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Atlanta’s BeltLine: An Ambitious Plan to Bring a City Together

Atlanta’s BeltLine: An Ambitious Plan to Bring a City Together

Credit Dustin Chambers for The New York Times

ATLANTA — Could this traffic-clogged Southern city, long derided as the epitome of suburban sprawl, really be discovering its walkable, bike-friendly, density-embracing, streetcar-riding, human-scale soul?

The answer is evident in the outpouring of affection that residents here have showered on the Atlanta BeltLine, which aims to convert 22 miles of mostly disused railway beds circling the city’s urban core into a biking and pedestrian loop, a new streetcar line, and a staggeringly ambitious engine of urban revitalization.

Even though just a small fraction of the loop trail has been completed, Atlantans, in one of the purer expressions of America’s newly rekindled romance with city life, have already passionately embraced the project. And like any budding romance, it is full of high hopes — for an Atlanta that is more racially integrated, less congested and, in a change refreshing to many here, more focused on improving the lives of residents rather than just projecting a glittering New South image to the rest of the world.

It’s not just Atlantans who see something that is potentially transformative.

“It’s the most important rail-transit project that’s been proposed in the country, possibly in the world,” said Christopher B. Leinberger of the George Washington University School of Business, who follows urban redesign projects and has for years called Atlanta “the poster child of sprawl.”

More than 30,000 people have taken a three-hour bus tour of the proposed loop; the answer to “Have you taken the tour?” has become a kind of litmus test of Atlanta civic pride.

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“It was just an idea, really,” Ryan Gravel, who first submitted the BeltLine idea to city officials in 2001, said recently. “I never imagined we’d actually do it.” CreditDustin Chambers for The New York Times

Last year, more than 1.3 million people used a completed two-mile path along the loop, the Eastside Trail, which opened in 2012, and a second, three-mile section of the path is under construction on the city’s historically African-American west side. On Saturday, tens of thousands of residents strutted their way along the existing trail in the annual BeltLine Lantern Parade, begun in 2010, that borrows much from the culture of New Orleans.

To hear the parade organizer, Chantelle Rytter, describe it, the Atlanta pageant might as well be a jazz funeral for the death of the city’s old reputation, which she sums up in three words: “Soulless parking lot.”

She added: “There’s a different way to live now because of the BeltLine.”

Such enthusiasm for what is, for now, little more than a glorified sidewalk says much about the social trends that are reinvigorating urban America. The current decade has been one of population growth for many of the United States’ largest cities. But Atlanta previously experienced decades of population loss because of suburbanization and white flight.

In a study this year, Mr. Leinberger and a colleague, Michael Rodriguez, showed that areas they identified as “walkable urban places” in the nation’s 30 largest metro areas were gaining market share over car-dependent suburban areas for “perhaps the first time in 60 years,” and earning higher rental premiums.

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People played kickball at a park on a trail on the BeltLine’s south side. CreditDustin Chambers for The New York Times

The High Line in New York, which turned an elevated stretch of Manhattan rail line into a linear park, is perhaps the best known of the nation’s urban infrastructure makeovers. Chicago’s has also converted an old elevated track into a greenway, christening it the 606. Miami’s Underline is reimagining 10 miles of underused land under its elevated Metrorail system as an art-lined “urban trail.”

Still, many say Atlanta’s plans stand out.

Private investment along the entire proposed route has surged to $3 billion. Foundations and private donors have given more than $54 million for paths, parks and other amenities. Home prices have risen in formerly overlooked working-class neighborhoods where the BeltLine is set to expand.

Candidates in the 2017 mayoral race, meanwhile, are turning BeltLine promises into central elements of their campaigns.

“If you like the BeltLine now, you’re going to love it when I’m your mayor,” says the campaign website for Cathy Woolard, a former City Council president.

The BeltLine idea was submitted to city officials in 2001 by a former Georgia Tech graduate student, Ryan Gravel. He grew up in the Atlanta suburbs, but had spent a year studying in Paris, where he got around without a car.

By The New York Times

On a weekday afternoon in late August, as a packed BeltLine tour bus made its way through both charming historic neighborhoods and blocks plagued by drugs and crime, a guide called Mr. Gravel a “rock star” of urban planning.

“It was just an idea, really,” said Mr. Gravel, now a planner in Atlanta. “I never imagined we’d actually do it.”

Mr. Gravel and other advocates maintain great expectations. Upon completion in 2030, they say, the $4.8 billion project will connect 45 neighborhoods — rich and poor, black and white — thus easing old divisions of class and race. Organizers say it will promote healthy living and reduce obesity, and will provide new jobs, affordable housing, performance space, areas for urban farming and public art, as well as 2,000 acres of new and upgraded parks.

