Peachtree Creek South-Forkers Get Their Sling Blade On

Volunteers improve a path along the South Fork of Peachtree Creek to create a walking trail and connect green spaces of Atlanta.

By Margaret Landers | Buckhead Patch

The unceasing whizz of traffic echoed from beyond the bend in the creek, competing with the chirping melodies of birds in the tops of the maples. Two Canadian geese paddled along the creek water, now brown and thick with mud from the recent rains. The scent of honeysuckle lifted in the air, only to be quickly suppressed by putrid sewage fumes leaking up from their pipes underground.

On Wednesday, about 20 volunteers — armed with sling blades, chainsaws, clippers, cutters and Prosecutor solution — trekked through the overgrown trail alongside Peachtree Creek to fight for the life of the waterway and clear a path so the public can enjoy it.

Sally Sears of the South Fork Conservancy, which is heading up the project, commanded the troops from the trailhead, on the cul de sac of Armand Road. Machete Man Jeremy Dahl was there, armed with multiple machetes and a well-versed knowledge of forest sustainability. Professionals came from Jackson Spalding as part of the firm’s “Day in the Field” initiative. Other crew leaders came from the Conservancy, Olmsted Linear Park Alliance, and Peachtree Hills. 

Volunteer Dave Kaufman knows the trail and the creek well; he canoed it in the ’90s, and wrote a book, “Peachtree Creek ,” highlighting the watershed and its need for preservation. “Peachtree Creek is a well-kept secret in general,” he said. “I’d hate to see it just getting paved.”

The team’s efforts focused on clearing an open walking trail, hopefully suitable for buggies to roll upon, cutting down invasive plants from the forest, and building a culvert of stones to bridge the path across a minor trench. Sears’ vision is a safe and beautiful place for the Atlanta community to share and enjoy. She said, “This is for the mamas, the grandmamas, the babies…” She called Peachtree Creek a neglected treasure. “People have loved this creek for a long time,” she said.

Lindridge Martin Manor resident Bob Scott often walks the trail with his dogs. This spring the weeds have overgrown much of the remaining path. “Mother nature has taken over,” he said. Scott spent the first half of the afternoon hacking away at weeds and vines to clear the footpath near the trailhead. “It’s a lot tougher going than we thought,” he said, wiping sweat from his forehead.

Dahl knows the science behind the degradation of the forest. He said the biggest threat to a forest is insularization, or dividing a forest into pieces separated by urban development. “We (biology conservationists) call it the eternal external threat,” he said, “Divide, divide, divide.” Dahl explained that when a forest’s size is cut by dividers, the amount of plant and animal species in each forest section decreases exponentially, leading to extinction. But when forests are connected, the species growth is “fantastic.” The process is called the species area effect. “My aim is to connect up the forest,” he said. Dahl recognized the importance of upkeeping the health of Peachtree Creek. “The biological corridors are our streams.”

Sears recognized the proximity of Atlanta’s existing parks along Peachtree Creek, and she’s working with the conservancy and community supporters to make the connection. The project will encompass about two miles of trails, leading from the entrance behind the Cedar Chase condominiums off Lindbergh Drive, under Ga. 400 and I-85, to the confluence of the north and south forks of the creek.

One section of the path leads directly underneath 400 and 85, into a den of jumbled rock, spray-paint artistry and abodes of the homeless. Kaufman called the space a “cathedral of potential” for the future green pathway. He said it could be a sculpture garden or a skate park.

Sears said the project is gaining momentum and public awareness as the conservancy recei es modest grants and neighborhood support. Morningside Elementary School has provided support, as well as the Kendeda Fund and the MillionMile Greenway. Kaufman said completion of the project is a matter of manpower and money. “So far, so good,” he said

How to Design a Neighborhood for Happiness

Published on Monday, March 28, 2011 by

How to Design a Neighborhood for Happiness

Conover Commons in Redmond, Washington, designed by Ross Chapin, author of the book Pocket Neighborhoods: Creating Small-Scale Community in a Large-Scale World.

