Year in Review: Our Favorite Stories from 2017

Year in Review: Our Favorite Stories from 2017

By Traci Washington

What makes Atlanta great? It’s the people, organizations and groups who dedicate their lives to improving the quality of life for others.

We’re lucky to have covered many of those stellar Atlantans this year, and as we head into 2018, we wanted to take a moment to catch up with them. Join us as we take a stroll down memory lane and revisit some of our most popular stories of 2017.

Aly’s dream of seamless transit in Atlanta

Public transit isn’t one of Atlanta’s most redeeming traits. (Okay—it’s not even in the top 10.) But in 2017, guest blogger Aly Merritt shared her dream of seamless transit in Atlanta. Her fantasy consists of an Atlanta where she can ditch her car, get on a train and go where she needs to be. The problem? MARTA routes are limited to North–South and East–West lines, and taking the bus isn’t really convenient, especially when your bus route is at the mercy of traffic.

Merritt saw a silver lining in the I-85 bridge collapse in March. She hoped the increase in passengers on public transit would push leaders to invest in it. “I had such high hopes when the bridge lit on fire, that the MARTA increase would be consistent,” Merritt reflects. While the bridge was out, MARTA’s ridership increased dramatically.

But did it last? “Apparently,” Merritt says, “it dropped back to normal levels when the bridge was fixed.”

Merritt believes her dream of a better transit in metro Atlanta is wild, yet realistic — but it’s a long road ahead.

“There’s not a magic pill to fix this problem. The more people talk about it, the more people are proponents for it, the more people look for alternate methods, that’s where that change happens,” she explains. “Once you make it easier for people to use public transit than it is to drive, that’s when that adoption happens.”

In the meantime, she plans on using a bike to chip away some time off of her commute.  

Transit soccer field aims to help Atlanta youth

Speaking of transit, a soccer field attached to a MARTA station changed the lives of hundreds of Atlanta’s youth this year. Yes, you read that right. Sanjay Patel of Soccer in the Streets was inspired to create an easily accessible safe place for kids to play soccer. With the help of local organizations and nonprofits, Patel’s dream became reality and Atlanta became the home of the world’s first transit station soccer field.

Station Soccer is built on an old parking lot connected to a MARTA station. “We’ve got people from economically disadvantaged areas, people who don’t have cars using MARTA to participate in our free programs,” says Patel.

The free programs—including soccer leagues and training—are offered to disadvantaged youth. Patel’s goal remains to help kids be successful on and off the field. “We want to help keep kids off the streets and use soccer as a medium to make them employable adults,” he says.

It’s been a phenomenal year for Soccer Station. The organization was chosen for half a dozen local, national and global awards. Since opening in the spring, more than 5000 people visited the field, including Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber.

As good as 2017 was, Patel believes 2018 will be even better, especially for the children he’s trying to reach.

“Next year, we’re planning to expand to more stations and programs across the community. It’s a three-to-five-year process, but we want to build a network of stations, which we’re calling a League of Stations, in and around transit stations throughout Atlanta,” Patel says. “We’re really excited to move into other areas and offer our programs to other people.”

According to Patel, Station Soccer enthusiasts can expect a 2018 announcement regarding their next location.

Atlanta BeltLine’s road to completion

The Atlanta BeltLine might be the city’s only major thoroughfare without rush hour traffic. The 22-mile trail runs around the center of Atlanta, created for those who want to experience the city on a bike or by foot.

In early 2017, we featured the BeltLine and the best ways to take advantage of everything it has to offer. In 2018, though, you can expect more activities and events as trail as it continues to expand.

Only 11 of 22 miles of the trail are open to the public, but the road to completion will continue next year. There are plans to extend the Eastside and Westside trails, and design plans are already in the works for the Southside trails.

Though the Atlanta BeltLine will focus heavily on trail expansion in 2018, don’t expect a shortage of art. The organization will host its ninth annual Art on the BeltLine exhibition with a new addition. This year, the BeltLine is collaborating with the National Black Arts Festival (NBAF) and will include displays from the Nobel Museum’s “Making Peace Project.”

Brian McGowan, president and CEO of the Atlanta BeltLine, said partnerships like this make the BeltLine more than just a system of trails: It’s a pipeline connecting people to a brand new experience and ways to improve their quality of life.

“We look to partners like NBAF for growth and learning opportunities, and we welcome the chance to make Art on the Atlanta BeltLine more inclusive and diverse.”

Clearly, there was no shortage of innovative ideas in Atlanta in 2017. We enjoyed every moment of covering everything this city—and its citizens—has to offer.

See you in 2018!

Lead photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash