Could Public Space “Stitch” Atlanta Back Together?

A ULI Advisory Panel Investigates How to Reconnect Downtown and Midtown

November 4, 2019

Urban Design Director, NBBJ

Like many cities across the United States, Atlanta is bisected by a highway that separates thriving neighborhoods, depresses surrounding land values, and diminishes residents’ experience of the city. Currently a solution being studied by Central Atlanta Progress and other agencies is “The Stitch,” a ¾-mile long “lid” over the Interstate 75/85 Downtown Connector currently bisecting Atlanta’s Downtown. This “stitch” would both create open space in the heart of the city and provide new development opportunities. Most importantly, it would catalyze socio-economic cohesion — “stitching” — between disparate areas of the city.

The Urban Land Institute recently convened an advisory panel to review the Stitch that included two economic development experts, a planning commissioner, a landscape architect and one other architect/urban designer in addition to myself. The agenda for the five-day panel was intensive: an in-depth briefing day including a site tour, meetings with sponsors, a day of hour-long interviews of some 70 key community representatives, then two days of formulating recommendations.

On the final day of the panel we made an oral presentation of our recommendations to the sponsor:

Scale the Stitch: As proposed, the Stitch is highly ambitious in its physical scope. After conducting an analysis of the economics, land-use context, history, national precedents and financial feasibility, we concluded that a project of the scale initially proposed was neither necessary nor financially feasible to achieve a transformative impact and the highest benefits for the greatest amount of people in Downtown Atlanta. We recommended halving the extent of the highway cover while improving the existing highway bridges nearby.

Honor Your Story: We encouraged local partners to use the opportunity of the Stitch to celebrate the history of Downtown Atlanta.

Align Implementation Actions: At present, the Stitch remains an exercise in visioning. In order to move the project forward, it will be imperative to align efforts relating to governance, funding and development.

Formalize Partnerships for Implementation: We suggested the creation of partnerships with key agencies that address housing, homelessness, wellness and transportation.

We hope the recommendations can provide lessons for Atlanta and other cities who are seeking to mitigate infrastructural severances and knit key pieces of their urban fabric back together. Read the full report here.

Banner image courtesy Joey Kyber/Unsplash.

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