Biology is destiny, declared Sigmund Freud.

But if Freud were around today, he might say “design is destiny”—especially after taking a stroll through most American cities.

The way we design our communities plays a huge role in how we experience our lives. Neighborhoods built without sidewalks, for instance, mean that people walk less and therefore experience fewer spontaneous encounters, which is what instills a spirit of community to a place. That’s a chief cause of the social isolation so rampant in the modern world that contributes to depression, distrust and other maladies.

You don’t have to be a therapist to realize all this creates lasting psychological effects. It thwarts the connections between people that encourage us to congregate, cooperate and work for the common good. We retreat into ever more privatized existences.

Of course, this is no startling revelation. Over the past 40 years, the shrinking sense of community across America has been widely discussed, and many proposals outlined about how to bring us back together. 

One of the notable solutions being put into practice to combat this problem is New Urbanism, an architectural movement to build new communities (and revitalize existing ones) by maximizing opportunities for social exchange: public plazas, front porches, corner stores, coffee shops, neighborhood schools, narrow streets and, yes, sidewalks. 

This line of thinking has transformed many communities, including my own World War I-era neighborhood in Minneapolis, which thankfully has sidewalks but was once bereft of the inviting public places that animate a community. Now I marvel at all the choices I have to mingle with the neighbors over a cappuccino, Pabst Blue Ribbon, juevos rancheros, artwork at a gallery opening or head of lettuce at the farmer’s market.

But while New Urbanism is making strides at the level of the neighborhood, we still spend most of our time at home, which today means seeing no one other than our nuclear family. How could we widen that circle just a bit?  Not a ‘60s commune (“pass the brown rice, comrade, and don’t forget your shift cleaning the toilet ”), but good neighbors with whom we share more than a property line.

That’s an idea Seattle-area architect Ross Chapin has explored for many years, and now showcases in an inspiring and beautiful new book: Pocket Neighborhoods: Creating a Small-Scale Community in a Large-Scale World.

He believes that groupings of four to twelve households make an ideal community “where meaningful ‘neighborly’ relationships are fostered.” But even here, design shapes our destiny. Chapin explains that strong connections between neighbors develop most fully and organically when everyone shares some “common ground”. 

That can be a semi-private square, as in the pocket neighborhoods Chapin designed in the Seattle area. In the book’s bright photographs, they look like grassy patches of paradise, where kids scamper, flowers bloom, and neighbors stop to chat.

But Chapin points out these commons can take many different forms—an apartment building in Cambridge with a shared backyard, a group of neighbors in Oakland who tore down their backyard fences to create a commons, a block in Baltimore that turned their alley into a pubic commons, or the residential pedestrian streets found in Manhattan Beach, California, and all around Europe.

The benefits of a living in a pocket neighborhood go farther than you might imagine. I lived in one while in graduate school, a rundown 1886 rowhouse with its own courtyard near the University of Minnesota campus.  At no other time in my life have I become such close friends with my neighbors. We shared impromptu afternoon conversations at the picnic table and parties that went into the early hours of the morning under Italian lights we strung from the trees. 

When the property was sold to an ambitious young man who jacked up the rents to raise capital for the eventual demolition of the building to make way for an ugly new one, we organized a rent strike. And we won, which would never have happened if we had not already forged strong bonds with each other. Because the judged ruled that the landlord could not raise our rents until he fixed up the building, he abandoned plans to knock it down. It still stands today, and I remain friends with some of the old gang that partied in the courtyard.

As ARC’s Chick Krautler retires, metro Atlanta’s leadership in flux

By Maria Saporta – from

At a pivotal moment for metro Atlanta, a major transition in leadership is underway.

Chick Krautler, director of the Atlanta Regional Commission, announced today his plan to retire on June 30 after 11 years with the planning agency.

