Georgia Tech at Epicenter of APA Special Issue on Atlanta

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Georgia Tech finds itself deeply rooted in the APA magazine’s special issue on Atlanta.

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In April, planners from across the country will converge on Atlanta for the APA’s 2014 National Planning Conference. The conference offers the fast-growing Southern metropolis a chance to showcase the abundance of planning projects taking place all-around the host city. To tell the story of Atlanta’s planning past, present, and yet to come, APA released a special issue of its monthly magazine Planning. And it comes as no surprise that, like with many of projects unfolding in Atlanta, Georgia Tech finds itself deeply rooted in the magazine’s narrative.

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In April, planners from across the country will converge on Atlanta for the APA’s 2014 National Planning Conference. The conference offers the fast-growing Southern metropolis a chance to showcase the abundance of planning projects taking place all-around the host city. To tell the story of Atlanta’s planning past, present, and yet to come, APA released a special issue of its monthly magazine Planning. And it comes as no surprise that, like with many of projects unfolding in Atlanta, Georgia Tech finds itself deeply rooted in the magazine’s narrative.

The special issue kicks off with a two-page time lapse photo taken by recent alumnus Sinan Sinharoy (MCRP ’13), marking a streak of light created by, not headlights of passing cars, but pedestrians enjoying a summer evening along the BeltLine’s Eastside Trail.

Next, Georgia Tech finds itself intertwined with the city’s history in “Atlanta, the Next Chapter” as the author jaunts through the region’s colored past. “To me, the big story in the long sweep of things is that this place has typically been pragmatic,” says Bruce Stiftel, chair of Georgia Tech’s School of City and Regional Planning. “There has usually been a bipartisan way to figure out [how] to go forward despite the fragmented jurisdictions.”

Barbara Faga, a planning doctoral student at Georgia Tech and coeditor of the forthcoming Planning Atlanta, explains that the city’s willingness to get things done without much governmental infighting has more to do with a lust for development dollars than an enlightened political sphere. “Planning follows projects,” says Faga. “It’s like the new (Falcons) stadium. Did we do a plan for the stadium?” While this method of large-scale development projects being hammered home by a motivated political leadership leaves planners scrambling to “make it work,” one member of Atlanta’s old guard of planners believes it is also what saved the city.

“The Olympics came at the moment of greatest need for the city,” says Leon Eplan, former planning commissioner and development in the 1990s. “I can’t prove the cause and effect... All I know is that people were moving back to the city, converting offices to housing, and it all started at the time of the Olympics after 40 years of decline.” Georgia Tech, where Eplan served as the director of the university’s planning program, benefitted directly from a number of new sports venues and dormitories left over after the end of the 1996 summer games. Following a cycle of decline and rebirth through selected investment, Georgia Tech now sits at the center of the city’s growth.  

No better example of Georgia Tech’s role in Atlanta’s latest reincarnation as a healthy, walkable urban center exists than the BeltLine. In “At the Beginning,” Ben Smith recaps the BeltLine’s humble start as a 1999 Georgia Tech master’s thesis and the impact it has had on its creator, Ryan Gravel (MCRP/March ’99). Thirteen years after sending his thesis to a bevy of elected officials, Gravel is now an urban designer at the architectural firm in charge of designing the 22 mile stretch of trails, transit, and parks that make up the BeltLine. “Some people like it because of the transit. Some people like it because of the trails. Others like it because of the parks, or the public art. But they all see it as part of a larger vision. That’s what makes it politically durable,” says Gravel.

However, for every feel good story of growth in Atlanta comes the inevitable flip side of the coin. “Fighting the Water Wars on a Different Front” chronicles Atlanta’s efforts to deal with decaying water infrastructure. “In the mid ‘90s, every single time it rained in Atlanta there was raw sewage and material from bathrooms flowing into tributaries,” says Sally Bethea (MCP ’81), executive director of the nonprofit Chattahoochee Riverkeeper and alumna of Georgia Tech’s city planning program. “We had a Third World sewer system. And it was impacting public health and property values.” A lawsuit shouldered by Bethea, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, and the EPA forced the city to address its aging wastewater system. As a result, current Atlanta residents are footing the bill to update its extensive underground water network through a spike in water and sewer rates. For its part, Marsha Walton writes that the “Georgia Tech campus has accomplished a 30 percent reduction in water use since 2007, with low-flow fixtures, an irrigation master plan, rainwater collection, and changes in the way water is used by its many laboratories.”

Another instance of Atlanta playing catch-up is highlighted in Laurel Paget-Seekins’ (MCRP ’07; CEE PhD ’11) piece on “Transportation and Equality”. As a transit advocate in Atlanta for five years, Paget-Seekins writes that poor transportation access and economic segregation have limited opportunities for upward mobility for Atlanta’s low-income residents. “By 2010, more than four-fifths of Atlanta’s poor lived in the suburbs, where transit and non-motorized trip-making is difficult. Unfortunately, there is still a perception that transit is a social service for poor (black) people and not a vital transportation infrastructure investment. This contributes to the refusal of the state of Georgia to fund transit and the failure of the transportation regional sales tax in 2012.” The solution, as with most things, comes down to funding. More specifically, it comes down to making a decision as a region to not accept Atlanta’s ranking near the bottom of nearly every study analyzing various metrics related to equality, writes Paget-Seekins.

This spring, as planners flock to Atlanta and its warm weather, they will undoubtedly cross paths with Georgia Tech, its students, alumni, and educators. The APA National Planning Conference provides an ideal backdrop to continue the discussions offered in January’s special issue of Planning, and one can expect the Georgia Tech community to be listening and waiting for ideas to write the city’s next big story.

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School of City & Regional Planning

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Keywords
american planning association, APA, atlanta, planning
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  • Created By: Kyle James
  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created On: Jan 30, 2014 - 9:16pm
  • Last Updated: Oct 7, 2016 - 11:15pm