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"Close Your Mouth; We Are Not a Codfish" (And Other Thoughts from My Beltline Tour)

Posted Apr 06 2013 7:46am
So, there I was on the Beltline bus tour yesterday--three hours in a comfortable bus with a knowledgeable tour leader named Butchy who showcased the 22-mile ring of old rail beds that, when fully developed into parks, trails, and light rail, will connect 45 distinct neighborhoods and 20 schools in an "emerald necklace," all within about two miles of downtown Atlanta--when all I could hear in my head was Mary Poppins.  

Not saying "Well begun is half done," even though so, so much of the route requires enormous acts of faith to see what the dreamers behind this largest redevelopment project in the United States today are able to see. 

Not saying, "In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun, and--SNAP--the job's a game!" even though temporary and permanent art, a Tony Hawk-designed skate park, and a gorgeous teal-watered granite quarry that's going to be turned into a recreational lake screamed fun at every turn.  

But saying "Close your mouth, please, Michael. We are not a codfish" because I realized at about the one-hour point that my jaw had been hanging open the entire time. 

After 23 years living in metropolitan Atlanta (the first four of which I worked downtown at CNN Center and explored the city almost every single day at lunchtime, as I was used to doing in my native New York), the Beltline tour was the most fascinating, comprehensive look at Atlanta past and present that I've seen yet. Atlanta was first named Terminus because it was the end of numerous rail lines, so trains are at its very heart. And having these flat, abandoned tracks circling a major metropolitan area, available for massive redevelopment at this particular time in history when live/walk/play urban planning is literally changing the way we live in America means the Beltline project is poised to be a national game-changer for Atlanta. Perhaps Atlanta should be called Beginnus because it is truly a new beginning here.

The free Beltline tour takes you through a shocking diversity of neighborhoods--from Victorian charm to boarded-up abandonment to dignified struggling to brownfield redevelopment to warehouse rejuvenation already well under way to the vast, expansiveness of the old Vulcan Mines Quarry, where The Walking Dead television series has apparently filmed some episodes (and it's easy to see why), to the bustle of Piedmont Hospital, the vibrancy around Piedmont Park, and the grand finale conclusion through the historic Old Fourth Ward and back to the Inman Park transit station (called MARTA)

New construction was everywhere:

* Beautifully-designed energy-efficient mixed-use developments with condos, office space, and neighborhood shopping. 

* Affordable living homes intended for public servants such as police officers and teachers. 

* Houses with big front porches that overlooked the path itself, and that blended seamlessly with the historic flavor of their specific communities

Every real estate agent and city council member in metro-Atlanta may want to consider taking this tour because, frankly, living with easy access to the Beltline is going to be the standard to beat in the future, especially for younger generations drawn to Atlanta by the impact this extraordinary asset is going to make, and our aging population that wants increasingly easy access to their daily living needs and pleasures. 

I had heard about the Beltline for years, and seen little snips of it here and there (I live far enough away from it that it is not now a part of my daily life, but I'm rethinking that). I have seen it described in national news as "the next High Line" in New York City. I've been to the High Line . I love the High Line. This is no High Line. This is much, much bigger.

I'm clearly not done with this one yet. In fact, this is only the beginning. Or, should I say, Beginnus.

eclectic food-for-thought for a changing world
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