In 1999, Georgia Institute of Technology graduate student Ryan Gravel completed his master's thesis, a plan for a 22-mile loop that would connect 45 historic Atlanta neighborhoods, promoting in each greater access to mass transit, public parks and recreational trails. For two years, Gravel's thesis sat on his shelf, but when colleagues prompted him to submit the proposal to city planning authorities, Gravel found an early ally in City Council President Cathy Woolard. With their joint work, Gravel and Woolard, later supported by former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, saw the proposal grow into the now multi-billion dollar BeltLine project.
Ambitious in its scope, the BeltLine project aims, within the next 25 years, to grow the local economy by $20 billion dollars, create some 30,000 jobs, reclaim 1,100 acres of brownfields, and develop more than 5,000 affordable housing units for working families.
Still in its early stages, the BeltLine project has already seen some successes. Last year, local media applauded the opening of the Historic Fourth Ward Park and Skate Park, and although it has generated some controversy, the BeltLine's public art initiative has also gained recognition.