The Atlanta Beltline: An Interview with the Principal Landscape Architect, Part 2

By Thomas Schurch, ASLA, AICP

Atlanta BeltLine Inc in partnership with Trees Atlanta is establishing a 22-mile linear arboretum unlike any other in the world. / Image: Atlanta BeltLine, Inc.

In this second of the two-part interview with Principal Landscape Architect Kevin Burke, ASLA, Kevin addresses facets of the BeltLine’s construction, funding and construction costs, social impacts, and public participation that he has been involved with. As stated in Part I, this urban design project is remarkable for its ultimate transformation of Atlanta that includes 22 miles of pedestrian friendly rail transit, 33 miles of multi-use trails, 1,300 acres of parks, 5,600 units of affordable housing, public art, historic preservation $10-20 billion in economic development, 30,000 permanent jobs, and, of course, sustainability.

CONSTRUCTION

What is your role in “post construction oversight”? 

We believe that the upkeep of public funds investment is a basic parameter of our responsibility. However, a significant level of our funding comes from a Tax Allocation District (a.k.a. Tax Increment Financing) tied to local real estate values on commercial/industrial/multi-family properties. This source was legislatively created to spur economic development and specifically precludes utilization of these funds for O&M. As such, we are somewhat hampered in our ability to do what most landscape architects would consider basic maintenance needs. The Parks and Recreation Department assists us, especially with graffiti removal, as resources permit.

To aid our efforts, we established a “Fixit Line” that facilitates the public letting us know matters needing attention.

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The Atlanta Beltline: An Interview with the Principal Landscape Architect, Part 1

By Thomas Schurch, ASLA, AICP

The integration of stormwater green infrastructure into the park has facilitated a walkable neighborhood and has led to the construction of over 2,500 housing units within a half block. / Image: Tom Schurch

The Atlanta BeltLine is one of the most comprehensive urban design efforts in the current era and rivals others today such as San Francisco’s Mission Bay, Manhattan’s Battery Park City, New York’s Fresh Kills, Boston’s Big Dig, and the Orange County Great Park. As such, it is transformative for Atlanta, a city known for poor land use practices over the past quarter century. The BeltLine will ultimately connect 45 intown neighborhoods through 11 nodes within a 22-mile loop of multi-use trails, light rail transit, and parks – all based on abandoned railroad corridors that encircle Atlanta. As an engine of economic development, it is demonstrating remarkable outcomes in adjoining areas comprising infill, compatible mixed land use, including urban housing, and thereby exemplifying transit oriented development.

As with all urban design projects of this scale, identifying one firm or one individual to credit for the achievement is impossible. With regard to urban design and landscape architecture, however, a key individual who has guided the BeltlIne’s unfolding is its Principal Landscape Architect, Kevin Burke, ASLA. The following is the first of a two-part interview in which Kevin shares his experiences and insights concerning this remarkable achievement. Part I provides a general project overview and design considerations. Part II addresses construction, funding and construction costs, social impacts, and public participation.

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