For all its economic success, locals have long known that Atlanta has had numerous unmet needs.

Mark Pendergrast, an Atlanta-born author, in a forthcoming book about the BeltLine, notes that the city, by at least one measure, suffers from the worst income-inequality gaps of any major American city; soul-deadening sprawl and commuting times; and neighborhoods that have been chopped up by highway construction and mangled by misguided 20th-century “urban renewal” projects.

For Joe Peery, 54, a commercial artist and longtime Atlantan, the BeltLine feels like a shift in the way the city conceives its big dreams. In the past, he said, Atlanta disappointed him with its big projects. The 1996 Summer Olympics struck him as corporate and cheesy: “a huge money grab,” he said. In contrast, the BeltLine lavishes attention on the neighborhoods where — as Mr. Peery and Ms. Rytter, the Lantern Parade organizer, would both agree — Atlanta’s low-key soul resides.

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Ellen Dunham-Jones, a Georgia Tech professor, largely abandoned driving for biking two years ago, in part thanks to the BeltLine, her new path to the grocery store. CreditDustin Chambers for The New York Times

“If not for the development of the BeltLine, I would have been driven out of here,” Mr. Peery said.

Mr. Gravel is surprised that the existing BeltLine has become such a gathering spot — a place to promenade, take outdoor yoga classes, and wander in and out of trendy restaurants.

But he and others know there are challenges ahead. Much of the project’s future funding will hinge on whether voters will approve, in November, two citywide ballot measures that will raise sales taxes by a total of nine-tenths of a cent.

Gentrification fears are also widespread. The city has built only a small fraction of the 5,600 affordable housing units it promised along the loop, largely because the recession from 2007 to 2009 depressed property values and lowered the revenue from a tax-increment funding plan.

Officials at Atlanta BeltLine Inc., the quasi-governmental agency overseeing the project, have pointed to other plans they hope will keep low-income residents along the BeltLine. But some residents are skeptical in a city that has torn down nearly all of its traditional public housing complexes in recent years.

“Instead of helping poor people around here fix up their property, they’re going to give them pennies on the dollar and they’re going to move,” said Lena Shepard, 79, a shopper at a west side grocery store along the BeltLine.

But Shudarrian Butler, 30, a barber working nearby, was looking forward to the new path. Maybe more whites would come to this neighborhood, he said. And maybe that was a good thing.

“It may blur that racial line a little bit,” he said. “Maybe we’ll learn to live amongst each other.”

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Nod from Boulder board blazes way for western connector trail to Joder Ranch

By Alex Burness

Staff Writer

The Joder Ranch Open Space with the Joder ranch house in the background. Boulder’s Open Space Board of Trustees have given the nod to the

The Joder Ranch Open Space with the Joder ranch house in the background. Boulder’s Open Space Board of Trustees have given the nod to the construction of a trail connecting north Boulder to the Joder Ranch. (David R. Jennings / Staff Photographer)

At consecutive study sessions on Wednesday and Thursday, Boulder’s Open Space Board of Trustees sifted through close to 10 hours worth of details that they will use to inform a recommendation to the City Council in March about the North Trail Study Area Plan.

Late Thursday night, a straw poll of board members suggested support for a plan that favors, among other things, the hotly debated construction of a trail on the west side of U.S. 36, connecting north Boulder to Joder Ranch.

The plan, referred to as the North TSA, represents the ongoing development by Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks of a vision for a 7,700-acre portion of the city north of Linden Avenue and northwest of the Diagonal Highway.

OSMP’s trustees are tasked with directing a plan that improves experiences for hikers, bikers, equestrians and other visitors, while increasing the sustainability of trails and conserving natural resources. They are expected to offer guidance to the City Council on the North TSA March 9, in a conversation that will continue March 10 if necessary.

Between now and then, OSMP staff will return to the drawing board to refine the plan supported by straw poll Thursday, but that takes into account a host of smaller recommendations made throughout the two-day session.

The trustees were presented two scenarios from which to develop the North TSA plan. Both scenarios propose several common goals; each would seek to modernize trailheads and access points, restore and revegetate unofficial social trails, redevelop trails and connections in Boulder Valley Ranch and create loop trail connections on Wonderland Hill — among other features.

At the heart of the discussion, however, has been the question of whether hikers and mountain bikers should access Joder Ranch from the east side or the west side of U.S. 36.