Krautler’s retirement follows the departure of two other key members of the Atlanta Regional Commission’s senior team — Tom Weyandt, the agency’s director of comprehensive planning; and Tony Landers, ARC’s director of community services.

At the same time, ARC is playing an integral role in helping put together a list of projects that would be included in the regional transportation sales tax referendum scheduled for August, 2012. The project list must be approved in October.

The ARC also is working on its Plan 2040 that sets the stage for transportation investments as well as helps steer development in the region. Population estimates for the 10-county region project that 8 million people will call metro Atlanta home by 2040 compared to 5 million today. That’s like adding a San Diego to metro Atlanta in the next 30 years.

ARC also has been a leading voice to create an umbrella regional transit agency that could coordinate the multiple public transit operators metro Atlanta — from MARTA, Cobb County Transit, Gwinnett Transit and the Xpress buses operated by the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority.

Historically, one of the major roles of an ARC director is to build consensus in the Atlanta region among the disparate groups and interests.

There’s intown versus suburban versus exurban. There’s elected officials versus citizens members. There’s the tension between mayors versus county commission chairs. There’s the tug of war between developers and environmentalists. There Democrats versus Republicans. There’s the pro-road folks versus the transit and alternative transportation types. There’s the northern part of the metro area versus the southern part. And then there’s always the issue of race, income, gender and age.

In short, building consensus in such a diverse region is difficult even during the best of times.

As part of this leadership transition, the ARC board is doing a strategic review of the organization which could cause some other changes in the executive structure. What is not known is how this uncertainty will impact metro Atlanta’s ability to build consensus and then to have an influential voice among state decision-makers.

After announcing his retirement plans, Krautler said he had debated staying until he turned 65 early next year or even through the sales tax referendum. But he thought it would be better to get new leaders in place as quickly as possible. He said it should be up to the next director to pick his or her own senior staff.

Meanwhile, Krautler said he’s not concerned about how ARC will maneuver during this transition.

“We’ve got really good people here,” he said of his staff.

In looking ahead to a possible successor, Krautler insisted that “there are lots of good people here in Atlanta” and that it was possible that a new team could be put in place rather quickly.

Tad Leithead, a consultant who is ARC’s chairman, said the executive committee and the board would work on an “orderly transition plan” that could include the naming of an interim director and a search for a permanent director.

Georgia’s communities may lose ground in planning for their future

Maria Saporta –

Since when has planning become a dirty word?

An effort is underway in the Georgia legislature to remove a state requirement on local governments to develop comprehensive plans for their communities.

If passed, this legislation — Senate Bill 86 — could send Georgia back decades to a time when growth could occur in a totally haphazard way with few guideposts on what is the best way to grow a community.

Unfortunately, two organizations that should know better — the Georgia Municipal Association and the Association County Commissioners of Georgia — have endorsed this legislation, presumably pushed by some of their members who would rather not have to answer to state guidelines.

The closest analogy I can think of is that I don’t like stopping at red lights. But I know that if red lights didn’t exist, total chaos would ensue. We have laws because they give order to our society and structure to our lives.

It was in that spirit that former Gov. Joe Frank Harris, a conservative Democrat from Cartersville, established the Growth Strategies Commission in the late 1980s. Legislation requirement communities to develop comprehensive plans grew out of that commission. Again, the idea was that Georgia was enjoying unprecedented growth, and it made sense to plan that growth in a way that was best for local communities, for their regions and for the state.

Joel Cowan, a visionary developer who was campaign chairman in Harris’ two gubernatorial elections, served as chairman of the Growth Strategies Commission. (It was no accident that Cowan also was the founding chairman of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, a body that can link transportation investments with land-use and development plans).

Cowan is understandably upset that the state is considering dismantling one of its most valuable tools to make sure that Georgia grows in a rational way.

“I think it is a severe step backwards,” Cowan wrote me in an email Sunday. As he explained, the state law was a way to protect communities from having to bear the brunt of developments of regional impact, otherwise known as DRIs.

If a major development is located in area, the surrounding communities end up being impacted by traffic, water pollution and other consequences of growth. Having a comprehensive plan for a region actually help communities make sure their own quality of life is not lost.

“For instance, look at the large Georgia Power plant that is on the Chattahoochee River between Coweta and Carroll counties,” Cowan wrote. “There is an enormous revenue impact on simply which side of the river they choose to build. Both get jobs. But the negative impacts affect many downstream counties. So that is one example of why it is an important procedure.”

Another key player in the Growth Strategies Commission was John Sibley, who served as its director. Sibley went on to become president of the Georgia Conservancy and has worked with several environmental efforts. He also is one of the few founding GRTA board members.

As Sibley sees it, the Georgia Planning Act of 1989 “was meant to advance regional thinking — by building regional plans from local plans.” It’s hard to find a reason why a regional approach to growth is not in our best interest.

Sibley said the planning act was the “first critical step” in Georgia’s “long, slow progress toward thinking about transportation investments and land use in a coordinated way.” Study after study has shown that if metro Atlanta ever wants to really address its traffic problems, it needs to strategically link its transportation plans with its land use development plans.

“A process was created for every local government — large and small — to have a plan, looking five years out at a comprehensive set of elements, instead of having only short-term, ad hoc considerations to inform decisions,” Sibley said.

“Perhaps the most innovative aspect of this new approach was that a land-use plan was a necessary element of a comprehensive plan,” Sibley continued. “Land use would be considered right along with transportation and other elements. Up until that time, most local governments in Georgia had not given any attention to land-use planning or to the relationship between transportation investments and land development patterns.”

Sibley said the state provided local communities a carrot of “several pots of state money” that was only available to communities that had a “qualified local government status,” including the development of a comprehensive plan.

Georgia became a national leader when the bill was passed, and Gov. Harris even won the annual award of the American Planning Association for his leadership.

“Even though the Georgia Planning Act was on the leading edge at the time, it was supported by a broad and clear consensus,” Sibley recalled. “

That included local government associations, including both the Georgia Municipal Association and the Association County Commissioners of Georgia.

“In the decades since, the Act has become routine practice,” Sibley said. “Every local government has been through the process. It has been refined over time in the recognition that not every small locality can be expected to plan with the same rigor as a large metropolitan city or county.”

Sibley also believes that the act has saved taxpayer dollars because it has helped communities better understand developments can have long term impacts.

“As our understanding has evolved in Georgia, the benefits of coordinated planning, particularly with respect to transportation and land use, have increasingly been reflected in state policy,” Sibley said. “We have come a long way since the state first encouraged local governments to think in a comprehensive and coordinated way.”

By telling local communities that comprehensive planning is now optional would be a major step backwards for Georgia — a state that still anticipates major growth and development for decades to come.

Planning is the one way we can make sure our state and our communities grow in a coordinated way that is best for everyone.

Atlanta to unveil its plans for the future

Strategy to shape look and feel of city for next 20 years

By Ernie Suggs
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

By 2030, Atlanta will have at least 100,000 more people — along with greater traffic problems, a need for additional green space and the desire for more economic development.

Where and how those people will shop, live, play, get around and work is now on Atlanta’s table.

The city’s planning office is set to unveil its 2011 Comprehensive Development Plan, a long-term strategy to shape the look and feel of the city over the next 20 years.

In it are detailed assessments, projections and predictions of how the city will change over the next two decades, including areas such as transportation, economic development, housing and urban design.

Several years ago, a similar plan identified the need to redevelop the old Atlantic Steel location. That site is now Atlantic Station.

It’s not known whether something like that is on the horizon, but Charletta Wilson Jacks, director of the office of planning, said the potential is there.

“This is a planning tool,” Jacks said. “It gives us the guiding principals. We need a road map to address growth and development in the city.”

