The High Line and the BeltLine — two parallel projects bring new life to cities

By Maria Saporta

NEW YORK — The parallels are striking — an unused rail line being transformed into a green, public space. In Atlanta, it’s the BeltLine. In New York, it’s the High Line.

Thousands of New Yorkers and tourists flock to the High Line — an elevated oasis linear park that gives people a respite from the constant street-level conflict between motorized vehicles and pedestrians.

On the High Line, there’s no question of who reigns — people.

People enjoying the High Line (Photos by Maria Saporta)

The High Line has been called “Miracle Above Manhattan” by renowned architectural critic Paul Goldberger. Its success is a fabulous sign for Atlanta — the BeltLine appears to be a sound investment for city.

New developments adorn both sides of the High Line. In the lower west side of Manhattan, an industrial, manufacturing area is being turned into a popular new place to live and work for trendy New Yorkers.

In fact, there’s another amazing parallel. At the southern end of the High Line, the renovated Chelsea Market has become a bustling center for high-level retail and eating spots with trendy offices on the top floors. Atlanta-based Jamestown Properties redeveloped the Chelsea Market.

Entrance to Chelsea Market that was redeveloped by Jamestown Properties

That project is serving as a blueprint for the developer’s renovation of the former Sears complex/City Hall East into Ponce City Market in Atlanta. The Ponce City Market is right on the BeltLine just like the Chelsea Market is right on the High Line — developments that seem to feed on each other.

Most of the new developments along the High Line have occurred during this economic downturn. All the activities in the Chelsea community seem to defy the gravity of recession that has impacted development across the country.

A view inside Chelsea Market

The origins of the High Line dates back to 1934 when a rail line opened aimed at separating trains from the street while being able to serve the factories and warehouses with spurs that roll inside buildings. The elevated rail line is built to ease street-level traffic.

The growing popularity of trucks combined with a decline in the businesses in the area led to the last train running on the High Line in 1980.

A portion of High Line has rails along the corridor

For years, property owners in the area sought to get the line demolished. Then in 1999, Joshua David and Robert Hammond started Friends of the High Line to preserve the space by turning it into a linear park. Then in 2002, that vision became city policy when the New York City Council passed a resolution to reuse the High Line.

Construction on the project began in April 2006, with the first section — from Gansevoort Street to 20th Street — opening in June, 2009. The second portion — from West 20th Street to West 30th Street — opened in June, 2011.

People along the High Line with bordered with natural vegetation


This past Sunday, the popularity of the High Line was undeniable. People of all ages, races and ethnicities were drawn to the space — strolling along the High Line — a mile long stretch that provides a myriad of views of the city.

Unlike the Atlanta BeltLine, the High Line is only for pedestrians. There are no bicycles or skateboards or roller blades. And unlike the BeltLine, there are no plans to combine the walkway with a streetcar line — providing a corridor of alternative transportation.

People enjoy the sun while watching strollers

Another difference between the two projects is the difference in density in Atlanta and New York. The High Line corridor is narrower than Atlanta’s BeltLine, which would have made it impossible for it to accommodate cyclists and streetcars.

But one extremely attractive feature of the High Line — and one that would be smart of the Atlanta BeltLine to replicate — is the use of wildflowers and natural vegetation.

Art along the High Line

There are few areas along the High Line that feel overly manicured and sterile. Instead, the space feels lively and organic — apparently making it relatively easy to maintain.

Another wonderful feature is the amount of street art — from sculpture to paintings that enliven both sides of the High Line.

As an Atlantan, walking along the High Line lifted my spirits.

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.

