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Perkins+Will architect: Atlanta should tap potential of Chattahoochee, Freedom Park

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In an op-ed, landscape pro with the firm behind the Beltline asserts: “We can transform Atlanta’s identity from one of standstill traffic to a network of green.” 

A concept floated last year for a Freedom Park pedestrian bridge over Moreland Avenue.
A concept floated last year for a Freedom Park pedestrian bridge over Moreland Avenue.
Freedom Bridge Atlanta

For years, advocacy groups such as Chattahoochee Now have all but shouted that the river could be Atlanta’s greatest green amenity, while on a smaller scale, neighborhood leaders have pushed to make the sometimes under-appreciated Freedom Park a more attractive and user-friendly green space.

Alexander “Zan” Stewart, an Atlanta-based associate principal and senior landscape architect with prominent global firm Perkins+Will, concurs.

In the following op-ed for Curbed Atlanta, Stewart applauds the strides the city has made in recent years, but the surface of Atlanta’s green-space potential, he argues, has barely been scratched.

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As a city, Atlanta is recognized more by its traffic than its abundance of green spaces. As a community, we need to work together to re-cast that perception.

Stewart.
Photo courtesy of Perkins+Will

One hundred and twenty-five years ago, Frederick Law Olmstead came to Atlanta and designed the linear parks that give green grace to the Druid Hills community. Later, his sons influenced and designed portions of Piedmont Park, one of the busiest outdoor destinations in the city.

These historic fragments are just a few of the many opportunities that lay scattered across Atlanta. If we can simply link and build upon this base, we can transform Atlanta’s identity from one of standstill traffic to a network of green.

Our physical surroundings have a significant impact on our health and wellbeing. The positive influence of walkable and bikeable communities is on the rise, spurred in part by an upsurge in the value of landscape within the development community.

Take a stroll along Atlanta’s Beltline on any sunny Saturday, and its healthy impact on thousands is evident everywhere. Still, Atlanta holds an abundance of sub-optimized resources that—with creative planning and redesign—can be unleashed to activate its citizens.

Two of the larger opportunities that our community leaders should invest in more aggressively are the Chattahoochee River and Freedom Park. Both have considerable potential to boost Atlantans’ health and wellbeing and to connect diverse communities.

As for the Chattahoochee River, there is an opportunity to activate that resource by creating a linear park providing easy access to the river, restoring habitat, and building social equity. We must also consider how the river will ebb and flow through droughts and floods, and how a new public space can thrive and become resilient through either circumstance.

This 1988 scene on the Chattahoochee still plays out today, but public spaces on the river, Stewart argues, are still wanting.
National Geographic/Getty Images

Unlike the Chattahoochee, Freedom Park is a true fragment of city planning—a planned intersection that has sat for years awaiting renewal.

Like the Chattahoochee, it has an opportunity to connect communities and to build upon the network of green throughout the city. It should be considered in the family of Piedmont Park and Centennial Olympic Park as another large-scale urban oasis for Atlanta. A focus on art, movement, and a celebration of open space will give Freedom Park an identity all its own.

By investing in our open spaces as shared community resources, and better integrating them into the fabric of our urban lives, we can build upon the success of projects like the Beltline and Piedmont Park expansion as places for people to celebrate, share ideas, connect with nature, and be active.

Ultimately, we are investing in each other and ourselves when we invest in the spaces that connect us.

Alexander Stewart,

ASLA, LEED AP BD+C; associate principal, senior landscape architect, Perkins+Will

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Stewart bio:

Over the past decade, Stewart has worked with preeminent figures in the practice of landscape architecture and contributed to a wide range of transformational projects, from intimate gardens to large-scale campuses. He’s exhibited work internationally and assisted in teaching at the nation’s leading design institutions. Central to his role with the Urban Design + Landscape Architecture studio is crafting thoughtful, functional strategies for sustainable environments.