In creating the development plan, Jacks said Atlanta is complying with state regulations that require local jurisdictions to periodically update their plans to remain eligible for state and federal grants. Atlanta specifically mandates the preparation of a CDP every three to five years.

Jacks said that instead of merely updating the last plan, they have created a whole “new document.”

Jessica Lavandier, an urban planner for the city and project manager for the CDP, said Atlanta’s population growth will play a key role in future planning.

After 20 years of population decline, Atlanta’s population grew from 416,474 in 2000 to 540,921 by 2009, a 29 percent increase.

By 2030, the population is expected to grow by another 104,660 new residents, Lavandier said.

She added that while Atlanta’s population has grown over the past 10 years, the number of jobs has decreased by more than 90,000 and the percentage of residents living in poverty remains among the highest in the nation.

One idea in the plan is creating zones in select areas of the city that would provide state job tax credits and incentives for job growth.

Another idea would be to attract bioscience opportunities around research institutions, medical facilities and Fort McPherson.

According to the plan, green space is another area that has to be addressed. Several studies have shown Atlanta has less green space than other cities of comparable size and density.

To address that, one suggestion would be to adopt a master plan for each city park to guide the pursuit of funding and create capital improvement plans.

Starting today, there will be a series of seven meetings to introduce the plan to various sections of the community and get feedback.

The city will hold two additional series of community meetings before the plan has to be finalized Oct. 31.

“From a planning perspective, this step is very important because the issues and opportunities identified by the residents will set the stage for establishing policy directives,” Jacks said. “How do we move forward? How do we evolve into the city that the citizens envision?”

DeKalb groups: EPA’s sewer mandate is weak

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The federal Environment Protection Agency’s mandate for DeKalb County to improve its sewer system is a “slap on the wrist” with little oversight and weak penalties, DeKalb residents said.

On Wednesday, six DeKalb environmental groups asked the EPA to issue stricter penalties for DeKalb’s continued sewage spills, hoping added pressure from the EPA would guarantee speedier clean up of affected rivers and streams.

In December, the EPA issued a consent decree, mandating DeKalb upgrade its sewer system after reporting more than 800 raw sewage spills in five years. The decree, which DeKalb spent 14 months negotiating with the federal government, also includes a $453,000 fine for the spills and an additional $600,000 to clean up the South River, Snapfinger Creek and the South Fork on Peachtree Creek near Emory University.

Since then, the county commission has authorized $1.35 billion in upgrades to its sewer system, which will be paid for by increases in residents’ water and sewer bills.

However, the county has not announced any timeline or clean-up plans for the spills, which continue to occur daily, residents said.

“My concern is that taxpayers are having to foot that huge bill in increased water rates. I feel there needs to be more accountability,” said Gil Turman, president of the South DeKalb Neighborhood Coalition. “We’re in this because of a lack of accountability. For 20 years, the county has been negligent and having sewage spills so regularly. And now they just get a slap on the wrist.”

Turman’s coalition, along with the DeKalb Soil and Water Conservation District, the Miners Creek Circle Civic Association, the Metropolitan Atlanta Urban Watershed Institute, the Newly Organized Citizens Requesting Aquifer Protection and the South River Watershed Alliance, submitted a 12-page letter Wednesday to the federal government demanding stricter oversight. Wednesday was the deadline for the public comment period.

A spokeswoman for the EPA said her agency and the U.S. Department of Justice will evaluate all of the comments and then make a decision as to whether to issue tougher penalties.

Ted Rhinehart, DeKalb’s deputy chief operating officer for infrastructure, said the county had not reviewed the residents’ comments, but said DeKalb believes the decree is “fair, reasonable and in the public interest.”

Federal law allows the EPA to charge the county up to $37,500 a day for spills, but the decree only says fines of up to $500 can be charged per spill.

“It doesn’t seem like they would have much incentive if they are not complying,” GreenLaw attorney David Deganian told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Greenlaw, an Atlanta-based environmental legal group, drafted the residents’ letter.

