Atlanta BeltLine links 45 neighborhoods, brings green space to residents

Cities around the country are finding creative ways to add and enhance recreational trails, a trend that helps bring the benefits of urban forestry to greater numbers of people.

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a national advocacy group, has long encouraged communities to convert abandoned rail lines into trail networks.

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That vision has come to life in an exciting way along the Atlanta BeltLine, as the New York Times notes today:

Until last year, the old railroad tracks that snaked through east Atlanta were derelict. Kudzu, broken bottles and plastic bags covered the rusting rails.

But these days, the two-mile corridor bustles with joggers, bikers and commuters. Along a trail lined with pine and sassafras trees, condos are under construction and a streetcar is planned.

The current Eastside Trail is one part of a larger project that will eventually span 22-miles and include new housing and transit.

The story of how the BeltLine got off the ground is an inspiring one – and a reminder that one person with a vision can have a lasting impact on policy. It started as a graduate thesis at Georgia Tech in 1999. But rather than gather dust – and many theses do – it was picked up by then-Councilmember Cathy Woolard, who brought artists, environmentalists, real estate and transit advocates together to champion the plan.

Overtime, the BeltLine will become even greener – volunteers planted more than 600 trees along the trail last October.

The long-term benefits will also be substantial, with enhanced opportunity to spend time outdoors in the clean air and connect to different parts of the city, some of which have been left behind by previous development efforts.

“Build it and they will come” is how the saying often goes. But, in this case, the space is already there. It is just being re-purposed in creative ways – and already serving as an inspiration for other communities.

Photo courtesy of Atlanta BeltLine.

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