Like the saying goes, everything old is new again. Urban regeneration – reviving blighted areas through investment in abandoned buildings – is back. Whether it is the High Line in New York City, the Navy Shipyard in Philadelphia, or Discovery Green in Houston, new opportunities for recreation, employment, and tax revenues have exploded across the Americas.
A defining urban regeneration project in the US is Georgia’s Atlanta BeltLine. Despite early setbacks and uncertainties due to litigation, funding struggles, and ultimately Covid-19, the BeltLine will be completed in 2030. The BeltLine will boast a 33-mile trail network across 2000 acres of new or restored green space, more than 33,000 affordable housing units, the creation of 50,000 permanent jobs, and up to $10bn in projected economic development investment, according to the project website.
Even though only 15 miles have been completed to date, the evidence of the role it has played in the revitalization of low-income and formerly industrial areas is impossible to ignore. By the end of 2020, the Atlanta BeltLine had helped attract more than $8.2bn in private development.
Ponce City Market, a mixed-use development in midtown Atlanta and adjacent to the BeltLine, is the former Sears catalog facility that dates back to 1926. After a revitalization that began in 2011, the market is now a delight of retail, residences, restaurants, and a rooftop playground and arcade packed with singles, couples, and families year-round.
Unfortunately, urban regeneration often leads to gentrification. The historic neighborhoods of the Old Fourth Ward (home to Ponce City Market), Reynoldstown, and Sweet Auburn (Martin Luther King Jr’s stomping grounds) have seen dramatic rises in property values and rents, forcing many of the poorer and largely minority populations out of the only communities they have ever known. Atlanta officials are attempting to prevent gentrification in future BeltLine areas, but the issue is a challenging one for city planners wherever investment and economic activity flow.
While urban regeneration often has the best intentions, city officials and urban planners must work together to face the challenging reality of gentrification and work to keep families from being displaced during the process. Bringing in residents early to the plan and offering affordable housing are ways to work toward alleviating the issues and working toward a more prosperous future for all.
Didi Caldwell is the president and founding principal of Global Location Strategies, a global site selection consultancy, and also a member of the Site Selectors Guild.
This article first appeared in the August/September issue of fDi Intelligence