Residents said they worry DeKalb could end up like Atlanta, which signed a consent decree in 1998 committing to $4 billion in water upgrades, but has been given several extensions.

“This is a problem that has gone on for decades. As we have learned from the City of Atlanta, there are no simple solutions and significant oversight is very important,” said Justine Thompson, GreenLaw’s executive director. “We don’t think there are adequate assurances that the consent order terms will be met.”

DeKalb officials said they have been trying to avoid the high costs and legal battles that plagued Atlanta by moving forward with the work.

How to make the Beltline happen

Atlanta’s game-changing transit loop won’t succeed without big, bold ideas. Here are five.

by Thomas Wheatley – Creative Loafing

Atlantans can be forgiven for having become a bit jaded about the shortage of visible progress in the eight years since the Beltline first burst on the scene.

Sure, railroad segments have been acquired and leased, public art’s been displayed and a smattering of parks have sprung to life. And yes, 2011 will be a big year for the 22-mile loop of parks, trails and transit proposed to circle Atlanta’s urban core and improve city life for generations to come. This spring, three new parks will open, including the first 12 acres of Historic Fourth Ward Park, which will feature a scenic lake, amphitheatre and the city’s first public skate park, near Freedom Parkway. Later this year, a highly anticipated 2.5-mile bike trail connecting Piedmont Park and DeKalb Avenue will welcome its first cyclists.

Yet despite these advancements and other small victories, people still wearily — and understandably — ask if the Beltline “actually will happen.” As a reaction to that cynicism, Mayor Kasim Reed has said he wants the $2.8 billion project to be completed much sooner than the current 25-year time line anticipates. How can that be done? Never mind the occasional ribbon-cuttings or other public unveilings — the best way to shake skeptics’ doubts that the project is nothing more than pretty sketches and pipe dreams is for big, bold steps to be taken.

Here are five initiatives — the most pressing per quadrant, as well as a broader proposal that Beltline officials have been quick to reject — that should be given serious consideration for their ability to could reignite the Beltline’s momentum and make the project more relevant to the public.

The Full Loop: Introduce Atlanta to the Beltline — by building a bike path 6

It’s far less expensive than the project’s transit component and far more feasible in the short-term
  • by Thomas Wheatley | 01.20.11
  • Northwest: Turn a giant hole in the ground into Atlanta’s new waterfront

    The booming Westside would benefit with a 45-acre reservoir and greenspace that’s twice the size of Piedmont Park
    • by Thomas Wheatley | 01.20.11
  • Northeast: Build a rail segment that links Atlanta’s most booming neighborhoods 1

    The crescent-shaped arc between Piedmont Park and DeKalb Avenue has the density to make transit work
    • by Thomas Wheatley | 01.20.11
  • Southeast: Ready the second-most-populous segment for rail — and art

    Secure the Beltline’s most prominent gap — a bucolic, gritty stretch of tracks between Glenwood Park and southwest Atlanta
    • by Thomas Wheatley | 01.20.11
  • Southwest: Turn a 31-acre parking lot into a vibrant southside neighborhood

    With the right project, some of Atlanta’s most beleaguered communities — and the entire city — could benefit
    • by Thomas Wheatley | 01.20.11
  • I-85/Ga. 400 Interchange Could Ease Traffic

    Proposed I-85/Ga. 400 Interchange
    Metro Atlanta commuters could get some relief as the Georgia Department of Transportation is in the early planning stages of building a new interchange connecting Georgia 400 southbound to Interstate 85 northbound and I-85 southbound to Georgia 400 northbound. 

    “It is definitely the most anticipated (project) in a while,” Georgia DOT Deputy Press Secretary Jill Goldberg told Channel 2 Action News reporter Richard Elliot. “We’ve had more people wanting this done since the road was originally built.” 

