A draft of the Downtown Atlanta Master Plan was unveiled during a public meeting at the Atlanta Central Library on Sept. 13.
In the works for more than a year, the master plan was created with the help of residents and businesspeople during a series of open houses. The new plan presents 25 recommendations for goals to reach by 2030, ranging from creating new greenspace and public art to shifting one-way streets back to two-way streets and building more affordable housing in the heart of the city.
Getting to this draft of the plan wasn’t easy, according to Central Atlanta Progress President A.J. Robinson. “The last six months have been the most explosive growth we’ve seen in decades,” he said. “The plan kept changing to keep up with the announcement of new projects.”
Department of City Planning Commissioner Tim Keane said growth in the city was ramping up significantly after being stagnant for years.
“Over the last six years, the city has added 50,000 people,” he said. “That’s the equivalent of adding a town the size of Dunwoody or Smyrna in just six years. That kind of growth hasn’t happened in a generation.”
Keane said invigorating and reimagining the Downtown core was the lynchpin of the city’s continued growth, especially as 2.5 million people are expected to flock to metro Atlanta in the next 25 years.
More specifically, Downtown is expected to add 36,000 jobs and 12,000 new residents by 2030.
“We have to create a public realm that people care about and cherish,” Keane said of Downtown.
Downtown’s boundaries are made up of North Avenue, Boulevard, I-20 and Northside Drive. Currently, there are only 26,500 residents who live Downtown, and 5,200 of those are students attending Georgia State, Georgia Tech and other institutions. The plan calls for attracting more residents, which will also attract more retail opportunities.
Residents who helped craft the master plan said safety was also a priority, along with more activities and entertainment after 5 p.m. when offices close. The lack of supermarkets and retail stores was number one on the list of residents’ priorities for getting more people to live Downtown.
Some of the most striking visuals presented during the master plan presentation were the addition of 10,000 more trees, adding more bike lanes, identifying areas for more housing and retail and getting rid of “blah-zas.”
What’s a “blah-za?” That’s the term coined by the master plan team for large open – and often dull – concrete plazas outside buildings. One of those “blah-zas” is located in front of the Central Library. A rendering showed a series of steps, plantings, art and seating areas to make the library entrance more welcoming and open.
Another “blah-za” is the Five Points MARTA station. A rendering of what the concrete bunker could become shows greenspace on top and around the station, decorative lighting that indicates when trains are arriving, retail and art space.
Parking and transportation make up a significant portion of the master plan. There are 96,000 parking spaces in Downtown, but 30,000 of them go unused on a daily basis. Eliminating and consolidating parking lots and decks is one of the cornerstones of the plan, in hopes that it will drive more use of public transportation like MARTA.
“A monthly MARTA pass is $95,” said master plan designer Joel Mann. “You can get a monthly parking pass for less, so there’s no incentive to take public transportation.”
Another suggestion is “fare holidays,” which would make public transportation free for commuters for a period of time to show them the advantages of using it to travel across Downtown.
Preserving Downtown’s historic buildings was also key to the plan, especially after so many have been demolished in the last decades. Fifty percent of the structures are 50 years or older, and repurposing those for residential, office and retail is a high priority. The creation of a Downtown Preservation Task Force to enhance communication with the city is also proposed in the master plan.
A final draft will be completed next month and go before the City Council in November.
You can see the slideshow presentation and recommendations in the Downtown Atlanta Master Plan at plandowntownatl.com. A new online tool for the public to give input on the plan has also been launched and can be accessed at this link.