Reclaiming Infrastructure for A New Generation of Cities
By: Ryan Gravel
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: 3/15/2016
My Rating: 5 Stars
After decades of sprawl, many American city and suburban residents struggle with issues related to traffic (and its accompanying challenges for our health and productivity), divided neighborhoods, and a non-walkable life. Urban designer Ryan Gravel makes a case for how we can change this.
Cities have the capacity to create a healthier, more satisfying way of life by remodeling and augmenting their infrastructure in ways that connect neighborhoods and communities. Gravel came up with a way to do just that in his hometown with the Atlanta Beltline project. It connects 40 diverse Atlanta neighborhoods to city schools, shopping districts, and public parks, and has already seen a huge payoff in real estate development and local business revenue.
Similar projects are in the works around the country, from the Los Angeles River Revitalization and the Buffalo Bayou in Houston to the Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis and the Underline in Miami. In Where We Want to Live, Gravel presents an exciting blueprint for revitalizing cities to make them places where we truly want to live.
A special thank you to St. Martin's Press and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Urban Atlanta designer, Ryan Gravel delivers a challenge to Americans WHERE WE WANT TO LIVE, Reclaiming Infrastructure for a New Generation of Cities ---his extraordinary vision to create a healthier and more satisfying way of life, by connecting neighborhoods and communities. We all have to embrace the change, work together and do our part—we can make a difference.
Get out of your car! Jog, Walk, Cycle. It will change your life. As Americans, we are disgusted at the metropolis sprawled before us, with communities moving further out in order to find affordable housing. Therefore, creating even more madness on the overcrowded highways. People are relying more and more on the automobiles to get around. By taking action through businesses, governments, nonprofits, citizen campaigns, grassroots leaders and developers working together—will help create a more sustainable healthy, and equitable way of life for everyone. WHERE YOU WANT TO LIVE will empower you and inspire to join the plan for changing decades of thinking, the old school way--an environment organized primarily around cars instead of people. We cannot sit back and expect someone else to shape the world on our behalf. Take action in the face of dramatic regional and cultural change, and build communities that we actually want to live in. To start the process, we all have to define what we want and start working together. From traffic, pollution, and sprawl—mistakes of the past. Think resilient, connected, mobile, healthy, sustainable, economically thriving, and diverse—talking points. Politics of change. Four positions: Start with small projects from political structure, stop the sprawl, redirect growth. Revitalizing urban neighborhoods and historic Downtown, and refashioning the vast commercial strips of outlying areas into vibrant transit-centered corridors. A means to start a conversation, take action, and help shape a new and better direction. Experimenting with new ideas, cultivating a political structure for change, stopping sprawl, and shift to more sustainable growth strategies, we can build a better future for everyone. Gravel's vision for Atlanta has moved into a wide-ranging urban regeneration projects being expanded across the country. It takes ordinary people like all of us and the force of a shared momentum. Everyone has to share in the role for infrastructure, and can help shape and advance this cycle of change. Similar projects are in the works, from the Los Angeles River Revitalization and the Buffalo Bayou in Houston to the Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis and the Underline in Miami. In Where We Want to Live, Gravel presents an exciting blueprint for revitalizing cities to make them places where we truly want to live. If you have listened to the author’s videos or heard him speak previously, his creative vision came from Paris in 1995. He addresses the beginning, how it took shape and his journey in his insightful book. His interest was to figure out how he could work within the complexities to improve cities like his own hometown of Atlanta. The Beltline was conceived as his graduate thesis. A way to reinvigorate Atlanta’s in-town communities with new development and improved transit mobility. A need for urban regeneration. Changing the way people think. The process. Discovering a new kind of infrastructure for our lives. From our ancestors, our history, the rail service, land growth, a growing nation, and the twentieth century. Explosive growth. Urban examination. Suburban growth, traffic congestion, and the ecological consequences of unmitigated sprawl…real change in the way we build our city requires a significant shift in the attitude of a region that has for too long prioritized the automobile as the primary tool for urban expansion. People are fed up with traffic and sprawl, and rediscovering a new and improved way to live work and play. An intimate relationship between infrastructure and our way of life. Gravel’s plan connects 40 diverse Atlanta neighborhoods (awesome) to city schools, shopping districts, and public parks, and has already seen a huge payoff in real estate development and local business revenue. I found the history fascinating and enjoyed catching up with familiar places, and seeing all the work which has been completed thus far. Before I left Atlanta, Ryan was already active with the project- was so excited with the upcoming plans to connect Atlanta. Nicely done!
