Tuesday, March 15, Coastal Conversations held the program “Urban Design Lessons from the Atlanta Beltline Project” at Ben May Library in downtown Mobile. This program featured Clyde Higgs, President & CEO of Atlanta Beltline Inc. and graduate of the University of South Alabama. Clyde spoke about ways Mobile can model the largest, most wide-ranging urban redevelopment programs in the United States.
The Atlanta Beltline connects 4 abandoned and active rail lines, forming a loop around Midtown and Downtown Atlanta. It includes 8.8 miles of mainline Beltline trails, 6.2 miles of connector trails with ABI involvement and 3.7 miles of additional connector trails. The redevelopment project has successfully added 22 miles of new streetcar transit, 46 miles of improved streetscapes, 2,977 affordable housing units, 1,300 acres of new greenspace, 1,100 acres of new remediation and 24,200 permanent jobs.
The vision of the Atlanta Beltline project requires accommodating both current and future residents and presents the challenge of simultaneously creating and preserving affordable housing.
Taking into consideration the effects of a new, booming economy on low-income residents, Atlanta Beltline Inc. has established their Legacy Retention Program, Home Empowerment Workshops, Inclusionary Zoning and acquisition + activation strategy. Additionally, a fund works to pay the difference of property taxes to avoid displacement.
The Atlanta Beltline has become the first place of choice to live, both for individuals looking to relocate and businesses looking to expand in Atlanta. With investments of $8.3 billion catalyzed in the planning area, the urban development project aims to create 50,000 permanent jobs, 5,600 units of affordable housing by 2030 and attract 2.9 million more residents to the area by 2050
In Mobile, Three Mile Creek Partnership is taking on our city’s own redevelopment project. Three Mile Creek begins at the wetland ponds at the University of South Alabama, flows south through Langan Park Lake, neighborhoods, commercial districts, natural landscapes, downtown Mobile, the Mobile River and into Mobile Bay. The project aims to construct a 12-mile walking and biking trail along the waterway, restore along the creek, create and promote recreational and economic opportunities throughout the area and include all neighborhoods in the transformation process.
Clyde’s most significant piece of advice regarding our own community’s goal for large-scale redevelopment was to “make sure Mobile stays Mobile.”
He advised a “holistic” vision when taking on any redevelopment project, adding Atlanta Beltline Inc. works to “make sure the entire community wins when [they] are making investments.” These efforts are essential in achieving strong support from city leadership and the community and have proven to be effective with over 80% of residents strongly affirming it to be worthy of public investment.