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Who killed Ryan Gravel’s hopes and dreams for the BeltLine?

Atlanta BeltLine Transit
A 2014 rendering of how light rail would fit along the Eastside Trail

Rendering courtesy of Atlanta BeltLine

First, a point of clarification: BeltLine visionary Ryan Gravel’s dreams are not dead. “I still believe we can deliver the broad, inclusive vision for the Atlanta BeltLine that we worked so hard to create,” says Gravel, an architect, urban planner, and author who famously dreamed up the 22-mile circular greenway as part of his 1999 Georgia Tech master’s thesis. “I always knew implementation would be hard. Cities everywhere are struggling with the same challenges we face.”

The vision that Gravel and neighborhood leaders began creating two decades ago included components the BeltLine has not yet delivered: a transit system, abundant affordable housing, and inclusiveness for all the intown communities that made the project possible in the first place. The so-called “Father of the BeltLine” grew so frustrated with what he viewed as a failure to advocate for affordability and equity that he resigned from the project’s fundraising arm, the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership, three years ago.

In late 2018, MARTA’s board of directors unanimously greenlighted $570 million in voter-approved tax money to fund 15 miles of streetcar lines in the BeltLine corridor—more than twice as much as plans had previously called for—as a conduit between neighborhoods and job centers. And in May, BeltLine officials announced the project’s largest allocation for affordable housing to date—$11.9 million—was approved for the 2020 budget.

Atlantans right now—and for the past 10 years—have been living in a crucial time for the transformative project, Gravel notes, and they need to engage (and not just complain) while refusing to “acquiesce to the pressure to just build the BeltLine for some of us,” he says. “I don’t know if we’ll do that or not, but I’ve seen Atlanta fight for a vision. And I know for certain that if we want to achieve our beautiful, shared vision for the Atlanta BeltLine, we’ll do it by keeping hope alive—and by following through on the hard work of translating that hope into action.”

This article appears in our November 2019 issue.