Thursday, March 12, 2009

Rails to Trails

A few years ago, the new "beachfront" property in Atlanta was along 22 miles of railway corridors that circled the city.

"Property values increased almost overnight," said Jim Langford, principal creator of Atlanta's Beltline initiative and president of MillionMile Greenway. "As soon as the Trust for Public Land announced where the new park were going to be, developers immediately began scouring locations around those parks.

"A market was created for property that previously had been old warehouses and abandoned lots. A lot of them were eyesores and had been on the market for 15 years," he said.

Langford was the featured speaker at ULI Memphis' Transformative Roles of Greenways event last night at CBU. Other panelists included Shelby Farms Conservancy's Laura Adams, the RDC's Benny Lendermon, and Kathleen Williams with Tennessee Parks and Greenways.

The Beltline project, which took abandoned railway corridors and transformed them into greenways and touches 47 neighborhoods, proves that green space adds economic value to a community. But that's not all.

"No matter what lens you look through," Langford said, "people see this as a success."

People who like green space were fans, people who wanted to use trails for walking and bicycling were fans, as were those interested in economic development and improving the quality of life for those in existing neighborhoods.

Langford hopes for a time when greenways are as ubiquitous as streets and are considered part of infrastructure, just like schools and sewers.

"At some point, you've tipped public expectations and a public ethic about parks and greenspace to the point where people say, this is a city of parks, and they're really happy," Langford said. "Then they very jealously guard the greenway and it's an integral part of what defines the city and the community."

And you never know what might happen if you put a large vision out there. When working on the initial plan for the Beltline project, they looked at the county-owned Bellwood Quarry. It was 400 acres of land, but the company using it had a lease that wasn't up until 2034.

Two weeks after the plan was announced, the company called and said that they actually wanted out of the lease. 18 months laster, the land was transferred to the city of Atlanta, which plans to spend $90 million on it over the next three years.

"That will be Atlanta's next big signature park," Langford said.

At the heart of Langford's message was people both need and expect greenspaces in their cities.

"You have to get control of parks and greenspaces before it's all gone," he says. "It's hard to retrofit those things. You need to find a way to preserve [land] while you're building."

MillonMile Greenway
has four pilot projects underway, including a Coastal Georgia Greenway that links six counties.

No comments: