As the Director of PATH, I have spent a fair amount of time over the past seven years working with the BeltLine team and neighborhood leaders to plan and build the Atlanta BeltLine Trail from Piedmont Park though east Atlanta. This project has been challenging and sometimes even frustrating for everyone involved. We all kept telling each other when it’s done and everyone is enjoying it we will forget how difficult it was to produce. Today, I can honestly say the reward for everyone’s perseverance is an incredible venue that will serve Atlanta admirably for generations.
Ryan Gravel’s vision of trails and trolleys lined with shops, restaurants and condos has “suddenly” appeared. As I watched Mayor Reed and other dignitaries talk about the impact this great project will have on the city, it was so easy to visualize the corridor bustling with pedestrians and cyclists, socializing and exercising in a new world defined by human contact and quiet travel. That is when I first realized the BeltLine will become a landmark and a lifestyle.
“BeltLine Lifestyle” will be the term used to describe a life that is defined by friends made on the trail and the watering holes they can all walk to together. “BeltLine Lifestyle” will describe a healthier, happier life that involves exercising while socializing. The group will share the commonality of living close enough to the BeltLine to have it define their daily routine.
While we were building the trail, I had my eye on one condo that was under construction within a few feet of the trail. I watched the balcony being constructed and even pictured myself sitting there with a glass of wine watching and waving as a steady stream of walkers, runners, and cyclists passed by. I went by on a weekend and walked through the unit to see if the rest of the place was as glorious as that balcony overlooking the trail. It was much larger than I had anticipated; more room than I needed; but that balcony…. someone else bought it the next weekend so my fantasy of retiring to a “BeltLine Lifestyle” faded away for the time being.
In the not-so-distant future, I think it will be common to have people to describe where they live by their distance from the BeltLine rather than referring to a street name or neighborhood. I think bars, restaurants, and shops along the BeltLine corridor will see a substantial increase in business from persons arriving by trail. I think a social circle of frequent BeltLine trail users will emerge; folks who become acquainted on the trail, exercise together on the trail, and entertain themselves along the trail rather than going “off-BeltLine” for entertainment and fun.
The shops at 10th & Monroe and the businesses along the trail just north of Ponce need to re-orient themselves toward the trail. The street used to be their lifeline to customers…not anymore. Trailside cafes, coffee shops, and taverns are already overdue. A good bike shop that rents and repairs equipment would be a welcomed addition. Certainly the BeltLine needs a “trail convenience store” that sells everything from Q-tips to Gator-Ade. In short, everything previously accessed by car should be available trailside! The “BeltLine Lifestyle” can only be realized when business owners wake up and turn around. The street is not where the action is any longer.
All this won’t happen overnight but I’m betting it will happen more quickly than many expect. There is a steady stream of young, energetic folks out there ready to enjoy the BeltLine lifestyle. I’m not young (or that energetic anymore) but I may be right behind them!