27 replies
  1. ATLien says:

    My company (a certain tree-loving nonprofit that happens to be a BeltLine partner) recently had the chair of the HighLine board speak to our staff and board in an effort to inspire and educate.  We came away with some ideas but many repeated the sentiment that Atlanta is different and the BeltLine is different.  The BeltLine is bigger and that’s incredibly exciting. Report

    Reply
  2. honesty says:

    Writers and people in Atlanta need to realize they are not on New york level so stop trying to compare things between the two. Atlanta is not even on Dallas level. There are several cities that are doing the same development as the Highline and the closest to that project is one that is being done in Chicago. Atlanta doesn’t have much green space and the same vibrant atmosphere as many other cities. Atlanta should be compared to Charlotte, Nashville, or maybe Denver.Report

    Reply
    • Chris says:

      Sorry, but the Beltline is more ambitious and unique than you realize.  It will encircle the Metro area and connect an entire ring with biking, walking, skating, etc and transit.  You’re right that it shouldn’t be completely compared to the High Line, because the High Line will never offer what the Beltline will.  And yes, thank goodness we are not New York, and would never want to be. Report

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    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      honesty:
      If Atlanta wasn’t home to the world’s busiest passenger airport and didn’t have twice the regional population of Denver and three times the regional population of Charlotte and Nashville, it wouldn’t have to be compared to New York, Dallas and Chicago.
      Atlanta obviously may not have the same cultural, entertainment, recreational or overall transportation amenities of a New York, Chicago or even a Dallas, but when a city’s regional population exceeds five million and has been boosted up as an up-and-coming international city in the not-too-distant past (remember that small, quaint event called the 1996 Summer Olympics?), people from all over the U.S. and the world expect much more from a city in terms of the aforementioned cultural, entertainment, recreational and transportation options than Atlanta currently has to offer, which is kind of a shame.Report

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      • NicholasJohnathanMulkey says:

         @The Last Democrat in Georgia
         Well see this is the problem Atlanta faces is that its history, culture, entertainment, recreation and overall transportation is often times overlooked by people including those even living within its own boundaries.  Yes Atlanta’s region exceeds five million but its city population is only roughly 450k or so.  In relation to other cities, Atlanta’s population percentage of its own region is incredibly low.  Atlanta also faces a region that is not always cooperative when it comes to progress and moving forward (i.e. Cobb county vs transit, extreme fragmentation due to several cities setting up shop right outside the border, etc.), Dallas, Chicago, or New York dont have to worry about this because all were or are allowed to reach their “max capacity” without this interference.  So this brings us to this question, why has such a small city’s (compared to other cities in its class) name floated around with the likes of New York and Chicago? Why has a city of such small georgraphical size ranked so highly among tourists?(7th most visited in the country.)  Well The Last Democrat in Georgia, its because of all the things that you say Atlanta does not provide.  First and foremost Atlanta is an international city (rated as an alpha-world city), we have the 4th largest concentration of fortune 500 companies in the nation. (not bad for a city of 450k), of course we have the busiest airport in the world, we have 24 consulates, we (as a region) boast one of the most diverse populations of any southern region, are home to one of the most diverse public universities in the country (georgia state; 34%white, 33%black) unseen even in many northern cities, not to mention being home to economic powerhouses and industry leaders like Coke, UPS, Home Depot, Autotrader.com, Delta, and Cox communications.  And finally hosting the 100th summer Olympics.
        Secondly how can you say Atlanta has no or not enough culture? Have you ever even tried to take a look at the massive underground music scene Atlanta has to offer? From Cloudeater to Mastadon to Stanza just to name a few.  Have you ever been to any of the neighborhood festivals or parades and seen how much pride these neighborhoods take within themselves? Have you ever been to the High, any of the playhouses, or even the comedy clubs that give you a taste of local Atlanta talent.  I would say Atlanta offers wayyyyy more culture than a 450k city is suppose to provide.  All the history (good or bad) that is locked up in this city seems to get overlooked. Do you know the story of sweet auburn? Do you know the story of Inman park? How about the story of the Woodruffs or Chandlers?  You’re out of your mind if you say Atlanta has no culture, it takes nothing more than a drive down edgewood to see a beautiful mural painted on the side of a building, to show the beating heart of the art community here. 
        Atlanta’s entertainment and recreation is not lacking, the nightlife in Atlanta as far as clubs and bars goes is through the roof, there is no shortage of plays, running groups, cycling groups, marathons, gyms, museums, concerts, festivals or events and fun places to visit within the city or even the region. You just have to get out from behind your computer and actively search for them.
        And finally transportation.  This one aggravates me the most, I hate to hear people say Atlanta has no transportation system, (even as a marta bus rides by).  I think its more so people overlook the bus due to the fact that they’d rather not ride it, but to say we have no transportation system is ridiculous.  No its not on the level of New York or Chicago but you can get to most places of importance using rail or rail and bus.  Unless theres this new form of instant transportation I don’t know about that other cities are employing, then I’d have to say Atlanta does have a transportation system.  Then you add on projects such as the Beltline and streetcar that are underway and you have an even more interconnected system. 
        I say all of this to say that people often speak of Atlanta without even trying to get to know the city or actually exploring the city at all.  Whats really ashamed is that it would seem that no matter the leaps of advancement Atlanta takes, people will always highlight the negatives.  Well I have news for you, this city of 450k hasn’t even reached its critical mass yet.  Atlanta has so much more room to grow and become denser its ridiculous.  This is the true beauty of Atlanta, even after facing a region that isnt as cooperative as other regions in the country, getting bad-mouthed endlessly, suffering a lack of faith from its own residents, standing as the only major city for miles around (There is an advantage of having other big cities as your neighbors),being in a state that is not so approving of urban environments or progess, and being burned to the ground, this city and the residents that truly love it stand and progress.  All the while forging its own identity (urban forest concept, and differing street plan from New York) and falling in love with its own future.  Once Atlanta reaches critical mass, I’d say 2 million within its city limits, you’re really going to see an active 24 hour display of what Atlanta has to offer.  You think Atlanta gets mentioned too highly now? Wait until we reach our critical mass.
         Report

