Most people who encounter a stretch of abandoned railroad property would pass it by without a second thought. Where most people saw discarded space, Ryan Gravel saw 22 miles of opportunity. Gravel proposed to turn this vacant expanse into a series of parks, trails, and public transportation projects for his architectural master’s thesis at Georgia Tech. His lofty plans are now quickly taking shape, as development of the Atlanta BeltLine moves forward. The BeltLine aims to create new green public spaces, connect disparate parts of town, and, on a larger note, change the way residents interact with their city.
“For a lot of reasons, this country is changing its cultural expectations for how we live—we’re modifying our American Dream,” Gravel says. “But until our politics catch up with the big policy changes required to implement that dream, many of us find ourselves focusing on smaller projects like greenways or waterfronts that simply make tangible improvements in our own communities.”
Gravel also works as an urban designer at Perkins+Will, and will redouble his research efforts this year in focusing on a particular strain of urban design intervention that reuses underutilized and obsolete infrastructure corridors like abandoned railroads, industrialized riverfronts, gridlocked freeways, and channelized waterways as renewed conduits of urban life.
He’s also very interested in the other similarly transformative projects taking shape right now, including New York’s 1.5-mile High Line to the 52-mile Los Angeles River Revitalization.
“But it’s not just on the coasts,” Gravel says. “In Houston, Chattanooga, and Salt Lake City, people across the country are reimagining their futures with new transit lines, greenways, waterways, parks, and public spaces that incentivize the development of vibrant communities —places where people might actually want to live.”
Gravel is also turning his quickly accruing experience with the renewal of obsolete infrastructure into a book, which he hopes to complete this year.
“The book has been coming together over the last few years, but 2013 is the big push to get it done,” Gravel says.
In the meantime, Gravel is asking the GOOD community to share similar catalyst infrastructure projects in their towns and find out the specific ways in which these projects will affect their lives.
So we ask you, in what ways can your community benefit from some good old-fashioned overhauling?
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