The Atlanta BeltLine will Improve Community Health

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The Atlanta BeltLine is a visionary project of parks, trails, transit and urban redevelopment circling the city's core and connecting neighborhoods. It has the ability to reshape the city's urban fabric and provide much needed opportunities for recreation and active travel that can improve public health. But will it happen soon enough?

In summer 2007 Georgia Tech's Center for Quality Growth and Regional Development (CQGRD), with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and technical assistance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, released a report entitled the Atlanta BeltLine Health Impact Assessment. The HIA explored how changes in the built environment due to the BeltLine might affect the health of residents and visitors by examining such issues as access to parks and trails, housing, transit and pedestrian safety, and air quality.

After extensive data gathering and analysis, the research team concluded that the BeltLine would have a largely positive affect on the health of Atlantans by improving access to green space and healthy foods, creating opportunities for physical activity and increasing transportation options.

But one negative aspect shadows the project-time. Due to the funding mechanisms adopted to implement the BeltLine, some of the most health-promoting elements of the project will not be completed for decades. That means that much to today's generation will not benefit from this initiative. The study urges the City of Atlanta to continually seek alternative resources to allow elements of this project-especially parks and trails-to be realized sooner.

"The BeltLine is truly an inspiring project and the results of the HIA reinforce that view," said Catherine L. Ross, Ph.D., executive director of CQGRD and the principal investigator of the BeltLine HIA. "While the report contains numerous recommendations to improve health outcomes related to the BeltLine, the most important is speeding up its implementation," Ross said.

About HIAs
The BeltLine HIA is one of the first HIAs conducted in the United States, and evaluates one of the largest redevelopment projects (6,500 acres) in the nation. This and other HIAs are beginning to forge a renewed relationship between public health experts and planners. One hundred years ago cities were unhealthy places to live due to poor sanitation, bad housing conditions and lack of safety measures. At that time, city planners and engineers worked with public health officials to identify the root causes and find solutions, and they were successful. Today's new dialogue between health experts and planners focuses on creating places that promote healthy lifestyles and reduce chronic disease, with the HIA serving as a useful tool.

"A well-designed infrastructure can promote the health of residents of a community," said Andrew L. Dannenberg, MD, MPH, medical officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Environmental Health. "Health impact assessments provide a tool for city planners and public health officials to work together to identify the best ways to help community design support good health."

Next Steps
The Atlanta BeltLine Health Impact Assessment is a 200+ page report that details the background, methodology, analysis, findings and detailed recommendations to improve the health impacts of the BeltLine. From that, eight priority recommendations were indentified, including:

The BeltLine will promote good health. Not only should it go forward, but it should be fast tracked to realize the health benefits sooner.

Integrate the promotion of good health throughout the BeltLine decision making, design and implementation phases.

Ensure affordable and healthy housing is provided throughout the BeltLine and establish programs and partnerships to address residential displacement.

Add more park acres and create better connected and more accessible parks, especially in the southwest planning area.

Develop an integrated transit system connecting the BeltLine to other metro transit services to make it an effective part of a regional transit system.

Create linkages between the BeltLine and existing civic spaces, like schools, parks, libraries, hospitals and other public buildings.

Make health a component of BeltLine public education and outreach.

Conduct ongoing evaluation of levels of physical activity attributed to the BeltLine.


  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created By: Joanie Chembars
  • Created: 09/05/2007
  • Modified By: Fletcher Moore
  • Modified: 10/07/2016


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