The Atlanta Connector will remain the City’s most significant and visible infrastructural corridor for the foreseeable future, so any transformation has to embrace the Connector as an integral part of the City of Atlanta. This project aims–not to make the Connector disappear–but to use the Connector as a transformative piece of the City’s open space network. Join the discussion on our Facebook page.
This transformation strategy will use a melding of art, landscape, engineering and urban design to create layers of interest to the fabric of the Connector, affecting how the city is perceived and ultimately how it functions. Further, the transformation of the Atlanta Connector will recalibrate the national conversation on the role of infrastructure in our cities and towns, putting Atlanta on the forefront of urban design issues centered on redefining infrastructure as public space
Over the last decade and a half Downtown and Midtown Atlanta have become models for urban redevelopment. Thousands of new housing units; millions of square feet in new office space; expansion of educational and cultural facilities; and over $50 million in transportation improvements, public safety initiatives, and environmental enhancements have reshaped Atlanta’s urban core into a vibrant, walkable, cosmopolitan center. The condition of the Connector stands in stark contrast to our improved urban centers. The project involved visioning for the 5-mile stretch of highway from the I-75/I-85 merge on the north end of Midtown Atlanta to the I-20 interchange near Turner Field south of Downtown Atlanta. This vast expanse of pavement carries 300,000 vehicles per day, and is marked by aging infrastructure, concrete retaining walls, and limited landscaping and maintenance.
In its current state, the Connector creates a decidedly negative environment for the City of Atlanta, damaging both the visitor’s opinion of the City and its urban fabric. This in turn affects connectivity, transit ridership, tourism, and ultimately tax revenues and jobs in the urban core. As the Connector was built and rebuilt over the last 60 years it has slowly taken on a character that is divorced from the aspirations of the City of Atlanta. The well tended streetscapes, parks, and urban fabric of Downtown and Midtown Atlanta is absent from the visual fabric of the Connector. The academic institutions that line the Connector (Georgia Tech, Georgia State, Emory, and SCAD) have turned their backs on what could be Atlanta’s front door. A “DMZ” like zone of parking garages, vacant lands, and service drives has sprung up between the Connector and the City that it was intended to service.
This transformation strategy will use a melding of art, landscape, engineering and urban design to create layers of interest to the fabric of the Connector, affecting how the city is perceived and ultimately how it functions. Further, the transformation of the Atlanta Connector will recalibrate the national conversation on the role of infrastructure in our cities and towns, putting Atlanta on the forefront of urban design issues centered on redefining infrastructure as public space.
The vision advocated in this document is that of freeway moving through a green and lush landscape punctuated by art and urban incursions into the fabric of the freeway corridor. The Connector is embraced and cared for as an integral part of Atlanta’s open space system and people move freely along and across it. Dramatic gateways crafted from the landscape announce arrival into the City and serve as a marker of a special place along a travelers journey. Lighting is used to extend the effects of the transformation creating a shift in attitude from day to night. The complete composition becomes a stately museum space full of wonder and opportunity, serving as a showcase of Atlanta’s unique place in the world.
The core strategies that will be employed along the length of the Connector involve greening, light, art, and ultimately, urban design interventions across and along the Connector. These strategies are used to modulate and recalibrate the existing infrastructural surfaces of the freeway in a manner that adds depth and meaning to Connector experience, and by default, the visual (and ultimately physical) experience of the City.
Greening strategies form the foundation of the transformation. The permeable spaces along the Connector’s margins and within its immense interchanges will hold a vibrant, robust and legible urban forest canopy. Urban forests will be crafted to create gateways at the north and south entries into Atlanta’s urban core. These forests will follow threads of unused open space into the heart of the City, enhancing views, hiding vacant properties, and forming a medium through which the City is viewed. Where space or safety considerations limit the inclusion of forests, vertical greening strategies will be employed to continue the thematic greening of the Connector and the City. While these greening strategies will have nascent effect on regional sustainability and clean air initiatives, they are not seen as offsetting the intensely negative effects of the 300,000 vehicles per day that use the Connector. At best they will be a window into the regional appreciation of sustainable design practices and a point of departure for reducing and discussing the effect of heat island, storm water, and air quality on the City.
Inserted into the verdant green fabric of the Connector are art and light elements purposely crafted to interact with, and activate the surfaces of the Connector. The art of the Connector will transcend traditional labels with all elements, greening, lighting and art, working together to create the Museum of Freeway Art (MOFA) – a first-order art tourism destination whose mission is to transform the Atlanta Connector, and the national appreciation of art and freeway. The museum is created by co-opting the complex spatial character of the Connector as a museum space crafted with both the high-speed traveler and the neighborhood viewer in mind. Retaining walls, bridges, tunnels, and the furnishings of the Connector becomes a framework of museum walls and spaces. Super graphic murals, lighting effects, slow motion video, and sculpture will be used to highlight the natural and cultural history of Atlanta. Like its sister museums and cultural foundations in Atlanta, MOFA will have a permanent collection, rotating collections, membership, a board of directors, a national level curator, and a museum shop. By refocusing the conversation about the Connector from that of freeway to a museum space, a much richer, intensive and transformative design solution can be achieved.
Over time, new urban spaces will be created above and along the Connector that seek to take advantage of the Connector. Urban parks, promenades, trails, pedestrian bridges, and development projects are envisioned as a series of urban insertions that ripple through the City fabric as new connections are made and old ones are reinvigorated.
As the Connector is transformed from negative to positive, the public realm, private properties, and institutions along its margins will realize the positive attributes of the new culture growing within this new found public space. The end result of the transformed Connector will be an Atlanta that is outwardly welcoming to freeway users; the City will see increased walk-ability, access to transit, and stronger neighborhoods; visitors will learn something new about the City, its aspirations, and its place in the world. The economic incentives behind the project include increased tax base as properties along the Connector are repurposed or developed as vibrant mixed use districts, which in turn promotes urban living and an influx of creative class residents from around the greater Atlanta region.
During a six-month period between May and October 2011, Midtown Alliance and CAP/ADID oversaw a planning process utilizing local planning professionals and a nationally renowned landscape architecture and urban design firm. The planning process benefitted from valuable monthly input from two advisory groups and from a series of public involvement events and opportunities. A Leadership Team of high-level decision makers worked in tandem with a Creative Team of local design professionals to provide strategic advice on design and implementation. Additionally, outreach efforts included numerous interviews with key stakeholders, a public workshop, social media outreach, and an online survey. The consultant’s scope of work involved attending monthly meetings with the leadership team, creative team, stakeholders, and the general public. Ideas and design concepts were generated and vetted with these groups over the 6 month design process. Consensus building among the myriad stakeholders was at the heart of the project so that the goal of an implementable series of projects could be documented.
The final document produced for this project included detailed inventory and analysis of the Connector, and adjacent properties. The design work and recommendations were built upon this data and informed by the public and stakeholder involvement process. In addition to the grand vision outlined in the plan, the consultant also created detailed design guidelines and cost estimates aimed at early win projects that could be quickly funded and implemented. Early implementation is underway with local philanthropic organizations joining forces to fund projects.