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Study In Contrasts: Beltline 2008 Versus Now

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The Brownfields 2013 conference last month — held in Atlanta, in part, because the city's had success transforming polluted plots into nice, inhabitable places — got one WABE reporter thinking about how far the Beltline has come. Jim Burress harkened to 2008, when he observed volunteers hauling tons of trash from the kudzu-choked corridor between Freedom Parkway and what was then called City Hall East. The so-called "hobo highway," a source of illegal dumping and homeless encampments, was so neglected the reporter walked away skeptical that it could ever be alluring. One Beltline official called the area "shocking."

Burress contrasted the 2008 report with more recent observations on the Beltline's Eastside Trail, and the short segment is worth a listen. He opines: "We're just seven years into the 25-year plan for the Atlanta Beltline, and if this transformation is any idea of what's to come, then the Beltline truly is Atlanta's best idea."

In a roundabout way, that story led us to a thought-provoking 2011 interview Beltline visionary Ryan Gravel did with PURGE Atlanta. It's interesting to hear Gravel's enthusiasm for the Beltline's transformative potential, though he was speaking a year and a half before the Eastside Trail even debuted. For example:

"Atlanta is at a really interesting point right now. We're growing up. We're making some decisions right now that are either going to make Atlanta a really wonderful place to live or not. In terms of Urban Planning, Atlanta is an exciting place to be because it is changing dramatically right before our eyes.

"Chicago is pretty much always going to be Chicago. Boston, San Francisco — those cities are so established in their cultural identity. They can do big projects like the BeltLine, but they're not game-changing in terms of their overall identity."

Do you have specific recollections of how different the Eastside Trail — and the areas surrounding it — used to be? (For instance: Anyone else recall when the building that houses Parish restaurant was a decrepit brick structure with the words "OVERDOSE" spray-painted down the side of it?) Please share your memories, if so.

· Reporter's Notebook: The BeltLine Then and Now [WABE]
· Atlanta BeltLine Origins: An Interview with Ryan Gravel [PURGE]
[Approaching Highland Avenue (above), circa 2010. Photo: purgeatl.com]