Daily, it seems, come reminders that the great cities of America are rethinking old strategies and finding alternatives to the suburb-fueling freeway building that dominated and destroyed cities for so long.
Yes, of course I mention this in the context of Arkansas and Little Rock officialdom holding fast to the idea that there isn’t a freeway that can’t be improved by more lanes and that there’s no limit on how much should be spent to encourage people to live in suburbs, rather than core cities. See: 30 Crossing.
Here, in Atlanta –– strangled for years by freeways and far-flung suburbs, comes a wave of new thinking. People there are wildly excited about:
… the Atlanta BeltLine, which aims to convert 22 miles of mostly disused railway beds circling the city’s urban core into a biking and pedestrian loop, a new streetcar line, and a staggeringly ambitious engine of urban revitalization.
The project is underway. It has far to go. It’s expensive. It’s exciting. It’s rebuilding neighborhoods, not digging more concrete gulches to allow cars to drive faster to faraway places.
… Atlanta previously experienced decades of population loss because of suburbanization and white flight.
The tide has turned significantly in recent years. Planners now say Atlanta’s population, which stands at about 463,000, could double in the next 15 years. Many of the new residents could end up living along the BeltLine.
In a study this year, Mr. Leinberger and a colleague, Michael Rodriguez, showed that areas they identified as “walkable urban places” in the nation’s 30 largest metro areas were gaining market share over car-dependent suburban areas for “perhaps the first time in 60 years,” and earning higher rental premiums.
We could do this in Little Rock. Indeed, some far-thinking people have made impressive strides downtown. I don’t expect the state freeway builders to do anything but build freeways. But you’d wish members of the LITTLE ROCK CITY BOARD would do a better job representing the city that pays them than holding Cabot commuters at the forefront of their deliberations.
Still people like City Director Lance Hines hold that it’s better to shave a minute or two out of the rush half-hour so cops driving city-paid cars home will get to and from a mite quicker. (And the induced demand for still more freeway building elsewhere be damned.) City officials have even acceded in the essential takeover of the regional planning agency, Metropolan, by the forces of suburbia. Conway’s mayor will be looking after the best interest of Little Rock now. What’s worse has been the utter silence about — and, in Hines’ and others’ cases — outspoken support for the ruination of the city school district.
Their reward will be to look around in a few years and see Atlanta, circa 2001. Then maybe we’ll get a Belt Line.
Mark Pendergrast, an Atlanta-born author, in a forthcoming book about the BeltLine, notes that the city, by at least one measure, suffers from the worst income-inequality gaps of any major American city; soul-deadening sprawl and commuting times; and neighborhoods that have been chopped up by highway construction and mangled by misguided 20th-century “urban renewal” projects.