To an outsider, the Atlanta BeltLine may look like an ordinary walkway. For Atlanta residents, though, the BeltLine is a hub of socialization, art and revitalization.
As a major transit artery that caters to non-motorized transportation, it’s also the foundation of a campaign to encourage alternative commute options in a historically car-dominant city.
The BeltLine grew out of a grassroots organization of civic leaders and motivated citizens driven to convert an abandoned railroad corridor circling the city into a usable community pathway. When finished, the BeltLine will connect 33 miles of trails and 45 Atlanta neighborhoods in one of the most ambitious redevelopment efforts in the country.
Community begins with creativity
Art weaves into the fabric of the BeltLine as a seamless accompaniment to its green and urban landscapes. Vivid murals splash across the concrete walls of the city’s BeltLine-facing infrastructure, and Atlanta’s most extensive collection of temporary art is scattered along the trail.
Exhibitions flow in and out of the BeltLine, but there’s no event quite like the annual Lantern Parade. What began as a handful of hand-created lanterns in 2010 grew into into an enthusiastic mob and glowing procession of more than 66,000 people in 2015.
This spirit of community and collaboration defines the culture of the BeltLine. Local fitness companies offer free exercise classes available to anyone who wants to join. Budding skaters eager to try out the recently constructed, BeltLine-adjacent Historic Fourth Ward Skatepark can participate in free beginner or intermediate classes. Families can engage in sports and fun activities at the BeltLine’s free Family Play Days. The list goes on.
What’s on tap?
These 2016 advancements have served as a kickoff for exciting expansions for the BeltLine project. Construction began earlier this year on the Eastside Trail Southern Extension, which is slated for completion in mid-2017. Plus, Light the Line, an initiative to bring pedestrian lighting to the BeltLine, embraces green technology by using energy-efficient LED streetlights equipped with timers and motion sensors.
Included in the BeltLine’s original plan was a commitment to subsidize affordable housing in order to combat problems caused by gentrification. In May, BeltLine officials renewed the housing initiative program, which offers down payment assistance to low-income families. Additionally, the recently approved 2017 budget allocates more than 10 percent of its funds to support development of new affordable housing units.
The Atlanta BeltLine is more than a stretch of concrete wreathing the city: It’s evidence that sustainable, community-centric alternative transit options can both survive and thrive inside Atlanta’s urban terrain.
Lead photo via Flickr user TimothyJ.