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.”

Atlanta City Design Studio

“Come on in” – the public is welcome to help in the design of Atlanta’s future (Photo by Greg Giuffrida)

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.

Tim Keane

Tim Keane addresses people attending “Community Day” at the Atlanta City Studio (Photo by Maria Saporta)

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:

  1. As Atlanta more than doubles its population in 20 years, where should our new neighbors live? How should they move around the city?
  2. What kinds of changes are needed for you to let your child walk or bike to school?
  3. Atlanta is a hilly, hot city. How can we design better routes for bikes?
  4. Should, and if so, how should mechanisms like street design and traffic signal timing prioritize cars, bikes, pedestrians, and transit?
  5. As car-sharing dramatically reduces our need for parking, how do we get community support for reductions in parking requirements?
  6. How can the physical places of the city be designed to reflect Atlanta’s Civil Rights legacy?
  7. What are specific opportunities to better balance and integrate our growing city with nature?
  8. In what specific ways does Atlanta’s tree canopy improve your life?
  9. How can greenway trails offer opportunities for both human and wildlife connections?
  10. Does the city’s rolling terrain or watersheds play a role in decisions about future building height and density?
  11. 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?
  12. Does the non-continuous nature of Atlanta’s street grid contribute to neighborhood identity or simply frustrate movement through the city?
  13. Are there physical barriers in the city that limit access to the city’s economy and social or cultural resources?
  14. How can we design the city and its buildings to get more people outside and encourage a more vibrant and healthy outdoor lifestyle?
  15. Where is the balance between growth and historic preservation in our neighborhoods and in the city as a whole?
  16. Are there specific building features or materials that reflect unique characteristics of Atlanta?
  17. 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?
  18. Garage or basement apartments help maintain diversity and offset rising costs for homeowners – what kinds of challenges do they create for communities?
  19. What are some ideas about encouraging green building and maintenance practices at your home or in your neighborhood?
  20. What kinds of places would you like to visit in Atlanta that don’t already exist?
  21. 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?
  22. Write your own question and then answer it.
Email from Andrew Scott Dietz of Creative Growth Group, Inc.
Hi Maria,
While I am always appreciative of your scrutinizing eye on the developments in our city, there is a statement you made in today’s article about public participation in the des that obscures the truth:  “And the Turner Field redevelopment for Georgia State University was pretty much decided before the community was brought in.” 
 
You are correct that the public was not consulted in the decision to sell the Turner Field property. Nevertheless, the sale was conditioned on the bidder’s commitment to engage in the community-driven LCI process and the design ideas it would generate. The development RFP language specifically makes reference to this commitment, to incorporation of the LCI results into the final proposal, and to respondent participation in the LCI process.
 
The Perkins+Will team (my client) had been selected to organize an intensive and collaborative LCI design process prior to the preliminary section of Carter / GSU. That design process eventually included participation from hundreds of citizens living in the affected neighborhoods, as well as representatives from GSU and Carter.  More Atlantans voiced their design preferences at Streets Alive. The high degree of public involvement and collaboration led to the city’s request to feature LCI interactive tools and design concepts at the City Studio, which you certainly must have seen.
 
It is exciting that so much positive planning and design is happening in the city. It is also reassuring that many of the city’s less visible but no less talented practitioners that are in the trenches daily are elevating the dialogue and breaking new professional ground.
Thank you,
Andrew

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.

17 replies
  1. cementmanswife says:

    Can any official answer as to when they will white line Rout 75 North and South.  At dusk and when dark the road is dangerous and difficult to see – the white lines or markers have disappeared and are in need.  I hope we don’t have to wait for the new highway to be completed which is going to take forever.  Help!Report

    Reply
  2. Bob Munger says:

    How will Atlanta plan for self-driving cars, which are likely to significantly reduce the need for parking, once people start shedding their cars for mobility on demand services?Report

    Reply
  3. ironiclad says:

    How about back to basics: better streets and roads and an assurance of safety when driving and shopping , say, at Lenox Square.What we would like is not to get carjacked on our way home from work or pistol whipped in a public place.
    How about that?
    Looks like we need to spend more tax dollars on an even larger police force. Criminals believe they have been given the go-ahead by a U.S. President to behave any way they wish against “evil” law enforcers.Report

    Reply
  4. MsSuziebelle says:

    Please make sure the residents of the Historic neighborhoods are invited to the table. Westside communities like Collier Heights and Dixie Hills and Mosley Park must be included. I found this article in a post from a close friend. Perhaps City Council members can help spread the word, too. As one of the Atlantans born here, raised here, stayed here, I have always loved the small town feel of Atlanta. The tree canopy adds so much to this. Keep an arborist on board.  And lastly, with the label “senior citizen” a part of who I am,  make sure any plans are not just  ADA accessible, but senior friendly also.Report