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        • Burroughston Broch says:

           @NicholasJohnathanMulkey  @The Last Democrat in Georgia At the present rate of population growth,  the City of Atlanta might have a population of 2 million in 450 years. Don’t hold your breath.Report

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        • Burroughston Broch says:

           @NicholasJohnathanMulkey  @The Last Democrat in Georgia I took the time and ran the numbers. The population of the City of Atlanta increased 0.8% in the 10 years between the 2000 and 2010 censuses. If that rate continues, you can celebrate Atlanta’s population reaching 2,000,000 in the year 3970. In fact, at that rate it will take the City until 2230 to recover the population lost since 1970.
           
          My earlier estimate was not too accurate. I’ll decline to join the celebrations.Report

          Reply
        • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

           @NicholasJohnathanMulkey
           I did NOT say that Atlanta has no transportation system or that Atlanta has no culture, entertainment or recreation options, nor was I overlooking what Atlanta has to offer as I agree with you that Atlanta has much to offer.
           
          When I said that “people from all over the U.S. and the world expect much more from a city in terms of the aforementioned cultural, entertainment, recreational and transportation options than Atlanta currently has to offer”, I was pointing out that when a city has as large of a greater metropolitan population as Atlanta with nearly six million inhabitants, much more is expected from a city on an international level than what it currently has to offer.
           
          Atlanta may have MARTA heavy rail and bus service, but MARTA is currently in a state of serious decline with headways up to 15-20 minutes between trains from 7-10 minutes back during the Olympic-era.
           
          And while I agree with you that, despite the recent economic decline, Atlanta still has a lot going for it, what the city has to offer is clearly not on the level of a New York City (Broadway plays/Theater District, fashion industry/Garment District, dependable and extensive heavy rail/subway/commuter rail system, five-star restaurants, five-star hotels, Times Square, shopping on legendary streets like Fifth Ave and Madison Ave, etc) , which because of increasing metro population and geography (world’s busiest airport on the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S.), Atlanta is often unfairly compared to New York City.
           