On a personal note: Having lived in Atlanta (Midtown, Buckhead, Vinings) from 1994-2006, before relocating to South Florida, I felt a part of the movement in a big way--A member of ULI (Urban Land Institute, NAIOP, in the media business-- Associate Publisher Atlanta's Black's Guide, Atlanta's B to B Magazine, Publisher of Primedia's Atlanta New Home Data Book, an Atlanta based commercial real estate company, and economic development for N Fulton Chamber of Commerce. The traffic was always a nightmare (especially I-285); a great need for connectivity--and I lived and worked inside the perimeter. Was excited when they started converting the railroad to cycling trails, which I rode every weekend (and more when I could slip in) 100 mile round trip - an avid cycler - a nice trail from Georgia to Alabama. I chose to move to South Florida in 2006, where I still reside-- a city gal in urban downtown West Palm Beach along the waterfront. I live in an area with a walking score of 94 of 100, (which is a walking paradise) ....with easy access to CityPlace and Clematis (two major entertainment centers). When you live downtown, there is not ample parking, so you park your car (pay) for monthly parking blocks away. This encourages you to walk or cycle. I tested this and found I was only driving my car a few times a month. Last week I sold my SUV. The first time being without a car since the age of sixteen. It is liberating. I work from my home office and walk everywhere. There is no need to drive. I joined a car share program in the event I need a car (you can rent by the day or the hour). I cycle a few times a week, plus we also have trolleys, TriRail, SkyBike, plus we are excited about the All Aboard Florida (passenger train travel, connecting Orlando, West Palm Beach, and Miami), to be completed next year (within walking distance). I am looking forward to the new freedom without parking fees, car maintenance, fuel, and car insurance, plus useless time on the road and staying fit. A baby boomer (along with a big part of the population), approaching retirement with less income, this group is looking for more affordable housing and walkable cities. The waiting lists are up to five years long in most Florida downtown cities, or they are so long, they are closed and not accepting new applications. Active seniors want to move south for warmer year round climate. There is a great need for urban low income housing and independent senior living, locations in walkable cities—in addition to the younger generations. They all have to work together, as Ryan mentions in his plans. Better design, more biking paths, trees and curb appeal. People want to feel safe when walking. The obvious answer is that cities need to provide the sort of environment that these people want. Live, work, and play. Especially millennials, vastly favor communities with street life, the pedestrian culture that can only come from walkability. Other reading: The economist Christopher Leinberger compares the experience of today’s young professionals with the previous generation. He notes that most 50-year-olds grew up watching The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, and Happy Days, shows that idealized the late-mid-20th-century suburban standard of low-slung houses on leafy lots, surrounded by more of the same. The millennials in contrast, grew up watching Seinfeld, Friends, and, eventually, Sex and the City. They matured in a mass culture—of which TV was only one part—that has predisposed them to look favorably upon cities, indeed, to aspire to live in them. This group represent the biggest population bubble in fifty years. They choose to live in urban areas and only then do they look for a job. Meanwhile, the generation raised on Friends is not the only major cohort looking for new places to live. There’s a larger one: the millennials’ parents, the front-end boomers. They are citizens that every city wants—significant personal savings, no schoolkids. Empty nesters want walkability: The surburban houses are too large, with empty rooms to be heated, cooled and cleaned, with unused yard maintenance. Suburban houses can be socially isolating, especially as aging eyes and slower reflexes make driving everywhere less comfortable. Whether you want Urban Downtown living or the suburbs, we all want to create a healthier and more satisfying way of life, by connecting neighborhoods and communities.
About the Author
Ryan Gravel, AICP, LEED AP, is an urban planner, designer, and author working on site design, infrastructure, concept development, and public policy as the founding principal at Sixpitch. His master’s thesis in 1999 was the original vision for the Atlanta Beltline, a 22-mile transit greenway that is changing both the physical form of his city and the decisions people make about living there. Now a $4 billion public-private project in the early stages of implementation, its health and economic benefits are already evident through record-breaking use of its first section of mainline trail and $2.4 billion of private sector redevelopment since 2005.
Ryan has received numerous awards and press related to his work on the Atlanta Beltline and tells his story internationally, but an essential aspect of his work is yet to come. Alongside project work at Sixpitch and research on similar “catalyst infrastructure” projects around the world, he makes a compelling case about what this movement means and why it matters. In his forthcoming book, “Where We Want to Live,” to be published by Palgrave in March, 2016, he investigates the cultural side of infrastructure, describing how its intimate relationship with our way of life can illuminate a brighter path forward for cities.
Ryan’s story has made ink in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Monocle, CityLab, CNN International, USA Today, and Esquire Magazine. He has been listed among the 100 Most Influential Georgians by Georgia Trend Magazine, 2014; the GOOD 100 by GOOD Magazine, 2013; “Visionary Bureaucrat” by Streetsblog, 2012; and “Top 25 Newsmakers” of 2011 by Engineering News-Record.
He received an “Emerging Voices” citation from the AIA-Atlanta, 2011; Jenny D. Thurston Memorial Award from the Atlanta Urban Design Commission, 2007; and was called one of “45 Atlantans We Love” by Atlanta Magazine, 2006; one of “40-under-40″ from the Atlanta Business Chronicle, 2006; and on of the “Best & Brightest” by Esquire Magazine, 2006. Other honors include a Special Award of Recognition from AIA-Atlanta, 2005; and Golden Shoe Award for pedestrian-friendly research from PEDS, 2003.
Ryan serves on boards for the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership Board, Art Papers, and the MillionMile Greenway.
He serves on the Urban Land Institute Atlanta’s Liveable Community Council and the Lifecycle Building Center’s Advisory Board. Read More