Public participation welcomed as Atlanta designs its future
By Maria Saporta
The public is invited.
Atlanta is undergoing an unprecedented planning effort – to envision a city with twice as many residents.
The Atlanta City Design Studio, located above the food market at Ponce City Market, wants people to participate on how the we want to grow our city.. The twitter account is @ATLCityStudio.
Atlanta residents are being asked a series of questions (see below) to get as much public participation as possible.
“We want to engage the residents on what is really great design,” said Tim Keane, the city’s planning commissioner. “We have no interest in making Atlanta into something it isn’t. The city is growing. We know it. We see it. We want to use this space – the Studio – as the community’s space in issues around design.”
Ryan Gravel, who is leading the design effort, said he would like the public to share with the city its thoughts on what makes Atlanta special.
The city will then take those thoughts and incorporate them into an overall design for the city, and that also will help the city in drafting a new zoning ordinance.
Meanwhile, a parallel planning effort is underway in the westside – in the communities west of the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium that is now under construction.
The Westside Future Fund has hired Dhiru Thadani, an internationally-respected architect and urbanist, to conduct a deep dive on several communities – including, Vine City, English Avenue, the Atlanta University Center, Ashview Heights, Washington Park and a small community known as “Just Us” neighborhood.
That planning effort also has been working with community residents to help design their future.
On Friday, July 1, Thadani made one of several presentations that he will be making at the Transform Westside Summit.
“There really is wonderful building stock all over the westside and with just a little tender love and car, they can be brought back,” Thadani said.
He went on to describe ways to improve pedestrian and bicycle mobility in those communities. Some communities are in greater need than others. As Thadani said, Just Us is “really in-tact” that only needs minor improvements, such as better street lighting and sidewalk repair.
“We have not forgotten about you,” Thadani told one resident who wanted to know whether the plans would change on of the neighborhood’s features – its concrete streets. “There are other areas that need more attention.”
For the past two or three decades, Atlanta has not excelled at getting public involvement in its planning process. The 1996 Summer Olympic Games was largely a top-down planning effort.
The Atlanta BeltLine has had a series of planning efforts – some that involved the public better than others.
There was virtually no public involvement in the decision to sell 330 acres at Fort McPherson to movie maker Tyler Perry. And the Turner Field redevelopment for Georgia State University was pretty much decided before the community was brought in.
(After this column was published, I got an email from Andrew Scott Dietz, who works with Perkins + Will, asking for a clarification on what I wrote about Turner Field. His email is in italics at the end of this column).
The list can go on.
But now we have an open invitation to help in Atlanta’s redesign. We need to share our views, our thoughts, our preferences – letting people help mold the way our city will grow in the future.
The Atlanta Design Studio will be based at Ponce City Market for the next six months – thanks to donated space from Jamestown. Keane said the studio will be moved to other spots around the city “because we know design is for everyone.”
The design process will continue through September, 2017 – about three months before Atlanta elects its next mayor and city council members.
The goal of community leaders is that the process is embraced by those running for mayor so all this will be able to continue beyond Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration.
When asked about the questions being presented to the public, Gravel said the specific questions “are less important than hearing ideas about Atlanta’s future that resonate with lots of people.”
The questions will be presented to communities through formal channels – including the Neighborhood Planning Unit network. And Gravel said new questions may be added to the list.
Here are the questions:
- As Atlanta more than doubles its population in 20 years, where should our new neighbors live? How should they move around the city?
- What kinds of changes are needed for you to let your child walk or bike to school?
- Atlanta is a hilly, hot city. How can we design better routes for bikes?
- Should, and if so, how should mechanisms like street design and traffic signal timing prioritize cars, bikes, pedestrians, and transit?
- As car-sharing dramatically reduces our need for parking, how do we get community support for reductions in parking requirements?
- How can the physical places of the city be designed to reflect Atlanta’s Civil Rights legacy?
- What are specific opportunities to better balance and integrate our growing city with nature?
- In what specific ways does Atlanta’s tree canopy improve your life?
- How can greenway trails offer opportunities for both human and wildlife connections?
- Does the city’s rolling terrain or watersheds play a role in decisions about future building height and density?
- How should we prioritize our investments in transportation – tackling traffic congestion where growth makes more sense, or incentivizing development where growth is more logical or equitable?
- Does the non-continuous nature of Atlanta’s street grid contribute to neighborhood identity or simply frustrate movement through the city?
- Are there physical barriers in the city that limit access to the city’s economy and social or cultural resources?
- How can we design the city and its buildings to get more people outside and encourage a more vibrant and healthy outdoor lifestyle?
- Where is the balance between growth and historic preservation in our neighborhoods and in the city as a whole?
- Are there specific building features or materials that reflect unique characteristics of Atlanta?
- What buildings types are missing in the city’s housing stock? Does the kind of building you want to live in exist in sufficient quantity? Can you afford it?
- Garage or basement apartments help maintain diversity and offset rising costs for homeowners – what kinds of challenges do they create for communities?
- What are some ideas about encouraging green building and maintenance practices at your home or in your neighborhood?
- What kinds of places would you like to visit in Atlanta that don’t already exist?
- Atlanta’s major growth period has come since automobiles, Civil Rights, and other modern conditions reshaped our expectations for cities. Do modern, or midcentury buildings like this one say anything valuable about our history or who we are? Should we protect them?
- Write your own question and then answer it.