          And when I said “which is a shame”, I was alluding to the fractured politics of the state and the region that you later mentioned in your reply to original post, playing a major role in holding the city back.Report

          Reply
        • NicholasJohnathanMulkey says:

           @The Last Democrat in Georgia  
           Ohhh ok.  Now I agree with you as far as it not being on the level of New York City, but it does have the potential for it to be a totally different city of its own uniqueness as well as achieve that 24hour community feel that New York has. Its just going to take massive intown migration, which my generation is starting to show (i.e the rental boom thats getting started here).  Will enough of us move to really sway the numbers? I dont know but I do know that the recent high-rise development is good for us working towards our goal of reaching critical mass (the point at which the “weight” of Atlanta’s population, density, and economy, propels it to a point of constant activity)  Now my response about the population thing is that I agree people expect more when your metro region has six million people but they’re usually thinking that the city holds at least 1/6th of the regions population.  This is not so with Atlanta. As we all know all obvious signs of life in Atlanta fade after 7 or so and if you’re not at your destination such as a bar, club, event or what not you’d probably think it was a ghost town.  This is due to Atlanta being more of a commuter center than residential center which is an issue that can’t necessarily be solved with any kind of city or region action.  I say all that to say that in that sense Atlanta is unfairly judged.  But either way I agree with you that there are those in power around the region who can’t see that the growth and prosperity of Atlanta directly affects them.  I just personally want to see the city become everything it should be.Report

          Reply
        • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

           @NicholasJohnathanMulkey
           Atlanta will make it, it’s just that this town is a period of profound transition from being mostly a Sunbelt boomtown that just grew for growth’s sake to the type of 24-hour full-service city that you describe.
          This town and region also seems like it is being held back by what has been as of late an increasingly incompetent state government, especially when it comes to transportation and water infrastructure planning and development.
          In virtually every state/province with one or more very major cities and highly-populated urban regions (California, New York, New Jersey, Texas, Illinois, Florida, Ontario, etc) state government commonly takes an active role in transportation planning by helping to plan and develop a regional network of transit lines (usually in the form of commuter rail and also heavy rail and light rail), roads (toll roads, surface arterial planning and development) and man-made lakes and reservoirs to ensure abundant water supply and flood control…Unlike virtually every other state/province with one or more major population centers, Georgia state government has very little, if any, of the kind of infrastructure investment, planning and development that is required to keep its economic engine alive and viable.
          On a local scale in the city, there are some projects that look to have an almost infinite amount of long-term potential both from an economic development and cultural development standpoint, like the Peachtree Streetcar, the Beltline, the Midtown Mile project and the continued development of Georgia State University into a first-class university with a large residential presence in the heart of Downtown Atlanta.
           
           
           Report

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        • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

           @NicholasJohnathanMulkey
           A project like the Peachtree Streetcar could greatly help to attract the type of investment, culture and streetlife to make Peachtree one of the world’s legendary thoroughfares, especially when combined with the “Midtown Mile” redevelopment project which stalled out when the economy tanked while the Beltline could help to give Atlanta the type of prominent Intown recreational and greenspace presence (like the Emerald Necklace in Central Boston) that it is so desperately in need of.
          The continued development of Georgia State University into a first-class academic institution with a dominant residential presence in Downtown Atlanta will help bring even more of the type dominant youth-driven grassroots type of cultural presence that major cities with a very-dominant academic presence like Seattle, Austin and even Boston enjoy and are so infinitely enriched by (the Seattle rock scene, the Austin music festivals/the “Keep Austin Weird” cultural movement, the relatively-unknown youthful bohemian sensibilities of Boston due to that town being overshadowed by New York, etc).
          That type of youth-driven and youth-dominated grassroots cultural scenes that Atlanta is working towards in fits and starts and the type of underground cultural scene that already exists in the city that you mention along with a modern or at least dependable transportation and water infrastructure is what REALLY attracts cutting-edge employers with high-paying jobs (see Microsoft outside of Seattle and the Route 128 Tech Corridor outside of Boston) and the highly-educated employees to fill them.   Report

