A Path Home

Walking with a Visionary

ByGene Kansas

FeaturingRyan Gravel

Atlanta BeltLine

Eastside Trail to Inman Park
10th Street and Monroe Drive NE
Atlanta, GA 30306

ASSIGNMENT: Buyer Representation

When Ryan Gravel authored his thesis about creating the BeltLine while studying urban planning at Georgia Tech, he did not dwell on obstacles. Instead, he concentrated on what was possible - the transformation of a city.

The BeltLine brings together 45 different neighborhoods in over a 22-mile loop. The connective impact of this cultural path is just one reason GK|CRE so strongly supports the cause. That, along with our personal admiration for Ryan, made us proud to help find the perfect commercial live/work property for him and his family. Ryan, of course, wanted to be on the BeltLine. The task was somewhat daunting because — let’s face it — no one knows the subject better than this particular client. In the end, we persevered and found a fantastic spot in Inman Park.

Below is a Q&A with BeltLine creator Ryan Gravel to discuss his journey and our collective destination.

Q: Let’s start with urban planning. Why is it important?

Ryan Gravel: Our world is constantly changing and the decisions we make in response to that change have dramatic implications for our way of life – for our health, well-being, and our economy. Think about how much our lives changed with automobiles and the highways that redefined our cities in the middle of the last century. We’re facing a similarly-dramatic transformation today and we need to be smart about how we prepare ourselves for it. The good news is that these changes will be mostly positive for cities. If we plan ahead and make smart decisions, we can leverage change to improve our health, happiness, and our economic competitiveness.

Q: The BeltLine could have been just another step on your career path, but instead you decided to make it your path home. Why?

Ryan Gravel: I’ve spent fifteen years working on the Atlanta BeltLine, partly because I’ve always understood its potential to catalyze walkable, transit-friendly communities – the kinds of places where I would want to live. Early projects like the Eastside Trail are already validating everything we always said the project would do – they’re making a whole new way of life possible in Atlanta. So when we needed to move, we knew we wanted to be close enough to use it every day, and we were open to unconventional spaces. It has turned out great. Our new spot on Krog Street has changed our lives in ways we really weren’t expecting. For example, riding my bike to work in Midtown is not only an option – it’s often the most pragmatic option. It’s cheaper and faster than driving, and I don’t have to go to the gym.

Q: What do your kids think about the BeltLine? And what do you hope their generation gains from it?

Ryan Gravel: One of the selling points to our kids for moving was that there would be five places within walking distance to buy ice-cream. I think they also understand intuitively the other benefits of the Atlanta BeltLine. They used to spend a lot of time each day shuttling around in our car. Now they have time to go to the park before dinner. Shopping, restaurants, and playgrounds no longer require buckling into a car. In just a few years they’ll be riding to Grady High School on their bikes or on the streetcar. It’s amazing to think that their worldview will be as defined by the Atlanta BeltLine as mine was by I-285 and Perimeter Mall back when it was surrounded by cows. Along with their entire generation, this perspective will fuel cultural, political, and physical changes that we can only imagine.

Q: You’ve encouraged Atlantans to “make it your own”. What do you mean by that?

Ryan Gravel: The reason we’re building the Atlanta BeltLine is because average citizens, neighborhood groups, and local nonprofits embraced its vision and made it their own. They offered energy and momentum and demanded that local officials and agencies take notice. They didn’t wait for permission. They authored the expansion of the original concept far beyond what any of us thought was possible. I think today there is still an enormous and urgent need for that kind of innovation and authorship – especially in the arts, green building practices, and in the creation of new businesses models for an innovation economy. We need new ideas to bust up our cultural expectations and make Atlanta more interesting and more competitive. We need people to step up to the plate.

Q: What’s your favorite project outside of the U.S.?

Ryan Gravel: I’m kind of obsessed with infrastructure and I’ve had some time at Perkins+Will to research a number of other projects that are similarly catalyzing change in their parts of the world. One of the most interesting projects to me is in Paris – the city that reshaped my worldview during a year abroad in college. Today, Paris is removing parts of the highways that once divorced the River Seine from the life of the city. The project is based on studies and traffic modeling, but there are no guarantees that it will work. I believe this kind of willingness to experiment and innovate at an urban scale is important for cities that want to compete on a global stage. Here in Atlanta we’ve been very comfortable with our roadway regime since the 1950s, but in case nobody has noticed, it’s not actually working so well anymore.

Q: You have a book coming out – can you offer a sneak peek inside?

Ryan Gravel: It’s a story about this relationship I have been describing between infrastructure and our way of life. Through a firsthand, narrative account, the book offers plenty of context and details about the Atlanta BeltLine that will be new to even the most-obsessed fans. But it puts our story in context of similar projects emerging around the country that together illustrate how innovative, community-driven ideas about obsolete infrastructure corridors are creating renewed conduits of urban life. Leveraging these stories as evidence of a larger cultural shift already underway, the book then turns its aim squarely at the future. It suggests that we forget the tired old arguments about traffic, pollution, blight, and sprawl, and like we did here with the Atlanta BeltLine, leverage those obsolete conditions as assets for the transformation of our communities into something far more interesting than anything we’ve seen so far.

Q: On the BeltLine’s 22 miles, what’s your favorite view of Atlanta?

Ryan Gravel: There are plenty of great views of the Downtown, Midtown, and Buckhead skylines, and of many more unique features along the way. But better than any particular viewpoint is the experience of the Atlanta BeltLine in motion. Whether you’re walking the abandoned tracks or the riding your bike along the completed sections of trail, the corridor provides remarkable access to our intown neighborhoods, and it includes great people-watching, fascinating history lessons, and unexpected connections that you just can’t get by car. The experience changes by the hour, and with every season, so it never gets old. I just took a night walk in the rain the other day and it was one of the most rejuvenating things I’ve done in a while. The Atlanta BeltLine creates a new public meeting ground and turns the railroads that defined our city’s past into a unique, signature organizing element for a healthier, more sustainable future. In this way, it also creates an experience that can only be found in Atlanta – I think that’s why we’re all so drawn to it.


Keywords | Ryan Gravel, BeltLine, Atlanta BeltLine, Inman Park, Buyer Representation
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