, as well as being greater than in New Orleans, Miami and Washington, according to the report.
The report evaluated the equity of investments in a number of areas. The findings include the following:
Parks – Of $107.6 million invested, $50.6 million went to the Old Fourth Ward Park near the future Ponce City Market. Another big investment north of I-20 was $34.2 million for the Westside Reservoir Park, but there are no definite plans for how it will be developed or when it will open to the public.
- Trails – Of $19.2 million invested, $12.9 million has been invested in the northeast and northside study areas and $6.3 million has been invested in southwest and southeast Atlanta.
- Affordable housing – Of 131 units funded by the BeltLine Affordable Housing Trust Fund, 117 units were funded in Atlanta’s southeast and southwest quadrants.
There’s also the entire issue of jobs. The great recession helped ensure that job creation lagged everyone’s expectations. But the BeltLine may not have done all it can to promote the workforce. The report contends:
- Jobs – The plan to create jobs has been hampered by, “a lack of true coordination between the two organizations around jobs,” referring to BeltLine Partnership and Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. That said, the report indicates that the recession and other challenges may have put beyond reach the original goals for the BeltLine to create over its lifetime 30,000 permanent and 48,000 one-year construction jobs.