The BeltLine is Atlanta’s multibillion-dollar, 25-year project to transform 22 miles of railroad and industrial sites into a sustainable network connecting 45 inner-city communities. The largest redevelopment project in Atlanta’s history — which is saying something in a city that was rebuilt from the ground up after a certain W. T. Sherman paid a visit 150 years ago — the BeltLine is one of the boldest sustainability projects in urban America.
What makes the BeltLine potentially so transformative is that, unlike the hundreds of “rails to trails” projects nationwide, it is designed as a transportation project. It will include light rail lines with 45 neighborhood stops and connections to the city’s MARTA rail system and the Atlanta Streetcar.
The BeltLine has the potential to cross the literal barriers that have separated Atlantans and thus begin to break down far more complex social barriers. Atlanta’s traffic woes are obvious. But the difficulty in getting around here, and the entrenched patterns of segregation have contributed to another kind of gridlock, make this one of the cities with the lowest social and economic mobility in the country. The BeltLine can provide parks and bike trails and cultural events, all of which is marvelous. But if it connects Atlanta’s schools, jobs, and neighborhoods, and gets us out of our cars, it will really live up its potential.