Updated:ATLANTA — The Atlanta that we know will look, feel and move differently in 25 years because of an idea that Ryan Gravel had right here in the city he is hoping to change.
"The project was my graduate thesis at Georgia Tech. It all started off as a transit line then after I graduated, it sort of took on the trail and linear park component and then of course it blossomed well beyond that," said Gravel.
His project is transforming the city's infrastructure; adding new parks, trails, housing, retail and transit. He took his own personal interest in railways and envisioned a revitalization of Atlanta's historic freight lines and the neighborhoods that surround them.
"I'm sort of a railroad nut and I like railroads. In undergrad at Tech I had been exploring a lot of the railroad corridors in town and knew that Atlanta has this look of railroads that was really unique," said Gravel adding, "They are mostly underutilized or abandoned and so it was sort of a perfect opportunity to re-purpose them for a different kind of infrastructure."
With the spark of an idea, Gravel and several of his co-workers decided to share it with local leaders, sending out maps and letters to the governor, mayor and city council. Former Council Member Cathy Woolard took note.
"It was just really easy to capture what his vision was and we kind of pledged on the spot to try to do everything we could to make it happen," said Woolard. With Woolard's support, the conversation went citywide.
"We just went to every meeting anybody wanted to hear about it. Every neighborhood, planning unit, every business group, church group, Rotary Club; anybody who wanted to hear about it we talked to," said Gravel.
With the support of private and public partnerships and local communities, Gravel's idea transformed into a grassroots movement. "People who live in neighborhoods all around the city are no working together to figure out how those pieces play, so far that's been tremendous," said Woolard.
The Atlanta BeltLine has grown into an all-encompassing project. Created by a Georgia Tech graduate student, transformed by Atlantans themselves.
Gravel is still very much involved: now working at Perkins + Will, one of the design teams on the project, shaping the way our city will look.
"I think it's going to start planting a lot of seeds and turning on a lot of light bulbs in other people's minds. To be a part of it is pretty exciting as a designer, as a planner in this field, there's just no better place to be," said Gravel.