The divide on that issue has, for the most part, come down to residents favoring recreational access supporting the western route, and those whose primary concern is habitat conservation supporting the eastern one.

The proposed western connection would run 3 miles long and, according to city staff, provide visitors a “remote and rugged feel, with sweeping views of the plains. It would utilize an existing railroad grade for just short of a mile, but those who support it say it would be a much-welcomed recreational addition.

As eastern route supporters are quick to note, however, the western side contains a high level of biodiversity and has been designated as a conservation area by the county. It’s got communities of rare grassland butterflies, nesting birds and plant species, as well as multiple rattlesnake hibernacula.

Some western route supporters cite that biodiversity in their logic around the Joder Ranch access debate.

“Why are we building a trail at all? The reason, of course, is to be close to nature,” Buzz Burrell told the OSMP board. “We have this intellectual conundrum. … We obviously want to protect it, but that is why we build a trail in the first place.”

Edie Stevens, who supports the eastern route, spoke of the famous images of polar bears on small, disappearing blocks of ice.

“This butterfly is Boulder’s polar bear,” Stevens said. “And we are considering interfering with its habitat so we can have fun … This is Boulder. We pride ourselves on our environmental values.”

Alex Burness: burnessa@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/alex_burness

 

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Learn about our Open Space Programs!

The Lay of the Land: A Special Colloquium sponsored by the CU Environmental Studies Program

Wed. Sept 23, 5:30 – 6pm Reception with light refreshments 6-7pmLecture and Q & A 

What:  In the 1960s, Boulder City and County residents were actively preserving open space land in the face of rapid county development. By taxing ourselves, we have protected more than one hun­dred thousand acres of land from development, built over 260 miles of trails for recreation, and creat­ed award-winning programs currently under the leadership of Ron Stewart, Director, Boulder County Parks and Open Space Department and Tracy Winfree, Director, City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks Department.

Presentations by City and County open space staff will describe the natural and agricultural lands that make up the open space systems and describe the challenges of managing use of these public lands while preserving the sustainability of their productivity and native ecosystems.

Where: The new Sustainability, Energy, and Environment Complex (SEEC) East Campus, NW corner of Foothills Park­way and Colorado Ave. Easily accessible by bike, Stampede bus service, and car.  Parking around north side of building.

This event is Free and open to the public

 

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Come on over to a new bike-themed art show!

BikeArtShow

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Joder Ranch Hikes Coming Up

Here’s your chance to visit this amazing property, experience its potential for great trails and regional trail connections, and then participate in the North Trail Study Area process to let OSMP know that you support trails on the Joder Ranch! 

Wed. Aug 5, 8:30 – 11 am, reserve a spot:  https://joder8-5.eventbrite.com

Sun. Aug 9, 8:30 – 11 am, reserve a spot:   https://joder8-9.eventbrite.com

If you are interested in seeing and learning about the Joder property, a newly acquired 335 acre property west of Hwy 36 and north of Neva Road, you’re invited to join OSMP staff on this hike. The Joder property was purchased by the City of Boulder in 2013 and the North Trail Study Area (TSA) Plan will help determine the long-term management of this property. The property is currently closed to public access until an interim trail is opened. Decisions about ongoing public access, trails, natural resource protection and how the property fits into the management of nearby OSMP lands will be part of the community-driven North TSA Plan. Space is limited and reservations are required. Location and additional details will be given at registration.

 

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Calling All Trail Advocates

Exciting opportunities abound to get involved in planning and building trails.
Please read all the way down, and plan to participate in the process.
Remember, the world is run by those who show up!

Trail Work Project

BCHA and BATCO traditionally team up on trail projects around Boulder County.  Join us on Sunday, May 17 at Betasso Preserve.  All you need is sturdy shoes, clothing appropriate for the weather, and willingness to pitch in on whatever the project will be.  Lunch will be provided by BATCO.  Please contact Chris Morrison for information and to register, 303-499-2033 or chris-morrison@comcast.net

And now for some good news…

We just got approval for an interim trailhead parking area at Joder Ranch with access and designated space for horse trailers!

And,

Boulder County has received approval from the State Dam Engineer to build a safe trail bypass of the dam at Lagerman Reservoir!

And,

Boulder County has just received several grants to rebuild the trails at Pella Crossing!

And,

We were successful in getting OSMP to commit to building a multi-use trailhead parking area at the base of Chapman Drive, which will enable access to Flagstaff and Boulder Canyon Trail!

