Uncle Sam joins fight against blight in Falcons stadium neighborhoods

By David Pendered

Beleaguered neighborhoods near the future Atlanta Falcons stadium have received a tremendous promise of help from the federal government.

The Falcons stadium neighborhoods will benefit from the inclusion of the Proctor Creek basin, in green, in the federal Urban Waters Partnership Program. Credit: City of Atlanta

The Falcons stadium neighborhoods will benefit from the inclusion of the Proctor Creek basin, in green, in the federal Urban Waters Partnership Program. Credit: City of Atlanta

The same program that was recently expanded to these neighborhoods is credited in cities across the country with helping create amenities including a river walk, a new waterfront greenway, fast-track studies for slow-moving projects, and job-training programs for construction trades.

These are just a few examples of the benefits that have developed since 2011 in areas that are in the federal Urban Waters Federal Partnership. Atlanta’s Proctor Creek basin, which includes the stadium neighborhoods, was added May 17 to the water partnership.

The program promises to bring the power of 13 federal agencies to fight the evidence of urban decay that have helped deteriorate the environment in the Proctor Creek basin – a 16-square-mile region that stretches from downtown Atlanta to the Chattahoochee River.

The future federal assistance is in addition to the $30 million promised by the stadium deal to redevelop the Vine City, English Avenues and Castleberry Hill neighborhoods. This sum includes $15 million each from the Blank Foundation and Invest Atlanta, the city’s development arm.

The federal partnership received all the kudos to be expected when it was announced at an event at Maddox Park.

“This is an unprecedented partnership,” Nancy Stoner, EPA’s acting assistant administrator for water said in a statement.. “Thirteen federal agencies supporting local efforts—in both the public and private sectors—to transform degraded, forgotten waterways into neighborhood centerpieces that revitalize the surrounding communities.

The Anacostia Riverwalk, in Washington, was built with assistance from the same program that now will be working with the stadium neighborhoods and others in Atlanta's Proctor Creek basin. Credit: jdland.com

The Anacostia Riverwalk, in Washington, was built with assistance from the same program that now will be working with the stadium neighborhoods and others in Atlanta’s Proctor Creek basin. Credit: jdland.com

“Communities in and around the Proctor Creek Watershed have long suffered from pollution caused by Atlanta’s aging sewer infrastructure, disinvestment in the urban core, illegal dumping and other environmental and public health hazards,” Na’Taki Osborne Jelks, chair of the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance, said in a statement. “The strength of the partnership will be realized through collaboration with residents who have assets, local knowledge and a history of action focused on restoring the watershed.”

The Urban Waters program aims to bring swift help from the federal government to promote the ideas that arise from local communities to clean up their waterways and reconnect to them.

The theory behind the Urban Waters program is that the quality of life in these blighted urban neighborhoods will be improved by a better natural environment, leading to less crime and greater prosperity of all sorts, according to details contained in a recent status report on the program.

As the program gets established in Atlanta, the federal partners will be able to draw upon a myriad of existing ideas to clean up and improve the Proctor Creek basin. Plans includes a greenway from near the stadium into the neighborhoods, a new park, and numerous efforts to clean up the illegal tire dumps and other eye sores that detract from the quality of life in the stadium neighborhoods and elsewhere in the Proctor Creek basin.

The Harlem River Park is an example of the type of recreational amenity the Urban Waters Partnership Program intends to provide along the Harlem River in New York City. Credit: harlemcdc.org

The Harlem River Park is an example of the type of recreational amenity the Urban Waters Partnership Program intends to provide along the Harlem River in New York City. Credit: harlemcdc.org

Here are a few examples from some of the 18 communities that were the pilot program launched in 2011. In even the best examples, nothing happened overnight. But in all cases the challenges are enormous:

  1. Anacostia River Watershed, District of Columbia, Md.
  • The challenge: The watershed is one of the country’s most urbanized watersheds and has lost 70 percent of forestland and 6,500 acres of wetlands in an area that covers 176 square miles.
  • The results: The Anascostia Riverwalk was unveiled as a 59-mile trail network. The first 1.5 miles are open. A river cleanup is being implemented by five agencies and it designed to prevent 1,500 tons of erosion from entering the river and Chesapeake Bay. Two agencies and a local partner have created a green jobs training program.
  1. Bronx and Harlem rivers watershed, New York City
  • The challenge: The two rivers are intensely urbanized. The Bronx is adjacent to communities where 39 percent of residents are below the poverty line. Roads separate the Harlem from residents, who live in a food desert with dilapidated housing.
  • The results: Studies that had languished have been fast-tracked, resulting in a partnership that aims to create greenways along the rivers. The Department of Interior has reconvened talks between the state and Amtrak, which had been stalled since 2009, and win their commitment to building a pedestrian bridge that will provide poor Bronx residents with access to two new parks.
  1. South Platt River in Denver
  • The challenge: The river is a source of drinking water, but in the city it is mainly an industrial corridor flanked by pockets of blight. Only three neighborhoods have direct access to the river, and one of them is an affordable housing complex.
  • The results: The USDA Forest Service provided $114,000 through a matching grant program to start a green jobs training program that planted native trees, removed invasive species along waterways and provided educational programs about watershed issues. Westerly Creek is being cleaned up and a new park opened to provide recreational space to neighborhoods where recent immigrants reside in affordable housing that’s located between two sustainable communities – Lowry and Stapleton.

Here’s the list of the federal agencies that are participating:

  • Army Corps of Engineers
  • Department of Energy
  • Department of Education
  • Environmental Protection Agency
  • Economic Development Administration
  • Forest Service
  • Department of Housing and Urban Development
  • Department of Interior
  • Department of Transportation
  • Corporation for National and Community Service
  • National Center for Environmental Health/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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