People PlacesBook Notes

"... when infrastructure is done well, it compels others--hundreds, possibly millions of people--to create a better life for themselves... While new infrastrucctures might also create beautiful landscapes or make convenient connections, their central purpose is to compel people to bring their city to life." p. 161.
After having lived in Paris, author Ryan Gravel decided that sprawl was not the kind of urban design and planning he would like to do. He focused on the very ordinary diversity that makes Paris interesting--"people and streets, businesses, homes, and schools.." (p. 50). As the creator of Atlanta's BeltLine, Gravel describes in this book his experiences growing up in Atlanta, education in urbanism, his deep love for the city of Atlanta, and how his 1999 Master's Thesis in City Planning and Architecture from the Georgia Institute of Technology inspired people to build the BeltLine--an ongoing project, formed in 2005, that today weaves together Atlanta's diverse neighborhoods, communities, and cultural features. The Atlanta Beltline is a network of parks, trails, and transit along a 35 km railroad corridor circling downtown Atlanta and connects 45 neighborhoods to transit (Atlanta BeltLine Overview).

Focusing on the cultural role of infrastructure (p. 79), Gravel acknowledges the precursors to the Atlanta Beltline (p. 99) and the complexities of its implementation (p. 87). However, he has high hopes, stating "I don't know what everyone else wants for the Atlanta BeltLine, but my personal hope is that it will redefine urban life in the twenty-first century South." (p. 134).

Gravel identifies some key points about infrastructure and urbanism:

  • The elements of urbanism are all around: "sidewalks, porches, fountains, and all the rest in a magnificent display of urbanity," (p. 14) and it is from these types of elements great urbanism can be made, as demonstrated by the squares of Savannah, Georgia (p. 17).
  • Sprawl in communities: 1) leads to sparse, segregated groups; 2) encourage car-dependence; 3) are static and nonadaptive to change; and 4) can "choke on their own success" (p. 59).

Gravel celebrates the "gras roots movement" (p. 99) and community support (p. 102) that made the Atlanta Beltline possible. He states: "Infrastructures of opportunity like the Atlanta Beltline give us hope that we can follow through on our dreams to build a new business, live without a car, or bike to the park after school" (p. 133-134). By placing his vision in the everyday, and ordinary elements of urbanism, Gravel shows how a strong and resilient community can form around infrastructure.

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