Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Atlanta beltline's strength lies in its incrementalism

This short video trumpeting the Beltline's growth is an inspiring marketing document, but doesn't really describe why the developing greenway network is so successful. Providing non-car transportation infrastructure in an area sorely lacking seems like a common sense, high-return investment. And certainly the weight of evidence is adding up.

But what makes the Beltline great is its incremental development. History is littered with plans for urban restoration projects that fail miserably. Better to start small, gain valuable feedback about effectiveness, and then scale up. The Beltline is proving itself--indeed it's been successful beyond anyone's wildest dreams. Current calls to adding lighting along the higher-use urban sections provide an excellent example. It seems ridiculous to not have lighting, but doing so in the initial phase would have unnecessarily increased the costs.

The second part of the video is about a huge expensive new park in an up-and-coming neighborhood. I hope this park succeeds. But I also wouldn't be surprised if it doesn't. It's isolated, and has weird design components. Atlanta has an embarrassment of open space and public parks, and while infilling empty lots is absolutely a good thing to do, I'd rather these dollars go towards projects that have a tried-and-true return on investment (i.e. complete the Beltline expansion ahead of schedule, etc.)

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