Valarie Wilson

By Guest Columnist VALARIE WILSON, executive director of the BeltLine Partnership, a private, non-profit organization dedicated to fostering support for Atlanta’s BeltLine

Standing on the playground at Historic Fourth Ward Park on a weekend afternoon, surrounded by young families, you look down into the park, past the amphitheater toward the water and see others walking their dogs and generally moving at the sort of leisurely pace inspired by such havens within a city.

You’re in the shadow of hundreds of new apartment and condominiums built in the midst of the worst economy in a generation, filled with residents who want to live in proximity to the park and the Atlanta BeltLine Eastside Trail on the horizon.

Valarie Wilson
Valarie Wilson

Bikers, joggers, walkers and strollers are streaming down the trail. Directly north, the redevelopment of the hulking, historic Sears building into Ponce City Market is underway. And a short walk in the other direction is Atlanta’s newest skate park.

Such moments illustrate why philanthropies continue to invest in the Atlanta BeltLine. It is the project’s promise – and, increasingly, its reality. So what have we learned in the past decade of work on this project about how we can continue to engage foundations and philanthropic individuals in the evolution of our city?

Here are five keys to consider:

  1. Grass roots support: The Atlanta BeltLine was born as a grass roots movement. The Atlanta BeltLine Partnership and Atlanta BeltLine Inc., the public entity run by the City of Atlanta, have since nurtured that following the public engagement process of planning meetings, programs such as weekly bus tours of the neighborhoods surrounding the corridor, and digital communications such as the website, a weekly e-newsletter and social media. It is vitally important to philanthropic funders that tens of thousands of Atlantans have opted in as passionate advocates of the Atlanta BeltLine.
  2. Ambitious vision and multiple dimensions: Philanthropies are drawn to the multidimensional approach – parks, trails, affordable housing, transit, economic development, health, historic preservation, brownfield reclamation and more – that the Atlanta BeltLine brings to the evolution of the city. These many dimensions also afford funders with specific interests opportunities to support the pieces that are most important to them.
  3. Public-private partnership: Each of the funding players at the table – local, state and federal government; philanthropies; and other private sector investors – want to know that the other is actively engaged. They are each leveraging the others’ investments. Each improves the others’ return. And partnership extends beyond funding: The Atlanta BeltLine is made possible by partners such as the PATH Foundation, Trust for Public Land and Trees Atlanta lending their expertise and energy.
  4. Execution: As we deliver on our promises each step of the way, our investors continue to invest. Just as in private sector business, our funders count on our stewardship of their dollars.
  5. Results: This goes beyond execution. Results aren’t merely a completed park; results are parks filled with people. Results aren’t merely new mobility options; results are people getting from one neighborhood to another in new ways. Results aren’t just the Atlanta BeltLine; results are healthier Atlantans with improved quality of life.

The Atlanta BeltLine is demonstrating the chance to draw philanthropic investment to our city’s growth and development. New opportunities are on the horizon at Boulevard Crossing, the future West Side Park, and beyond. The project’s promise is to impact the city beyond the project’s 22-mile corridor. One of the ways it can do so is sharing what we learn along the way.

Join the Conversation


  1. To me, looking at the Eastside Trail from the bridge on Virginia Avenue at Monroe on a weekend day is like seeing an urban wonderland. The Beltline is the best thing to happen in Atlanta since the Olympics–even better because it is ongoing.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.