Reimagining Auburn Avenue

Moderated by Rick Badie

Guerrilla gardening. Pop-up cafes. Mobile vendors. All are examples of “tactical urbanism,” a concept of planning and design that will be temporarily displayed for a few days on two blocks of historic Auburn Avenue. An executive with the Atlanta Regional Commission writes about the project, while the planner who coined the term explains how it can reshape life in the city.

ARC addresses aging well in the city

By Kathryn Lawler


We constantly do it. In fact, you’ll be older by the time you finish reading the newspaper today. But aging isn’t something we as human beings have done for very long, and it’s certainly not something we talk about. Our neighborhoods, cities and region are not prepared for what is arguably the defining element of the coming decades: the aging of the population.

Science, public health and medicine have made it possible to live longer than ever, and projections suggest the trend will continue. Yet metro Atlanta’s physical environment and infrastructure investments continue to be made with little consideration for this unprecedented longevity.

The questions we now face are: What does it mean to live beyond life expectancy? Beyond expectations?

The Atlanta Regional Commission has worked for nearly 10 years to encourage the creation of lifelong communities, places where people of all ages can live healthy and full lives at every stage. Now, the “Living Beyond Expectations” campaign is engaging Atlanta residents, young, old and everyone in between, in making those changes.

Through the spring, ARC held focus groups, community forums, stakeholder meetings, an online survey and a telephone town hall meeting and rolled out an awareness campaign focused on advocating for community changes. The culmination of this work will be showcased in Atlanta on Saturday and Sunday, June 21-22, when two blocks of Auburn Avenue in the Old Fourth Ward will be temporarily transformed into a vibrant lifelong community.

This technique, called tactical urbanism, employs temporary improvements to focus attention on an issue or area. The Sweet Auburn “Living Beyond Expectations” transformation, however, is the first time in the nation that tactical urbanism is being used to highlight the changing needs of older adults and people with disabilities.

Come and join us. Visit pop-up shops, local restaurants and an outdoor movie theater. Participate in demonstrations of urban gardening. Ride in protected bike lanes. Enjoy history, bicycle and Living Walls art tours. Dine at food trucks. Get a health screening, join exercise classes and more. The Sweet Auburn “Living Beyond Expectations” transformation will be a living laboratory, illustrating the potential for new business, safer streets and healthy everyday living. It will demonstrate that age-friendly design can be implemented anywhere in the Atlanta region.

Our region’s communities must become places where people can remain healthy and engaged throughout their lives if they are to thrive in the 21st century. Individuals will need housing and transportation choices, and local opportunities and amenities that make it easy to get healthy and stay healthy. Working together, citizens, government, businesses and philanthropic organizations can realize the promise of longevity and create places that allow us to live life “Beyond Expectations.”

It’s time to start doing things differently.

 Kathryn Lawler is manager of aging and health resources for the Atlanta Regional Commission.

Low-cost projects can bring long-term change

By Mike Lydon

Whether you know the term or not, Atlanta is familiar with “tactical urbanism” — the use of creative, short-term and relatively low-cost projects to catalyze a long-term change in policy and/or the built environment. The most prominent example is the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition’s wonderful Streets Alive, an initiative about so much more than biking and walking. It’s a community-building platform showcasing some of Atlanta’s best aspirations over the course of a single day.

Historically, Atlanta is no stranger to this type of endeavor, either. In 1942, the Atlanta Daily World reported the Atlanta Urban League was initiating a “Better Block” program to “create community consciousness by backing the neighbors and keeping things moving through active participation of the people in the community.”

Our firm, The Street Plans Collaborative, has documented and applied these types of practices for the past four years. In many cities, temporary tools of tactical urbanism — pop-up stores, “intersection repairs” and “guerrilla gardening” projects — often become permanent later. They can lead to economic and social gains.

In Memphis, a better-block project helped jump-start economic revitalization in one of the city’s disadvantaged neighborhoods. Investments of $20 million in small, formerly vacant buildings helped launch 25 new small businesses and a permanent street redesign. In El Paso, a student used street art to develop fake advertisements announcing the return of that city’s streetcars. The project led to a $90 million investment by the state transportation department a year later. In New York, we’ve witnessed a dramatic increase in street safety and neighborhood vitality through the development of 60 public plazas that began as “pilot projects.”

Yet the incremental and iterative approach we advocate for urban redevelopment continues to run counter to the conventional planning and economic development process used by most cities including Atlanta. More citizens want to co-develop neighborhood projects rather than have city leaders and consultants lead the way. The outcome of such top-down planning approaches continues to generate a civic apathy called “planning fatigue” — too much talking and not enough doing!

In contrast, projects like the Atlanta Regional Commission’s “Living Beyond Expectations Lifelong Community Demonstration Project” are often successful because they allow citizens, nonprofit organizations and private-sector entrepreneurs to participate in the real transformation of neighborhoods, if only temporarily. A new role for forward-thinking government agencies like ARC is to enable low-risk, community-driven projects, then use the resources at their disposal to help scale the elements that work best with the wonderfully diverse neighborhoods and people of Atlanta.

While we only began planning the ARC project this spring, more than 30 local, regional and national organizations, businesses and offices have assisted. I’ve learned quickly how passionate Atlantans are about building a better, more just Atlanta. Please join us as we attempt to do so in one of the country’s most historic neighborhoods.

Mike Lydon is principal at The Street Plans Collaboration in Brooklyn.



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