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Published on July 6th, 2016 |

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City Design Project planning for Atlanta 2037 with twice the population

“We all love Atlanta for a lot of different reasons,” BeltLine creator Ryan Gravel, who has now been tapped to head up an Atlanta City Design Project, told the board of the Buckhead Community Improvement District Wednesday. “But what will Atlanta be if it doubles its population in the next 20 years?”

BeltLine creator Ryan Gravel is now heading up the Atlanta City Design Project.

BeltLine creator Ryan Gravel is now heading up the Atlanta City Design Project.

Gravel, who was picked to head up the City Design Project by Atlanta Planning Commissioner Tim Keane, said the idea is to “design ideas of what the city will be when it grows up and we grow up….looking ahead to all the change that is coming our way.”

While Gravel is gathering community input and formulating theoretical plans for developing the Atlanta of the future—where the development nodes will be, transportation plans, an urban ecology framework that blends the city’s tree canopy with urban lifestyles— Keane is overseeing a massive overhaul of the city’s planning and development processes.

Gravel said the City Design Project’s role is to answer the questions, “What is Atlanta? What makes it special?” Then it will put those answers into a plan so that as the city grows “we become more of who we are, not less.”

“What about design makes the streets in Atlanta different than other cities,” asked Keane. “That is what should guide the city’s regulations.” The plan will “focus on what makes Atlanta different from other cities…so we’re not just copying other places all the time.”

Keane told the CID board—mainly made up of commercial developers—“The main zoning rewrite will take years to complete. In the meantime, the team is working on regulations that can be implemented in 12 months (zoning ordinance changes).”

The city’s effort is partly inspired, Keane said, by projections that Atlanta’s population will increase anywhere between 200,000 and 500,000 people over the next 20 years—a huge boom for a city of roughly 450,000 today. The city also projects “double the employment,” he added.

“Change is happening,” Keane said, “We can either just react to this or plan for it.”

Gravel said the intent is, “instead of fighting against [change], kind of embracing it and leveraging it to make it the kind of city we want to be.”

Atlanta's Planning Commissioner Tim Keane spoke of the need for better planning and changes in zoning regulations to the Buckhead CID board.

Atlanta’s Planning Commissioner Tim Keane spoke of the need for better planning and changes in zoning regulations to the Buckhead CID board.

It also will help shape an updated city transportation plan due in September 2017 and a completely new zoning code Keane expects to write over the next few years. Higher-density, less car-oriented development is a certainty, the planners said. New road grids are unlikely, such as in Buckhead, but the city generally has underused transportation capacity already.

As part of the City Design Project’s efforts an Atlanta City Studio space has been opened at Ponce City Market in Midtown which is specifically designed to gather public input—“a collaborative space to see that the public is involved,” Keane explained.

The Atlanta City Studio will remain at Ponce City Market for a while longer and then will move to the Atlanta West Side, where it likely will remain for three months or so. Sometime after that it will be set up in space in Buckhead as it travels to all sectors of the city. “We will move it around the city so that everyone has a chance for input,” Keane said.

“A lot of the future growth would need to be in downtown, the West Side and Southside,” Keane told the Buckhead commercial development group. He said that in many places, growth has been stymied because of poor design.

The Design Project will have a more concrete proposal to present later this year, Gravel said. For instance, the city’s transportation plan is due next year and that is one of the study areas. “If the city grows by 500,000 people in 20 years, how will those people get around,” Keane asked.

Affordable housing is a crucial aspect of the City Design Project, the two planners said. Keane said the city may hold a competition to design housing units available for $7,000 a year—meaning affordable to a family making less than half the area median income.

“Let’s design housing at that number and see what we can get,” he said. “Gracious to live in, but not a conventional unit. No cars, shared facilities and such. We could come up with creative ways to approach this.”

City Councilmember Howard Shook asked about how to respond to lower-income communities that want more amenities, but not “more neighbors,” such as some on the West Side and South Side of Atlanta.

“There’s a fear of gentrification and a fear of economic and cultural displacement,” said Gravel, adding that the urban plan will work “if we can come at it and address the displacement question head-on.”

Gravel added that he lived for years on the South Side of Atlanta. “People there understand they are not going to get their desired retail growth, such supermarkets, and commercial development without more people to support that economic growth.”

The visit by Keane and Gravel to the Buckhead CID was just about perfectly timed as the CID is embarking on an update of a master plan of its own the Livable Centers Initiative, which was created 16 years ago.

Livable Buckhead Executive Director Denise Starling, who is in charge of the LCI update, announced at the July 6 meeting that the Kimley-Horn/TSW team has been selected from five groups that answered the request for proposal as the preferred contractor to update the plan in an upcoming public process.

The BCID board authorized work to finalize a contract not to exceed the $187,000 allocated for it, of which the BCID is responsible for $75,000.

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