    Georgia 400 from I-85 north to I-285 was completed in the early 1990s at a cost of $180 million, not adjusted for inflation. Goldberg said there wasn’t enough money budgeted to connect Ga. 400 to I-85, except the southbound lanes. Since then, commuters have had to negotiate Sidney Marcus Boulevard, the Buford-Spring Connector, Lenox Road and Cheshire Bridge Road if they wanted to go between the two major thoroughfares. 

    Now, Goldberg said, the state sold $40 million in bonds to pay for the new interchange project. She told Elliot the bonds will be repaid in seven years using money collected from the Ga. 400 toll. 

    On Friday, the Georgia DOT issued Requests For Qualifications. That’s the process where interested construction companies submit their qualifications to build the project. After the DOT selects qualified companies, the DOT will ask those companies for bids on the project. 

    Many Buckhead neighborhoods have supported the plan for years and pushed the DOT to begin construction. One northeast Atlanta neighborhood, however, did not. Residents of the Lindridge-Martins Manor neighborhood opposed the plan because it directly affects their area. One of the proposed ramps would go along Peachtree Creek, and their properties. 

    “We were worried about this for a long time,” said resident Art Schoeck. His property would be in the shadow of the proposed flyover ramp. “Encroachment has always been an issue, and so when we’re going to be encroached upon, we’d like it to be in a positive way.” 

    Schoeck and other residents said they changed their opinion of the project when the DOT agreed to build a landscaped walking trail along Peachtree Creek once the project is completed. The DOT worked with the neighborhood association and the Southfork Conservancy on the project and plan to hook it into a series of trails that winds through that area. 

    “When we looked at the manner in which they were going to do this with a trail and landscaping and the fencing, if they do what they say they’re going to do, it looks like it’s going to have a positive impact on the neighborhood,” said Schoeck. 

    Commuters seemed to like the idea since many do not appreciate navigating their way from I-85 to Ga. 400 on a daily basis. 

    “I think it’s absolutely great,” said Catalina Decastillo. “It’s going to make it convenient especially for the people who live around this area. So, whoever thought of that is very smart. It’s about time.” 

    The winning construction company will also design the interchange. The DOT hopes to have the project completed in 2013.

    RFP issued for Ga. 400/I-85 interchange

    Atlanta Business Chronicle – by Dave Williams , Staff Writer

    Date: Monday, January 17, 2011, 1:22pm EST – Last Modified: Monday, January 17, 2011, 2:03pm EST

    An on-ramp from Interstate 85 South onto Ga. 400 North took one small step closer to becoming reality.

    The Georgia Department of Transportation put out a request-for proposal on Jan. 14 for design-build services for the proposed project. Applicants have until 2 p.m. on Feb. 11 to make their proposals.

    The existing interchange, which opened in the early 1990s, doesn’t give southbound motorists heading into Atlanta on either highway a direct connection to the northbound lanes of the other road. The project to connect the two has been talked about for years. And business leaders in Buckhead have long complained that failing to complete that portion of the interchange hampers access to offices and retail centers in Buckhead.

    The State Transportation Board and the State Road and Tollway Authority voted last September to continue charging tolls on Ga. 400 to pay for the interchange improvements.

    The tolls had been due to expire this summer when the original bonds from the early 1990s will be paid off.

    Keeping the tolls is expected to raise $50 million, about $40 million of which will be used for the 400/I-85 interchange. The other $10 million in additional toll revenue will go toward 10 other smaller projects along the 400 corridor

    Read more: RFP issued for Ga. 400/I-85 interchange | Atlanta Business Chronicle

    Urbanism Triumphant: New Year’s Hope?

    Neil Peirce - Washington Post Writers Group

    “Urbanism” isn’t a word that races many peoples’ motors. But think again. It might just be the key — not only to enrich community life but to achieve a safer energy future and efficient and livable metro regions and insure our place in the larger world.