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Trail Crew Leaders Wanted

Do you ride, hike or run on Boulder County’s multi-use trails? Parks and Open Space is looking for volunteers to lead trail construction and maintenance projects. This opportunity allows you to meet and work with other trail users, gain leadership experience, and provide a worthwhile service to your community. Volunteers must be 18 years or older, attend a two-day trail crew leader training scheduled for late April, and commit to working a minimum of two trail projects between May and October.

For more information and an application, contact Fletcher Jacobs at fjacobs@bouldercounty.org or 303-678-6344.

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State Parks wants to hear from You!

Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) is kicking off a public comment period to inform the development of the 2015 Strategic Plan. We want your help designing a strategic vision that will guide CPW’s efforts into the future. A public comment form is available now online (also in Spanish) and stakeholder workshops are being scheduled around the state. Your input is vitally important to this process.

We want to hear from you, especially between now and April 3, 2015 when the public comment period closes. Your input, combined with input from other stakeholders, the Commission, the public and staff, will inform the development of CPWs Draft 2015 Strategic Plan, which we will release in July 2015.

CPW’s strategic plan will set a vision for the future and define goals, priorities and strategies for managing Colorado’s state parks, wildlife and outdoor recreation resources. The strategic plan aims to improve CPW’s efficiency, responsiveness, and services by helping the agency focus on a strategic vision and capitalize on agency strengths and opportunities.

You are invited to attend one of the following stakeholder workshops where you will have a chance to share your thoughts on the future of Colorado’s state parks system, wildlife populations, and opportunities for outdoor recreation, education and stewardship. Additional meetings may be added to this schedule so please check the Strategic Planning website for updates.

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Boulder seeks your input on next Open Space Director

The City of Boulder today announced that it will hold two community meetings to gather public input as part of a national search for its director of Open Space and Mountain Parks.

“A key priority in this search is to better understand what our community perceives to be the key issues facing Open Space and Mountain Parks, as well as the characteristics and competencies of the ideal director,” said City Manager Jane Brautigam. “Our vision is to find the most qualified director who represents this community’s values, understands the city’s open space program, and who can help us achieve a community vision for the future of this iconic program.”

CPS HR Consulting will conduct the search process and community meetings. CPS HR, founded in 1985, specializes in public sector executive searches. Members of the community are invited on Feb. 25 and 26 to participate in a facilitated conversation and small group discussion to inform the search criteria. The forums will be held:

Feb. 25 at the UCAR FL2 Auditorium, 3250 Mitchell Lane, from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Feb. 26 at the West Boulder Senior Center, 909 Arapahoe Ave., from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Stuart Satow, executive recruiter with CPS HR, will attend the meetings to hear directly from the community and incorporate participant feedback into the search process. The position is expected to be advertised in early March with interviews scheduled later in 2015.

Director finalists will be invited to participate in:

Public presentations on Open Space and Mountain Parks issues

Public Meet and Greet with candidates

Panel interviews with city staff and representatives of the Open Space Board of Trustees

Finalists and presentation dates will be announced following selection of candidates.

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National Forest directed to improve trails with volunteers

FEBRUARY 11, 2015

National Forest Trail Bill Introduced

On February 10, 2015, Congresswomen Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) and Tim Walz (D-MN) re-introduced the National Forest Service Trail Stewardship Act of 2015 (H.R.845).  The bill would direct the Forest Service to take several actions to help address the current trail maintenance backlog that is adversely impacting all trail users on many national forests.  The bill was first introduced during the last Congress.  The American Horse Council, Backcountry Horsemen of America, and the Wilderness Society were significantly involved in the creation of this bill. A June 2013, study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the Forest Service has deferred trail maintenance needs that exceed half-billion dollars, and only one-quarter of the agency’s 158,000 miles of trails meets agency standards for maintenance. This maintenance backlog is causing access and safety issues for equestrians and all trail users on national forests. The National Forest Service Trail Stewardship Act would direct the Forest Service to develop a strategy to more effectively utilize volunteers and partners to assist in maintaining national forest trails.  It will also provide outfitters and guides the ability to perform trail maintenance activities in lieu of permit fees. Additionally, the bill would address a liability issue that has discouraged some national forests from utilizing volunteers and partner organizations to help perform trail maintenance and would direct the Forest Service to identify and prioritize specific areas with the greatest need for trail maintenance in the national forest system. In the current fiscal environment it is unlikely Congress will appropriate additional funds to directly address the trail maintenance backlog. This bill will help improve trail maintenance without the need for additional funding. The bill is supported by the AHC and many other recreation organizations. View Full Article on AHC Website

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