Big ideas can transform a city with the right public-private partnership and the commitment of the community and elected officials. Chattanooga’s River City Company transformed a post-industrial downtown full of empty warehouses and factories into a vibrant, pedestrian friendly, destination downtown. It started in 1986 with a 20 year riverfront and downtown redevelopment plan; the first project was a 13-mile linear park that stretches along the Tennessee River. Now 30 years later the vision is realized in successful projects including the Tennessee Aquarium, Nightfall Concert Series, multi-family housing, Creative Discovery Museum, AT&T Field, Bijou Theater, Coolidge Park, new public schools, waterfront redevelopment, and Renaissance Park. The most recent project is the Tomorrow Building, an adaptive reuse of the former Ross Hotel into 39 micro-unit apartments.

One of the most ambitious and exciting projects currently underway is the Atlanta Beltline Project. The first railroad to Atlanta was built in 1845 from Augusta, soon Atlanta became the railway hub of the southeast. As industry grew and warehouses were erected outside of the city center, spur rail lines were built in a circle or belt connecting the many rail lines. Twenty-two miles of railroad were constructed around Atlanta between 1871 and 1908. In the 1970’s the industries along the belt lines closed and the railroad deteriorated. 

In 1999, Ryan Gravel, a Georgia Tech student, envisioned the Atlanta Beltline for his joint master’s thesis in Architecture and City Planning. By 2005, Gravel’s grassroots efforts had grown and Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin created the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership. Led by the PATH Foundation, the first segment of the West End trail opened in 2008. The PATH Foundation is also heavily involved in The Spanish Moss Trail in Beaufort.

The Atlanta BeltLine project has become a comprehensive transportation and economic development project for the city. It will ultimately connect 45 in-town neighborhoods, create new in-town housing, both affordable and market rate, parks, public spaces, and a light rail line. Currently 4 trail segments and 6 new parks are open. The work will continue in phases with completion planned for 2030. The Atlanta BeltLine is building community by connecting neighborhoods that were previously segregated and isolated from each other.
Another southern city, Greenville, South Carolina began their revitalization in the mid-1980s when the Carolina Foothills Garden Club initiated the idea of removing the Camperdown Bridge that crossed the Reedy River directly over the falls. In 2002, the bridge finally came down and the 20 acre Falls Park was constructed. The park was the catalyst that has changed Greenville’s downtown from abandoned storefronts to a thriving central business district.
In planning our future – let’s think big!