Making space for multiple meanings of place: Place-making and identity formation within the Atlanta BeltLine’s subarea neighborhoods

Authors: Jessica Martinez*,
Topics: Urban Geography, Environment, Ethnicity and Race
Keywords: Political Ecology, Race and Identity, Urban Sustainability, Rights to the City
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Palladian, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Although the Beltline’s Eastside Trail, built in 2012, and the Westside Trail, completed in 2017, contribute to the Beltline loop, their built environments and usage patterns are different, reflecting their contrasting histories of marginalization, racial segregation, sociodemographic changes, and development patterns. The Atlanta Beltline is a circular greenway system of interconnected parks and trails that adaptably reuses rail lines surrounding the city. The Beltline, according to one of its principal designers, would create a “new public meeting ground” by connecting forty-four neighborhoods with the same rails that once served as racialized barriers. A primary goal is to utilize the Beltline as a transformative force to create an equitable and unified city, which is evident in the Beltline’s promotional slogan, Where Atlanta Comes Together. Normalized forces of exclusion reproduce social inequality in planning under the illusion of equality. However, the Beltline guards itself against contestation with terms that invoke positive meanings, such as community engagement or equitable development, allowing the continuation of exclusive forces and further facilitating subjugation. This paper discusses the Beltline’s limitations to motivate necessary advocacy for challenging its built environment’s normative exclusion and reveal its relationship to the formation and articulation of “local” identity. Participant observations, interviews with residents and neighborhood association leaders, and document analyses of Beltline promotional/ informational materials suggest that despite its intention to reconcile historical racial tensions, conceptualizations of public urban space and its built environment advance processes of exclusion in salient ways due to lingering racialized elements within urban green space development.

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