APA14: Atlanta and Its Evolving Relationship with Urbanism

A few weeks ago I journeyed seven-plus hours by car from Cincinnati to Atlanta for the American Planning Association’s (APA) national conference. The five-day conference was held in the Georgia World Congress Center in the core of Atlanta between downtown and Vine City.

This was my first trip to Atlanta since passing through the city in the early 1990’s.

For an urbanist, the city of Atlanta at first glance is a conundrum. Subway stations that seem to feed park and rides, buildings that barely front the street and streets with no crosswalks where pedestrians play a dangerous game of Frogger just to cross to the other side are all typical occurrences in the city.

However the city is all of these things and more. Atlanta boasts beautiful and funky neighborhoods such as Poncey Highlands, Little Five Points and Castleberry Hill. Beautiful parks such as Inman Park and the Frederick Law Olmsted-designed Piedmont Park.

The BeltLine, a multi-modal transportation corridor we reported on last week, has sparked development along its route and spurred pedestrian and bicycle connectivity between many of Atlanta’s intown neighborhoods.

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During the conference I also had a chance to view the Atlanta Streetcar, which could begin operating later this year. Planners in Atlanta have tucked the streetcar’s maintenance facility under a highway viaduct. This is where the streetcars that have already arrived are now being stored.

As you might expect, social divisions by income were evident. I had a chance to explore some of Vine City, which is located just west of where the conference was held and was also home to Martin Luther King Jr. This neighborhood has given way to abandonment and decay. Empty lots, run down houses and discarded vehicles littered the streets.

At the conference, one particular session focused on the redevelopment of Vine City and the adjacent English Avenue. During that session, neighborhood leaders and proponents of the redevelopment plan were questioned vigorously by a representative from a community group that is active in those neighborhoods. The challenges reminded me of the not-so-distant past for Over-the-Rhine and other Cincinnati neighborhoods, such as the West End or Avondale, that are still struggling to rebuild what they have lost over the years.

On the last day of the conference, the APA announced that they had completed a survey which found that both Millennials and Baby Boomers prefer to live in urban settings where there are plenty of transportation options and walkable neighborhoods.

“If there is a single message from this poll, it’s that place matters,” stated APA’s executive director, Paul Farmer, in a prepared release. “Community characteristics like affordability, transportation choices, safe streets, high-speed internet and housing that can accommodate others or enable you to live there as you grow older matter as much as job opportunities.”

It seemed odd that the APA would choose to release this information while hosting a conference in an infamously automobile reliant city; but, while Atlanta is a city that is still overrun by the automobile it is showing signs that communities, residents and activists are coming together to push for neighborhood connectivity and pedestrian improvements.

Even though my initial impression was that the city serves as a dystopian future for urbanism where pedestrians are marginalized in urbanized places, after learning more about the city at the conference, it is encouraging to see that old mentality is changing.

Cincinnati Aims to Break Ground on Next Phase of Ohio River Trail in June 2017

City officials are advancing the designs for the next phase of the Ohio River Trail. The 2.2-mile segment will run from Salem Road to Sutton Road in Cincinnati’s California neighborhood on its eastern riverfront.

Project and community leaders are excited about the work because it will fill in a gap in the Ohio River Trail that will eventually stretch 23 miles from Coney Island on the east to Sayler Park on the west. The project will also represent an approximate 50% increase in the number of completed miles of the Ohio River Trail.

While designs are still being finalized, city officials presented a conceptual design and the preferred alignment with the public at an open house held on March 25.

The designs call for a shared use, asphalt path for bicyclists and pedestrians that is 12 feet wide. There would be a six-foot setback from the road, and the path would essentially function as an extra wide sidewalk in order to avoid taking any right-of-way away from automobiles.

The preferred alignment for the shared trail would run along the eastern side of Kellogg Avenue and go through the California Woods Nature Preserve. The pathway would pass underneath I-275 at the foot of the Combs-Hehl Bridge.

Project officials say that they will take feedback given during the recent open house into consideration when developing final designs, and formulate construction cost estimates. The next public meeting will take place in October.

If all goes according to plan, detailed design work will be complete by October 2016 and construction will begin in June 2017.

Smale Riverfront Park Awarded $12.5M in Additional Public Funding

Dave Prather and the Cincinnati Park Board have released a new video update on Smale Riverfront Park. This latest update covers a lot of information due to the infusion of millions of new public dollars into the project.

In early March the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) announced that they had awarded $4.5 million to Smale Riverfront Park to pay for erosion and flooding control along that portion of the Ohio River.

What it also means is that the Cincinnati Park Board can use other private funding it has received for other components that had been planned for the Heekin/PNC Grow Up Great Adventure Playground but put on hold until additional funding was secured. Those items include a shade canopy, sandbox, enhanced lighting and landscaping, shade trees, granite seat walls, and shade pergola.

Since this additional work can now proceed, project officials have adjusted the overall project schedule so that it can proceed immediately and be completed at the same time as ongoing work, which is slated to open in spring 2015 ahead of Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game to be held at Great American Ball Park.

The City of Cincinnati also approved $8 million in additional funding for the park at the end of last month. That money, officials say, will fund the rest of the next phase of work. City leaders also note that an additional $5 million in city funds will be needed for the project in 2017 to fully complete the park.

The new funding from USACE is the first federal investment in the project in years following a ban on earmark spending that had jeopardized the schedule for completion for the 45-acre central riverfront park.

Episode #32: Spring Update

Uber appOn the 32nd episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, Randy, John, and Travis cover a few local issues recently in the news.

We cover the launch of Lyft and Uber in Cincinnati and what it could mean for local cab companies. We also talk about the proposed renovation of Burnet Woods and several other Uptown developments. Finally, we talk about the opposition to tolls on the Brent Spence Bridge and whether the bridge can be built without that funding source.

February URBANexchange is Tonight

URBANexchange

Sick of winter? So are we, so come join us in keeping warm at the Moerlein Lager House for the February URBANexchange tonight! This month’s event is dedicated to sneckdowns, the snow filled islands in roads where cars do not travel but where pedestrians could one day roam.

As always, the event will be a casual setting where you can meet others interested in what is happening in the city. We will gather in the biergarten so that each person can choose how much or little they buy in terms of food or drink. Although we do encourage our attendees to generously support our kind hosts at the Moerlein Lager House.

URBANexchange is free and open to the public. This month we are giving away two $25 gift cards from Findlay Market as door prizes so be sure to drop your name into the raffle.

We will be situated in the northwest corner of the biergarten (near the Moer To Go window), but you can also ask the host where the UrbanCincy group is located and they will be happy to assist.

The Moerlein Lager House is located on Cincinnati’s central riverfront and is located just one block from a future streetcar stop. If you choose to bike there is free and ample bike parking is available near our location in the biergarten outside by the Schmidlapp Event Lawn.