If you have any interest in Atlanta's development, land use or neighborhoods (and you are reading this so we think you do), we have a must-do activity for you. For absolutely FREE you can get a tour of Atlanta's historic neighborhoods which includes, at no additional cost, a sense of how the city grew, how it fits together now, and how it will develop along one of the most progressive and largest public space and transit projects in the country. It's the Atlanta BeltLine tour! And after personally experiencing it, we can't help but get on our (flawlessly designed) soapbox and put in a shameless plug for this great tour.
Again, if you are reading this, we bet you've at least heard of the BeltLine. If you haven't heard of it or don't know what all the fuss is about, go read up. Even if you think you know about the BeltLine, take the tour. It's given every Saturday morning but reservations fill up months in advance so get cracking. Yeah, getting up early on Saturday morning to learn about Atlanta might not seem that alluring after holding court on the shuffleboard table at Ormsby all Friday night, but it will be worth it.
If you need to convince yourself or someone you are cajoling (such as an ornery wife aka The Morning Gremlin), stop by Highland Bakery on the way for some coffee and a delicious treat to start off. Or if you really want to make some friends on the bus, show up with a box of donut-holes and/or Bloody Mary supplies. Just bring enough for the bus (it's a small bus). At completion of the tour, you are perfectly situated for a great post-tour discussion over brunch at nearby Sun in My Belly or over BBQ and a beer on the great patio at Fox Brothers. Now that we've got the important logistics squared away, on to the tour.
The tour loosely follows the path of the BeltLine around the city in a clockwise direction. As you ride along your (excellent) tour guide points out specific aspects of the planned project as well as interesting aspects of communities that abut the Beltline corridor. One of the really neat aspects of the tour is that it takes you through various neighborhoods that you may often hear about but don't really know where they are or much about. Particularly, the southern and southwestern parts of the tour take you through areas that hold many of the founding neighborhoods of Atlanta. Driving through some of the now-downtrodden communities gives you a sense of where the city started and how it grew, and hopefully, it gives you a sense of the great potential to recover these communities and connect them to a more prosperous future.
The tour does require some imagination to visualize what the completed project will look like as much of it is just abandoned and overgrown rail right-of-way currently. There are tangible examples of the path segment of the BeltLine already in place that look terrific and provide examples of what the completed project will look like. (Check out the Eastside Trail, West End, and Tanyard Creek segments). While the path segment of the BeltLine is gaining steam (sorry), the transit portion is still a little further off and there are major issues that still need to be worked out - particularly on the Westside where active railroad tracks will require some creative solutions.
One of the highlights of the trip is a visit to what will be Atlanta's new grand park - the Westside Quarry Park. The now defunct quarry is a pretty dramatic sight and perhaps the closest Atlanta is going to get to a Hollywood action screen stage (its been the site of several movies and TV show filmings included AMC's popular The Walking Dead series). It doesn't take much imagination to see how the quarry at full pool surrounded by 300 acres of parkland will give Piedmont Park a run for its money as the Grand Gem on what's being call the "emerald necklace" of the BeltLine.
Even if there was no BeltLine, a similar tour of Atlanta would be pretty engaging. You'd still have exposure to the diversity of different communities and neighborhoods that all exist within in a tight geographic area and how these various communities connect and flow into each other (or alternatively don't connect). Of course, layer on the BeltLine and its great promise of tying together Atlanta's neighborhoods - old, new, rich, poor, historic, industrial - into a framework that will guide the City's next round of growth, and you have a terrific way to spend a few hours on a Saturday. So take the tour (did we mention it's free?). You'll learn a ton of interesting stuff that will wow your friends and make you the hit of cocktail parties for at least the next year and you'll find you feel so good about the productivity of your Saturday morning you won't feel (that) bad about ordering the Big Tex and a full order of Tominators at Fox Brothers.