As a former resident of Atlanta, I was delighted to learn that the “Overall Excellence” winner of this year’s National Award for Smart Growth Achievement is the Atlanta BeltLine Eastside Trail and Historic Fourth Ward Park. This EPA award provides much-deserved recognition for a project that has cleaned up old industrial areas and transformed them into fantastic amenities for Atlanta’s residents and the surrounding neighborhoods.
Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. has led a collaboration between government agencies, residents, businesses, neighborhood groups, foundations, and nonprofits to clean up and repurpose 22 miles of abandoned railroad corridor around downtown Atlanta. Building the Eastside Trail and the Historic Fourth Ward Park was the first stage of this transformation.
Opened in 2012, the 2.25-mile trail is popular with residents, who can now walk, bike, or jog to five neighborhoods that were previously only accessible by car. The trail also connects to Historic Fourth Ward Park, 17 acres of green space that opened in 2011.
While the Historic Fourth Ward served as a backdrop for key advances during the civil rights movement and was the place where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was born, lived and is buried, the surrounding area fell into decay. It featured a drainage basin for sewer overflow and industrial waste.
Today, it features a beautiful 2-acre lake that serves as green infrastructure to clean runoff and help prevent flooding. The lake is a cost-efficient way for the city to manage stormwater; meanwhile, LED lighting and solar panels help keep the park’s energy costs low.
The project is rejuvenating a historically rich portion of the city and returning the area to its status as an economic driver for the community, with new stores, restaurants, coffee shops, and office space being built nearby. The project has also led to better housing options, with the construction of more than 1,000 low-income and market-rate condos and apartments. Put it all together and you have cleaner land, air, and water; new opportunities to enjoy the outdoors; healthier residents; and a boost to the local economy.
Like many of my friends and family in Atlanta, my sons and I have enjoyed this new treasure and created special memories that will last a lifetime. It’s even more exciting when you consider future plans: the vision is to extend the trail for all 22 miles of the BeltLine and to add adjacent public transit, including light rail, which will make each segment more accessible for all.
Learn about the other six recipients of the National Award for Smart Growth Achievement.
Watch a video about the Atlanta BeltLine Eastside Trail:
Gwendolyn Keyes Fleming serves as Chief of Staff to the Administrator. Ms. Fleming was appointed by President Obama as Region 4 (Atlanta) Regional Administrator of the EPA in September 2010, the first African-American to hold this position. Previously, she served as the first African-American and first woman DeKalb County District Attorney and Solicitor General. She was the youngest ever elected as Solicitor General. Ms. Fleming is a New Jersey native and earned a bachelor’s degree in finance from Douglass College and she earned her law degree from the Emory University School of Law. Ms. Fleming credits her parents, Ursula Keyes, a retired registered nurse and her late father, Andrew J. Keyes, a former Tuskegee Airman, as the reason for her commitment to community service.