          Reply
      • K3nn3th says:

         @The Last Democrat in Georgia Dallas??? Are you serious? Dallas??? You’re comparing Dallas to Chicago and New York and putting it in a class above Atlanta? Come now. Report

        Reply
        • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

           @K3nn3th
           Well to be clear, it was not me that put Dallas in a class above Atlanta, that was the commenter above by the name of “honesty” who opined that “Atlanta is not even on Dallas level”, I merely responded that Atlanta (6 million regional population) would not be compared to New York (21 million regional population), Chicago (10 million regional population) or even Dallas-Fort Worth (7 million regional population) if it didn’t have the world’s busiest passenger airport and didn’t have more than two or three times the regional population of the second-tier cities of Denver (2.9 million regional population), Charlotte (2 million regional population) and Nashville (1.6 million regional population) that the commenter “honesty” that they thought Atlanta should really be compared to in their personal opinion.
           
           Report

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        • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

           @K3nn3th
          Even though Atlanta is clearly in a class above Nashville, Charlotte and Denver just by the strength of its population, logistical and cultural advantages over those three cities, in terms of historical and continued infrastructure investment, I’m afraid that Dallas would in most likely beat Atlanta hands-down at this point in a competition due to the extensive investments that the Dallas Region, with the State of Texas as a **VERY** willing partner (unlike the often adversarial relationship between Atlanta and the State of Georgia), has made in its transportation and water infrastructure during the post-World War II era and continues to make in its transportation and water infrastructures with a very progressive and very ambitious eye towards a future in which Dallas intends to be a very dominant city on the Southern Plains.
           
          I say that Dallas would handily beat Atlanta in an infrastructure contest as Dallas has expanded its rail transit network to include up to 130 miles of track compared to only 48 miles of rail transit track for unquestionably more severely road infrastructure-challenged Atlanta.
           
          Dallas also has six virtually self-funded toll roads in operation to help better move automobile traffic with the continued development of a regionwide network of new managed lanes (HOT/tolled carpool lanes) and double-decked freeways to accommodate increasing truck traffic, a transportation investment that would be a political impossibility with the anti-infrastructure (anti-road, anti-transit and anti-reservoir) political environment that is pervasive in the Atlanta Region and in Georgia Politics.
           
          Dallas also very-substantially outpaces Atlanta in water infrastructure investments as the Greater Dallas-Fort Worth/North Texas Region has built roughly two-dozen locally-controlled man-made lakes and reservoirs for water supply (and flood control) to supplement its two federally-controlled reservoirs, unlike Atlanta and North Georgia which remain dangerously overdependent only upon federally-controlled lakes.
           
          Dallas’ only weakness on the water front is that the region is not as committed to the type of extremely-intense water conservation that Atlanta has been forced to adopt out of necessity due to the mistaken perception that North Texas’ water supplies are virtually limitless because of the large overabundance of man-made water infrastructure.
           
           Report

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        • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

           @K3nn3th
           Here is a link to a map of 16 new reservoirs proposed to be built in the State of Texas that will add to the state’s already abundant existing man-made water supply, an existing man-made water supply that is likely more than abundant with the proper water conservation measures, which despite the tendency throughout much of Texas towards extended dry spells, water conservation still is not necessarily all that popular of a concept as it should be in Texas, both socially and politically.
          http://www.texaswatermatters.org/projects/save/SWRM2_2007-SWP-damsA.jpg
           
          Here is a link to a map of the current and future Dallas area rail transit network (DART light rail, TRE commuter rail and DCTA commuter rail) through 2014:
          http://www.dart.org/maps/currentandfutureservicesmap.asp
           
