On Atlanta’s Westside, large scale and unprecedented developments have reignited conversations that deal with themes central to our professions as city planners — equity, affordable housing, and community development.
Both the Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the construction of the Atlanta BeltLine challenge our notion of limited resource allocation and who those resources are meant to serve.
Since 2013, APA Ambassadors Bridget Wiles and Glenda Matute have worked alongside APD Urban Planning and Management (APD-U) staff, several city departments, and nonprofit organizations on the planning and revitalization process in Atlanta’s Westside neighborhoods. Their work is helping to guide the discussion of these questions toward an outcome that benefits all, with particular attention given to existing residents.
The planning process considers local residents like Stephen Causby of New Hope Covenant Church, whose outreach to English Avenue youth and partnership in Westside revitalization efforts has been invaluable. After he recognized that the voices of youth are often left out of conversations about shaping their built environment, Causby partnered with APD-U to create a "Neighborhood Planning Workshop" for the young residents of the English Avenue neighborhood.
The APD-U team and volunteers: front row (from left): Eduardo Rendon, Demetrick Patton, Stephen Causby, Steven Gonzales; back row (from left): Libby Hovey, Bridget Wiles, Billie Walker, Glenda Matute, Beth Davis, and Matt Bedsole. Photo courtesy Beth Davis.
The Neighborhood Planning Workshop was held on August 19, 2017, at the beloved Mattie Freeland Community House, which was recently restored to honor the dedication and service of Ms. Mattie Freeland to her neighborhood and community. The workshop helped a wide age range of children understand the basic principles of city planning, land use, and the importance of continued civic participation.
Planners Beth Davis and Eduardo Rendon talk about green space as a land use with the Greenspace group. Photo by Demetrick Patton.
The morning began with breakfast as kids arrived at the community house. The first activity was an introduction to the basics of city planning. We then discussed land uses — including residential, commercial, transportation, and green space. Using large format boards with pictures for examples, we had the kids match pictures they were handed to the appropriate board. They easily identified the overlap and relationship between land uses when certain examples could not be categorized, such as the Atlanta BeltLine, which some placed in green space while others categorized it as transportation infrastructure.
We then broke kids up into groups according to these land uses and built our own residential buildings, commercial buildings, transportation infrastructure and parks in an adaptation of the Box City exercise. The kids worked cooperatively to place their buildings, parks, greenspace, and transportation infrastructure on a street grid to create a city.
Residential and commercial builders were encouraged to think about the types of people they would serve with their buildings, and what features might make them attractive.
The transportation group created a multi-modal network to move people around, while the green space group explored the ideal positions for parks, including a square at the intersection of roads similar to the squares of Savannah or plazas of Europe.
APD-U Senior Planning Manager Glenda Matute leads the transportation team as they create their multi-modal concept for the model city. Photo by Demetrick Patton.
Overall, we got enthusiastic participation and a wealth of creativity from our newest group of urbanists, and we ended up with a creative model city. The message we hoped to convey was one of accessibility and autonomy; that decision makers are available and listening to them, and that they too can become the decision makers who shape the built environment.
To learn more about the APA Ambassadors program visit www.planning.org/ambassadors/ and follow #APAAmbassadors.
Top image: Kids at the Youth Neighborhood Planning Workshop show off their creations for the model city. Photo by Demetrick Patton.
About the Author
Beth Davis is an urban planner with APD Urban Planning and Management.