MARTA stations can become true community centers
By King Williams
Recently it was announced that MARTA, in partnership with Soccer in the Streets would be expanding its popular soccer program to 10 additional MARTA transit stations. Soccer in the Streets with support from Atlanta United Football Club, hopes to expand the program into a city-wide youth soccer league for kids in the neighborhoods that will be receiving a pitch (aka a soccer field).
The “New” Atlanta is a soccer town.
With the redevelopment and reuse of urban spaces, initiatives should also include amenities enjoyed by MARTA’s core customers as well as long term Atlanta residents.
Don’t get me wrong. I am a soccer fan as well as a former player, I do love the ability to play soccer at transit stations. Plus, Atlanta has definitely become a soccer town led by Atlanta United. The team arguably has the most passionate fan base of any sports team in the city.
Soccer fields are a symbol of “New” Atlanta’s potential. But we cannot build for “New” Atlanta without serving “Old” Atlanta. While soccer will continue to grow in popularity as the city becomes more ethnically diverse, I can’t help but note there is little support for basketball courts, perhaps due to the perceptions it brings.
The core demographics of MARTA’s ridership in the proposed locations are majority black. It would seem to me that we should also be adding basketball courts, playgrounds as well as other magnets, such as the popular fresh food market in the West End.
Additionally, most of the proposed soccer fields would most likely be in newly-gentrifying neighborhoods in Atlanta and DeKalb County. It’s my hope that soccer does not become a gentrified sport that changes the nature of those communities.
MARTA stations can be developed as “a third place.”
Adding 10 new pitches is fine. But we also should be planning beyond sports, such as adding playgrounds, affordable housing units, office spaces, retail and creative spaces as a way to boost transit ridership.
We can get more people to use mass transit if we embrace transit as “a third place.” Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz popularized the concept of a third place, an area in between home and work/school, a philosophy that the coffee retailer used to decide where to develop its stores throughout the country.
MARTA stations also can be viewed as a third place where there is equitable growth, historic preservation and true economic development.
I believe the area around our transit stations should be developed for small businesses, retail as well as nonprofits that can benefit from the connectivity of transit, foot traffic and accessibility. Every MARTA station has the opportunity to become 24-hour destinations for nightlife, culture and food – offering amenities found in other world class cities.
Atlanta desperately needs easily accessible third places – especially for residents and visitors who don’t speak English, who don’t know the city’s layout or who do not drive. Pedestrians spend more money where there is street-level retail than people who drive. Why not encourage that kind of lifestyle around MARTA stations? Look at transit-friendly cities, such as Manhattan, Brooklyn and Berlin, to see how they leverage their transit stations for economic activity.
MARTA can be a catalyst for economic incubation.
Instead of leasing to regional or national chains, why don’t we encourage local entrepreneurs to be open unique food and beverage locations? It’s a model I’ve seen in Provincetown, Ma., where I visited a friend whose family owns a restaurant – Ciro & Sals – in an area where nearly 90 percent of the businesses are maintained by entrepreneurs who lives in the Cape Cod community.
What if every MARTA station had places where riders could buy groceries, toiletries, medicines as well as other retail to serve a neighborhood’s daily needs?
MARTA also should encourage their development partners to lease to nonprofits, start-up businesses, social and civic organizations as part of their office tenant mix.
MARTA also should be a hub for affordable housing.
As the first TOD’s (transit oriented developments) are beginning to come out of the ground, there needs to be greater incentives for affordable housing.
What if 50 percent of the units were affordable based on a person’s income and expenses, not on Area Median Income (AMI)? Our region is growing more inequitable by the day. The best way to start rectifying this is to ensure the working poor and low-to-middle income workers aren’t left behind during this economic boon.
Affordable housing in the region is in dire supply. Meanwhile developers are building luxury rental apartments that don’t serve the middle class and lower income residents are finding themselves being priced out of the city.
By leasing or selling outright selling its land and air-rights around its stations, MARTA can start the market correction that’s sorely needed.
Let’s develop all MARTA stations to their fullest potential – creating a true third place, a transit system that contributes to a Atlanta becoming a world-class city.