    Reply
  5. atlman says:

    ironiclad 
    Hilarious that folks such as yourself ignore:
    A) that crime rates in Atlanta are at the lowest that they have been in over 40 years, before the election of Maynard Jackson and the resulting flight to the suburbs
    B) crime rates in the suburbs are rising (as are poverty rates) which is causing a reverse flight from the suburbs to intown
    C) the police force is at its largest size, both in total numbers and in proportion to the size of the city’s population, in history
    Oh yes, and D) talk about “back to the basics” is generally raised in opposition to the city doing things that draws businesses, professionals and private investment. Since people who talk about that would rather those things go to the suburbs and other areas that “people like them” politically control. Which is why the city of Atlanta has to focus on “the basics” while Cobb County will spend half a billion dollars of public money (when all that is said and done) and will force the state to spend over a billion more on traffic improvements to accommodate moving the Atlanta Braves 12 miles north. Never mind that attendance for the Braves – and MLB in general – has been in decline for decades, meaning that in about 15 years the Braves’ owners will be looking to pick up stakes and move again to a place where they will be the only game in town (perhaps Memphis, Birmingham or South Carolina).Report

    Reply
  6. ironiclad says:

    atlman ironiclad If you mean taxpayers and business professionals who actually have lived in the City of Atlanta for many years, that would be folks like my family and me. Maybe folks like you don’t have to put up far too often with “small crimes” not worth mentioning – property vandalism, home invasions and other small stuff – and gentrification. People are being driven out of their homes as zillions of apartments are built. In a year or so, in time for the next recession, the city will be overbuilt. The gentrification doesn’t directly affect my family, but I can see it happening all around us. 

    As for the Braves – who cares? I do know Atlanta taxpayers got a new stadium for a bunch of losers that we did not want or ask for. Maybe one day we’ll find out what Big Baby Reed got from slick Arty Blank.Report

    Reply
  7. Burroughston Broch says:

    The list of questions begins with a laugher, “As Atlanta more than doubles its population in the next 20 years…” The City’s population is less today than it was at its peak in 1970.
    The Census Bureau, ARC, and the State are responsible organizations that forecast population. ARC’s forecast for metro Atlanta (20 counties) is growth from 5.6 million in 2015 to 7.6 million in 2035. It is absurd to suppose that 1/4 of the population growth will occur in the City.Report

    Reply
  8. David J. Edwards says:

    Bob Munger Great question Bob.  It is arguably the most important question we could ask while engaged in a long-term planning exercise for the city.  Autonomous vehicles will be the first truly transformative technology of the 21st century and will have a profound impact on cities. 

    Elimination of public parking, increased capacity of the street infrastructure, universal mobility, drastic reduction/elimination of accidents and road fatalities, elimination of gas stations and car-related transportation infrastructure (no more traffic lights or stop signs), huge reduction in crime (significant percentage of crime is car automobile related, and it is hard to commit crimes when you don’t own a private vehicle that can’t be tracked).

    The sooner cities turn over their road infrastructure to networked, autonomous cars, the sooner we will realize these benefits.  Although I once was a supporter of fixed rail intra-city transport, I no longer see a role for it in the medium and long term.  My fear is that if we dedicate significant resources to expansions of MARTA rail or street car lines, we will deeply regret it within the next decade. Instead, we should be developing policies and forging the partnerships we will to accelerate the adoption of this transformative technology.Report

    Reply
  9. Bob Munger says:

    David J. Edwards Bob Munger
    Good points, David. There are many challenges to resolve.  Mixing AV’s with legacy vehicles will be tricky, for instance. IMO the future is shared autonomous EV’s deployed by mobility service providers. A recent study by professors at UT Austin and UVA predicted that roughly 30% of owned vehicles would be shed for this model of offered at roughly 85 cents per mile (which is doable). However, when you ditch your car, you are also liberated to choose the right tool for the job. A single-occupant, 1 or 2 mile trip on low speed roads makes no sense in a car designed to travel at 90 MPH with 5 people.  I believe there are cases to be made for transit coupled with last mile connector vehicles that are appropriately engineered for the task at hand. If the AV becomes a facilitator of greater urban sprawl, we will do a great disservice to efforts to solve the growing environmental train wreck that we are collectively aboard.Report

    Reply
  10. ironiclad says:

    David J. Edwards Bob Munger

    MARTA is an entity I would like to seriously consider for expansion, but in all the years we have lived in metro Atlanta, its track record has been abysmal to mediocre. I consider its relatively low ridership and its overall management. The latter has improved, but so far I don’t see plunking millions of taxpayer dollars into mediocre.Report

    Reply
  11. Burroughston Broch says:

    It’s always more enjoyable to join junkets like this planning exercise than to perform the unglamorous parts of government (sidewalks, traffic signals, preventive maintenance, etc.) that you disdain.Report

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

What are your thoughts?

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