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Public invited to conversation on Atlanta City Design Project on Sept. 1

Atlanta City Design Project

By Maria Saporta

The Atlanta City Design Project will invite local residents to hear a national perspective from an outsider.

On Sept. 1 at 6 p.m. at Atlanta’s Central Library, Arthur C. Nelson, a professor of urban planning and real estate development at the University of Arizona, will help Atlanta answer several key questions as part of the City Design Project.

How big can Atlanta be?

What will a larger city look like?

How can we design our city now for the future?

Just for the record, Nelson is not really a total outsider.

From 1987 to 2002, Nelson was was Professor of City and Regional Planning in the College of Architecture at Georgia Tech . He also was a Professor of Public Policy in the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts at the Georgia Institute of Technology. During his last two years in Atlanta, from 2000 to 2002, Nelson also served as an Adjunct Professor of Law at Georgia State University. He co-founded the nation’s only bi-university dual master of planning (Georgia Tech) and juris doctor (Georgia State) degree program.

Atlanta City Design Project

In 2002, he went to Virginia Tech to become the university’s Director of the Urban Affairs and Planning program, where he stayed until 2008. That’s when Nelson went to the University of Utah, serving as a Presidential Professor of City and Metropolitan Planning at the University of Utah, serving as the founding director of the Metropolitan Research Center. from 2008 to 20014. He’s been in Arizona since 2004.

Tim Keane, Atlanta’s Commissioner for Planning and Community Development, said the Sept. 1 event will serve as the kick-off to a series of meetings to get people involved in the City Design Project. Both he and Ryan Gravel, who is coordinating the City Design Project for the city, will be part of the program on Sept. 1 along with Nelson.

“We had talked from the beginning how it would be good to get someone from outside of Atlanta to critique what we are proposing to do,” Keane said.

In short, Keane said the city expects to more than double its population from its current population of 460,000 in the next 20 to 25 years. The Atlanta region is expected to add 2.5 million people in that time frame, and Keane said societal circumstances are driving  more people to live in the center of the region.

Atlanta has the opportunity to design the kind of city it wants to be with such an increase in population.

“If we keep growing like we have for the past 50 or 60 years, Atlanta will be less appealing,” Keane said.

Several large cities already have much of their design in tact – San Francisco, Chicago and New York.

“We kind of know what some cities are going to be like 20 to 25 years from now,” Keane said. “Thinking about Atlanta, you can reasonably say: ‘I don’t know how Atlanta is going to be.’”

The Atlanta City Design Project will be a multi-layered initiative – beginning with the natural ecological profile of the area. It will then seek to figure out how transportation, infrastructure, green space and development will impact the city’s design. Georgia Tech’s Center for GIS will help model the different design options for Atlanta.

Keane hopes Nelson will address whether City Design Project is a “reasonable endeavor” for Atlanta.

“I don’t know what he’s going to say,” Keane said. “I’ve never talked to him before. I think it’s going to be fascinating for the City of Atlanta.”

The effort also will tackle difficult issues from parking, green space, preservation, balanced geographic growth, diversity of Atlanta’s population as well as making sure the city is more equitable for all its citizens.

The City Design Project is expected to take about a year to complete, and it likely will serve as the foundation for updating and replacing Atlanta’s existing zoning ordinance.

Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.



  1. Burroughston Broch August 31, 2016 8:14 am

    “If we keep growing like we have for the past 50 or 60 years…”
    Atlanta City has a much smaller population today than 50 years ago. So much for planners.Report

  2. Brandie Townsend August 31, 2016 12:45 pm

    Well…. TRANSIT options and animals (horse racing to be exact)! Even if we grow, we need options to commute… IDEA: rails to trails (ie the Silver Comet) needs a trolley or tram system running along with the runners and bikers). I live in Lindale/Cedartown I could catch a trolley into Atlanta via the Silver Comet….. 

    Horse Racing…. uhhhh, didn’t ALL of North Georgia at one time be “horse country”…keep the legacy alive …have a track in the Gulch and EVERYONE and every community (including all the surrounding country bumpkin towns of Georgia) would benefit because horses need a place to graze, the trucks need a place to layover …AND IT’S a Rich Man’s sport….what more could you want !!!! 

    Come on Georgia…. we have the best Airport, now let’s BE the best City in the SouthEast!!! xoxoxoReport

  3. Riley September 2, 2016 10:17 pm

    Burroughston Broch I feel sure he was talking about the entire metro area of Atlanta when he made that statement.  But even if he was talking about within the city-limits only, the population is very near the same as it was in 1960-70, so your little dig on planners doesn’t really work.  Atlanta has a great opportunity to be whatever kind of city we want it to be, but it will take planning – and planners.Report

  4. Burroughston Broch September 3, 2016 4:34 am

    The post specifically refers to Atlanta City only, not the metro area. Don’t try to infer something that’s contrary to what’s clearly stated.
    The Atlanta City population dropped from 497,000 in the 1970 Census to 394,000 in the 1990 Census; that’s a loss of 103,000 or almost 21%. By the 2010 Census the population had recovered to 420,000 but was still 77,000 or 15% less than in the 1970 Census. That large loss belies the hucksterism “…growing like we have for the past 50 or 60 years…” The only real Atlanta City population growth occurred as the result of a large annexation between 1950 and 1960.
    You’ll notice I haven’t stated any population estimates. They are notoriously inaccurate – remember the ARC ballyhooing an Atlanta City estimated population of 500,000 just prior to the 2010 Census? Remember Mayor Reed threatening to sue the Census Bureau when the official Census population came back as 420,000? Have you heard any more about that in the past 6 years? No.
    I despise hucksterism and these city planners were being hucksters rather than professionals. I remind you of a quote from Franklin Garrett’s “Atlanta and Environs, volume 1”, in which a Savannah Chamber of Commerce booster said, “If Atlanta could suck as well as it blows, it would be a seaport.”Report

  5. Frankly September 6, 2016 10:05 pm

    Burroughston Broch

    And yet the city has clearly “grown” despite losing population.  This is easily understood if one merely looks at an image of Atlanta from 50-60 years verses today.   We’ve built massive highways, tall buildings and large attractions none of which necessarily makes the city an attractive place to live.   The fact that population city is less than it was 50 years ago is in fact PRECISELY the point.Report

  6. Burroughston Broch September 7, 2016 11:23 am

    The population loss was never mentioned in the original post.
    The Atlanta City skyline has grown, but little in the last 20 years; much more growth has occurred in the Perimeter Mall and Cobb Galleria skylines.
    The slums have grown – want to brag about that? Homelessness has grown – want to brag about that?Report


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