By David Pendered
Georgia State University and the CDC have teamed up on a two-year research project to evaluate how the Atlanta BeltLine is affecting the quality of life of people who live near it.
The BeltLine is the nation’s largest urban renewal project. As such, there’s a great deal of interest in the degree to which the BeltLine can improve the physical and mental well being of people who live near it or use it regularly.
The new study will address some of those issues. The $100,000 project is jointly funded by Georgia State University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Researchers intend to interview 400 residents who live along various parts of the BeltLine, according to a GSU statement. Residents will have a chance to share their thoughts about the BeltLine and how it has affected their opinions on topics including physical activity and crime.
The research team is to be comprised of more than 20 specialists in topics including public health and the role the built environment has on overall health.
Christina Fuller intends to focus her research on issues related to air quality. Fuller, an assistant professor in Environmental Health at the School of Public Health, has two degrees from Harvard’s School of Public Health and specializes in air pollution and near-highway homes, according to her resume.
“The major problem we have here in Atlanta is air pollution from traffic.” Fuller said in a statement. “We want to find out where people along the Beltline are getting their exercise. Is it near a high traffic area where the potential for exposure is higher or is it through a park?”
A BeltLine health impact assessment completed in 2007 provides a good starting point for Fuller’s project. The 2007 report was coordinated by Catherine Ross, of Georgia Tech, with assistance from others including the CDC.
The 2007 report addressed air quality in some surprising ways. For instance, vehicle emissions are one familiar concern related to the BeltLine. The BeltLine often is portrayed as a project that will improve air quality by providing alternate modes of transportation.
The 2007 report noted that residents of more than 1,400 new homes expected to be built near the BeltLine could be exposed to high levels of air pollution. These homes are projected to be built near highways or railyards, which emit the size of particles associated with heart and lung illnesses.
Fuller expects to examine the health impact the BeltLine paths near high-traffic areas, according to the GSU statement. Her work may include the Inman and Tilford railroad yards, which are the two yards along the BeltLine.
Another air quality concern is fugitive dust that will result from building the BeltLine’s trails and amenities, and structures near the BeltLine, according to the 2007 report.
Fugitive dust is comprised of soil minerals that are released into the atmosphere by earth-moving activities, according to a report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. They have been associated with heart and lung illnesses. Many particles settle within a few hundred feet from their origin, though smaller particles can be spread much farther on the wind.
The new research project will include a statistical analysis that will be guided by Scott Weaver, a research assistant professor in GSU’s School of Public Health. The results will enable the policy makers who oversee the BeltLine’s development to make informed decisions.
“We have the opportunity, and the obligation, to positively impact each unique neighborhood around the Atlanta BeltLine,” Paul Morris, the BeltLine’s president/CEO said in the statement. “Our job is to create a healthy, vibrant environment for everyone by building the foundations to work, learn, play and shop near where they live.”