The New Way to Think About Streets and Plazas: Multi-Purpose, Multi-Functional
By Kevin Green, Midtown Alliance President and CEO
Just two weeks ago, few people had even heard the term “social distancing.” Yet in a very quick turn of events, we now find this as our temporary ‘new normal.’ Since cities are made to bring people together and to seed social interaction, our current reality is a hard condition to wrap your mind around, but it’s here and it’s necessary. As we pull together as a community to get through this weird global episode, we can be assured that this too shall pass. Once consigned to a chapter in history, it also seems reasonable that many of us will have new appreciation for returning to normal and being able to come together, mix and gather as a community and a society – things many of us may have taken for granted a week ago.
When our city is “back to normal” as it will surely be – and hopefully soon – we know that public infrastructure is what knits our city together. Without a network of streets, sidewalks, crosswalks, benches, bike racks, signals and signs, there is no city. Although we’ll all be adapting to changing conditions in the near future, our work to create an excellent urban experience continues.
Our urban infrastructure in Midtown has evolved over the last 150 years with one incremental solution built on another by well-intentioned planners and engineers. The sum total of all these changes adds up to our current infrastructure, which may be far from ideal and efficient for current needs. This has led to retrofitting, like turning one-way streets back into two-way, bringing back on-street parking and rethinking space on our streets dedicated exclusively to cars.
Increasingly, designing for the future means incorporating more flexibility, and offering people an abundance of quality choices for how they get around and what they do. It also means proceeding with a sense of urgency.
Authored by the community in the late 1990s, our original Blueprint Midtown master plan is one plan that got executed. The Blueprint set out the vision for what Midtown wanted to become: a mixed-use destination, where buildings meet the sidewalks in a way that enhances the public realm and supports walking as a primary choice for how to get around. That identity has been integral to almost every land use and transportation decision in Midtown ever since.
It only makes sense that the approach to infrastructure projects we take on needs to match the multi-purpose identity of the buildings that get built alongside it.
Roughly 60% of our 2020 budget is dedicated to public improvement projects, ranging from new traffic signals and open space to an expanded network of bike lanes. We want to deliver projects that offer people more options for how they can use a given space or corridor. People who spend time in Midtown want options. Here are some creative examples of infrastructure improvements that Atlanta residents, workers and visitors can look forward to using in Midtown in the near term:
Making a Brand New Street: 15th Street Extension
Improving existing roadways is something we get a chance to do fairly often, but it’s a rare opportunity to build an entirely new street. With a big assist from the Georgia Department of Transportation, the City of Atlanta and private partners, Midtown Alliance will create a new street grid connection between West Peachtree and Williams Streets that offers people a range of travel options. This new corridor will deliver wide sidewalks, crosswalks, a dedicated bike lane in both directions, and two motor vehicle lanes in each direction that can help alleviate some of the pressure on 14th Street during peak periods. Construction is slated to begin in 2021.
How Six On-Street Parking Spaces Can Become a Mini-Park
Some 95% of respondents to our 2019 Midtown Community Survey said they wanted to see more parks and smaller plazas throughout the district. We’re actively looking for different ways to create these spaces, including by reimagining the public right-of-way. One such opportunity is the intersection at Peachtree Street and Peachtree Place, which draws a lot of foot traffic because it features retailers and feeds into the Midtown MARTA station a block away. The Commercial Row Commons project would trade out a handful of on-street parking spaces and rebuild a street median to create a multi-use plaza that would support local retailers, provide a venue for public programming and events in collaboration with the Atlanta History Center, and realign the intersection to make it safer for pedestrians and drivers alike. Construction is projected to begin later this year.
Developers Designing Publicly-Accessible Spaces into their Projects
Midtown’s Development Review Committee advocates for developers to build high-quality projects that maximize the potential of their land, fit the district’s character and meet its needs for the next century. One recent win came with the design for Midtown Union, a transformative mixed-use project with office, residential and retail space, as well as a boutique hotel. The project will extend Arts Center Way between West Peachtree and Spring Streets, adding a private road that will feature green space, retail space and pedestrian walkways that connect Midtown Union to the Midtown Arts District and the Arts Center MARTA station. Many more developers have the opportunity in front of them to think about how these types of features can create an increased return on their investment, expressed both financially and socially.
Tell us what you think.
Working with our partners at the City of Atlanta and State of Georgia, we have more than 20 additional projects that will be advancing in 2020. Our staff wants to know what you think about these projects. Please accept this invitation to make suggestions about our work, and where you see other opportunities to incorporate multi-use, multi-function design into our projects. Email us at [email protected], and for background reading check out our monthly updates on capital projects found here.