Neighborhoods - 3 visionaries, 3 cocktail napkins, 3 ideas

How would some of Atlanta's smartest urban designers change parts of the city?

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Photo credit: Joeff Davis

Architects and planners are creative people who often must work with limits. Clients give them a specific budget. A building can be only so tall. Elected officials in a certain neighborhood probably won't support a certain design or idea. Creative Loafing decided to ask three local architects and planners to ignore the obstacles and brainstorm what they'd like to see happen in certain areas around town to improve the community. The only rule: They had to convey this vision on a cocktail napkin, the universal paper product that catches spilled drops from drinks, phone numbers from strangers, and sketches while waiting on the check.


SHUTTERBUG HANGOUT: The Jackson Street Bridge is a popular spot for photographers, tourists, and skyline gazers. Why not make it more accommodating? Ross Wallace of the Epsten Group proposes a terraced plaza to take in the view.

Urban designer: Ross Wallace of the Epsten Group

Spot: Jackson Street Bridge over Freedom Parkway

Why I picked this spot: I wanted to transform a regularly used space, the Jackson Street Bridge, a favorite of amateur and professional photographers, by reclaiming excess roadway space for pedestrian enjoyment.

What I'm proposing: Using a "Pavement to Plazas" form of Tactical Urbanism, I'm proposing making a terraced plaza along an expanded western sidewalk where people can relax and take in an iconic view of Downtown. We'd remove the turn lane — who's turning on a bridge anyway? — so the roadway narrows to two lanes. Shift the PATH bike lane to the eastern side of the road. The terraced area allows an informal seating space where folks can gather and watch sunsets, take photographs, etc. It could incorporate areas for statues. Architect John Portman comes to mind, as his buildings make-up the bulk of the Downtown skyline from this view. (See a larger view of the sketch.)

Impact or benefit: Instead of squeezing onto the narrow existing sidewalk, installing a plaza in this location would create a gathering place for Atlantans and tourists to come together in an iconic location overlooking the Downtown skyline, where countless photo shoots and memorable sunsets have taken place. By creating the plaza in a tactical manner, the design can be implemented quickly and tested without a large commitment of funding. If successful and regularly used, the design can be refined and formalized into a permanent space.

CAP THAT: The Boulevard Tunnel is worlds better thanks to a new mural and beautification efforts. But why not add a space where people can relax? Deanna Murphy of the Sizemore Group thinks capping a portion of the Boulevard Tunnel to create a greenspace would draw more pedestrians to the thoroughfare.
Photo credit: Joeff Davis photo, Deanna Murphy illustration

Planner: Deanna Murphy of the Sizemore Group

Spot: Decatur Street and Boulevard Tunnel

Why I picked the spot: I chose this spot because it has so much potential. The Boulevard Tunnel and Decatur Street create an important connection between several communities and garnered very positive attention and undergone change thanks to the Living Walls mural and the Boulevard Tunnel Initiative. What is still missing here is the perception of safety that comes with more activity of people and eyes on the street. I wanted to explore ways to activate this area that would build from the tunnel initiatives and capitalize on the great views of the mural, the CSX rail yard, and Cabbagetown.

What I'm proposing: Cap a portion of the Boulevard tunnel to create a "living room" park, a greenspace where people can enjoy each other and the views. In addition, redevelopment of the vacant lot into neighborhood retail, dining, and housing would complement the "living room" by bringing more people to the area and really enlivening this intersection. (See a larger view of the sketch.)

Impact or benefit: This intervention could help improve the safety of people moving through this area on their way to Cabbagetown, Edgewood Avenue, the King Center, and historic sites, by bringing more activity to the area, putting more eyes on the street and the tunnel. Plus, it's just fun to imagine capping over the tunnel to create usable public space.

WE WERE FRAMED: A long-vacant lot across the street from the High Museum is about to be turned into condos. But Shaun Martin, an architect at MARTA, sees potential for galleries, studios, and art installations instead.
Photo credit: Joeff Davis photo, Shaun Martin illustration

Architect: Shaun Martin of MARTA

Spot: A vacant lot across the street from the High Museum where condos will soon rise

Why I picked this spot: I see this becoming a place of activity, life, and a celebration of art. I wanted to create a connection between the High Museum, the Woodruff Arts Center, and what for years has been a vacant lot across the street. They've got a great hangout spot in the main lobby and the courtyard, but nothing that really brings the two together.

What I'm proposing: The idea was to keep a conversation about art going beyond the walls by creating a sculpture garden, art studio and galleries. The building would also open up and speak back to the High and Woodruff. The side of the Perkins + Will building is a great place to put up a large screen to project fanciful art media. The proposed large picture frame installation — it would be at least two stories high — faces the street and highlights actual life that becomes an art piece. It's framing whatever it is that's going on beyond that boundary. It creates this subtle implied wall, but is also something that people can actually look at and enjoy from the opposite side. (See a larger view of the sketch.)

Impact or benefit: It brings the art and experience out into the street. It gives people the sense that public art truly has a place in the built environment. I call this zone of Peachtree Street the "slow zone." As people drive or walk through I want them to take a moment and observe "life beyond the frame" by slowing down to look left then right, giving pause. I want them to slow down and look to the left and the right and say, "Wow this is a cool place I need to check out." You can come here to think, you can come here to enjoy lunch, you can come here to celebrate art.