(ideas.) Gravelblog original. “Planning a More Forward Southland.”
Atlanta will open its arms this Saturday for a national gathering of over 5,000 city planners, elected officials, students, consultants, and various organizations from across the country for the 2014 American Planning Association conference that runs through Wednesday at the Georgia World Congress Center.
TO OUR VISITING PLANNERS, welcome, y’all. Come on in and take a good long look around. Feel free to offer critiques – most of us know we have room for improvement and our region’s business sensibilities have historically responded well to an outside view. But I hope you’ll leave any preconceptions about our car-dependent reputation at the door. Yes, our region’s identity as a poster-child for sprawl is as real as a hoop skirt or a yardfull of rebel flags. It exists. It’s part of who we are. “But there is another South, the one that we know: a South that is full of people who do things that honor genuinely honorable traditions. Drinking. Cooking. Reading. Writing. Singing. Playing. Making things. It’s also full of people who face our region’s contradictions and are determined to throw our dishonorable traditions out the window.”
That explanation is borrowed from some of my favorite southerners – “bitter” southerners like me who are reinventing the South as we speak. “The Bitter Southerner is here for Southern people who do cool things, smart things, things that change the whole world, or just a few minds at a time. The world knows too little about these people, which is, alas, another reason to be bitter.”
I think that sentiment can also apply to urban planning. So we’re glad you’re here. We’d like to tell you about a more forward South that is emerging before our eyes. Like yours, our world is changing and we have to adapt in order to survive. But we’re also changing because just like you, we want to leave a more sustainable, healthy, and prosperous region for our children. The Atlanta Beltline is a leading part of this movement. It is not only changing the physical form of the city. It is transforming the way we think about Atlanta. It is changing our cultural expectations for the places that we live in ways that ars sure to make more comprehensive changes more politically palatable.
Take a look at the Atlanta Beltline while you’re here – it’s probably bigger and badder than you realize. But also notice the other early indications of this city’s transformation – a bar-raising monster of architectural adaptation, a world-class restaurant scene, an emerging bicycle movement, a new streetcar, an acclaimed street-art collection, and somewhere floating in springtime breeze, the epicenter of hip hop. Also check out #weloveatl on Instagram. That love, captured in thousands of images across the region, has uncovered a gentle but urgent request for something other than traffic jams and strip malls. It signals the direction of a new generation that is embracing the best of the South and also welcoming new ideas about the construction of our future. The city that brought you Dr. King’s dream has again become a wide open place, where almost anything seems possible.
TO MY FELLOW ATLANTANS, let me offer a few words of introduction and advice regarding your possible encounters with city planners. Be forewarned that you may find crowds of them taking pictures of what looks to you like a standard sidewalk. You may overhear them debating the benefits of various population densities, discussing our car-dependent commutes measured in “lane miles,” or otherwise talking effusively about whatever enjoyable or repulsive set of physical, social, or economic conditions they may stumble across in our fair our city. They’ll use more acronyms than you can imagine, so arm yourselves with the basics: “TOD” is Transit Oriented Development; “VMT” is Vehicle Miles Travelled; “FAR” is Floor Area Ration, a measure of density; and “BMP” is Best Management Practice.
More importantly, if a visiting planner from some other region turns down their nose at the town you’ve grown to love, don’t get defensive. They’re just doing their job, and chances are, it’s a fair critique. It may not be softened by Southern manners or qualified by our political realities, but we have to acknowledge that on topics like transportation, equity, education, water resources, or any number of other plannerly topics, we could use some external advice. We can also rest assured, however, that in an increasingly global marketplace for ideas, funding, jobs, and talent, we also have more than our share of advantages. Atlanta will be a different place in the next twenty years, and we need to be smart about how we prepare ourselves for these changes. If we plan ahead and make smart decisions, we can leverage this dramatic transformation to our advantage and create the kinds of places that we all want to live. >> Ryan Gravel