          Here is a link that displays existing toll roads in the Dallas Region (Dallas has 90 miles of tollways compared to only 2.5 miles of tollways in Atlanta, not counting the I-85 HOT lanes):
          https://www.ntta.org/roadsprojects/existroad/Pages/default.aspx
           
          Here is a link to a page that displays the toll roads currently under construction in the Greater Dallas-Fort Worth Region:
          https://www.ntta.org/roadsprojects/projprog/Pages/default.aspx
           
          Here is a link to a page that displays the proposed future toll roads currently in the planning and development stage in the Dallas-Fort Worth Region:
          https://www.ntta.org/roadsprojects/futproj/Pages/default.aspx
           
          Here are some links to the Interstate 635 LBJ Express Project in which the I-635 North Loop (which is Dallas equivalent to Atlanta’s I-285 Top End Perimeter) will be reconstructed to include up to 13 miles of new express managed lanes, much of which will be depressed UNDER the existing untolled lanes for several miles of double-decked freeway across the Northside of Dallas:
          http://www.lbjexpress.com/overview.asp
          http://www.lbjexpress.com/about.asp
           
          And here is a link to a video that illustrates Dallas’ plans to effectively double-deck one of their busiest stretches of freeway by basically running the new managed lanes underneath the existing untolled lanes:

           
           Report

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  3. Emily Santangelo says:

    I was very surprised and happy to see the photo of the 23 foot sculpture I had commissioned for my client’s Equity Residential. The artist, Charlie Hewitt, is in the collections of The Met, MoMA, The Guggenheim and Thie Whitney, among others. He was chosen from a worldwide selection of artists that offered renderings for a sculpture at the building, known as Ten23. If you like the work I encourage you to go to “like” us on Facebook at The Highline – Urban Rattle. Thanks again for the post. Emily Santangelo, Art Consultant for Equity Residential and Ten 23. Report

    Reply
  4. RussellCampbell says:

    Atlanta may not be as fast as New York but it is definitely a rapidly growing city that is full of residents and businesses.  Atlanta is definitely a city that would be able to benefit from the Beltline project.  Multiple mobility options besides relying on transit is definitely something that is needed.Report

    Reply
    • Burroughston Broch says:

       @RussellCampbell Russell, I suggest that you become familiar with the US Census. Atlanta is not a rapidly growing city – the 2010 population was less than 1% greater than in 2000, and 15.5% less than in 1970.Report

      Reply
  5. leadbelly says:

    I am so tired on hearing how these two projects are similar. You touch ever so lightly on the fact that the majoe difference is density…..the 22 mile corridor will never, ever be remotely as dense as Chelsea. Right now, it seems highly unlikely that an Atlanta couple will write a $10 million check specifically for maintenance (not as sexy as building stuff). Also, we will not be spending $100 million+/mile to rehab and cosntruct the BetlLine.
    Oh, and the design has wildflowersReport

    Reply
    • Chris says:

      Meant to add that you can find secret virtual walks down the Beltline from this site, as it is constructed.  Just navigate North or South from the Ponce or North Ave bridges.Report

      Reply
  6. J Dalia says:

    The point of the BeltLine/High Line comparison and of this article is not so much that the projects are the same, but that the potential benefits are great for both.  Cataloguing some of the High Line’s positive impacts posits a taste of what the BeltLine could be to Atlanta. 
     
    Obviously Atlanta has fundamental differences with the much-denser NYC; however, the real coup for Atlanta could be to have the BeltLine right-of-way in place prior to the increased density that is an inevitable part of Atlanta’s future. The other major difference is where the BeltLine is actually superior: it includes a fabulous public transit and connectivity option for a major metropolis.  Its being so much larger than the Highline also includes many more greenspace opportunities.
     
    To our very dissenting “leadbelly,” I would also bet that you are not aware of the BeltLine Partnership, the non-profit support arm of the BeltLine.  Just such multi-million checks, and more, have been and will continue to be written in support of this world-class and forward-looking project.Report

    Reply

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