    That’s the case that famed New Urbanist architect Peter Calthorpe lays out in his book, “Urbanism in the Age of Climate Age,” just published by the Island Press.

    Fighting to reduce our oil and coal burning and combat global warming, much of the buzz surrounds such new “green” technologies as solar and wind power, industrial efficiency, and fuel efficient cars. But add up all the potential carbon savings they promise, argues Calthorpe, and we’ll still fall far short of reducing the United States’ grossly disproportionate use of fossil fuels and contribution to globe-imperiling climate change.

    The only answer, he argues, is to start correcting the spread-out, energy-profligate patterns in how we use our land. In other words, a return to true urbanism, the historic patterns of relatively compact, more energy-efficient growth we once practiced in our cities and towns, but lost in the decades following World War II.

    That means a radical turn from the post-World War II pattern of throwing up clumps of subdivisions, isolated office parks, commercial strips and shopping centers, strung together by arterials and highways, all accommodating the automobile but rarely if ever walkable or encouraging of civic life.

    It’s as if, Calthorpe alleges, we’d gone on a “fast food, high-carbon diet” that let our metropolitan regions, where most of us live, “become obese” through our heavy dependence on oil — “a high-sugar and high-starch diet,” expanding the urban waistline, ballooning our output of carbon into the global atmosphere “without nourishing strength or resilience.”

    The only cure, he argues, must be return to a robust urbanism of efficiently shaped and planned cities and regions.

    So what’s urbanism? You can recognize it by what it delivers, suggests Calthorpe. It is places that feature a diversity of uses — homes, shops, libraries, parks, schools — mixed closely so they’re walkable (or easily bikable). It balances cars with public transit. It supports a rich public life. And it’s cities and other urban places that create, on a per capita basis, the least carbon emissions. (New Yorkers, famously, emit a third of the greenhouse gas emissions of the typical American).

    Urbanism, Calthorpe insists, can come in many forms, scales, or density. It’s not just a big city model. Many of our traditional small towns, village centers and streetcar suburbs, with their mixed uses and walkability, are as “urban” as historic city centers.

    Our big need now, he’s suggesting, is to focus on the co-benefits of carbon reduction and more sustainable urban form. Examples abound. For heating, an adjoining wall (as in an apartment houses and townhouses) is more effective than a detached house’s solar collector. A small neighborhood cogeneration electrical plant that reuses its waste will likely save more carbon per dollar than a distant wind farm (with its inevitable heavy power loss in transmission cables). A walk or a bike ride costs less, generates less carbon, than a hybrid car covering the same ground.

    What we need to do, Calthorphe contends, is to expand urbanism’s historic qualities of compactness and civic connectedness to the metropolitan scale, the citistate regions of our time. Rather than the old model of a city/suburb schism, we need to see regions as interconnected, interdependent networks of places.

    Neighborhood becomes the metaphor of choice here. Just as a neighborhood needs a vital center, its crossroads, the citistate needs a strong center city that’s its cultural heart, its center of trade, and symbol to the greater world.

    But that’s not to eclipse other regional towns and cities. In fact, the pedestrian scale of successful neighborhoods has a mirror in regional transit networks, the lines focusing growth in the vital towns and cities in a region just as main streets focus a neighborhood.

    And there’s an associated big value, Calthorpe argues, in diversity — mixes of all manner of people, the reverse of standard suburbia’s habit of separating us into subdivisions by age and income.

    Is all this a touch Pollyannish, wishing for goodwill and collaboration when the natural tendency among towns and places (not to mention businesses and individuals) is so-often “us-first” competitiveness?

    One might think so. Except that the old formula — easy mortgages, pro-sprawl land patterns, almost total auto dependency enabled by cheap energy — was overturned by the Great Recession. The excessive resources aren’t there to go back to.

    Calthorpe’s substitute — more prosperity for all by smart regional strategies that are civic-, asset- and carbon-conserving — isn’t guaranteed. But it would be a thousand times smarter.