Emory Report
February 12, 2007
Volume 59, Number 19

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February 12, 2007
Urban design, transit among issues tackled at Clifton project meeting

BY Matt bolch

Markers and transparent overlays in hand, several dozen Emory staffers, students, area workers and local residents got the chance last month to share their visions for key street level improvements in the Clifton community.

Day one of the Clifton Community Partnership urban design guideline charrette, held Jan. 26–27 at Druid Hills High School, was filled with big-picture presentations by metro Atlanta experts in market trends, parks and green infrastructure, transit and urban design. Goody Clancy, the principal planner on the project, along with representatives of the Urban Land Institute, MARTA and the city of Atlanta, helped educate community members on the challenges the metro area and the Clifton community faces, while also pointing out opportunities as it manages the predicted growth.

Any tenable transportation plan has short-term and long-range solutions, said Paul Grether, MARTA liaison to the Transit Planning Board, which is developing a new regional transportation funding plan. On the transportation front, Emory already is doing many of the suggested short-term solutions, including expanded Cliff shuttle service and tighter parking policies that encourage workers and students to use public transportation, Grether said.

The longest-range goals can be the most difficult to achieve, especially for areas not near a MARTA rail station. “The trick is to find technology and alignment that can provide capacity,” Grether said.

Dee Merriam, parks, open space and greenways planner at the City of Atlanta Planning Bureau, said community spaces should be inviting, vital and accessible. An inviting space allows unstructured uses and has a sense of ownership among those who use the space. The concept of vitality is expressed by visible spaces with areas for people to congregate amid shops and restaurants. Accessibility is obtained by integration into local land-use patterns and connecting any development by trails and bike paths.

“It’s not a short-term vision,” Merriam said of creating effective community spaces. “It takes time, and you have to stick to the plan.”

While any hard-and-fast decisions on what the area in and around the Emory campus might look like in 20 years remains distant, the workshop ushered in what Emory officials hope is a new spirit of cooperation among the University, other major local employers such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local residents to tackle urban design and traffic issues in tandem. After synthesizing insights from the event, the Clifton Community Partnership’s urban design team will offer a preliminary vision at another interactive public event in March.

The second day of the workshop was devoted to hearing ideas and opinions from residents and workers who live in the area. Those in attendance stayed in three groups during much of the day, crafting their own ideas and bringing the best back to the larger gathering.

Although the range of ideas was quite diverse, several common themes emerged from the group work. Consensus was reached on the desire to preserve the tree canopy as much as possible, emulating Emory’s “no-net-loss tree canopy” policy, and to protect existing green spaces. Pedestrian access was a strong theme. People want to better connect campus with shopping centers, important destinations such as the Veteran’s Administration Medical Center on Clairmont Road and various neighborhoods throughout the area. Those connections, participants indicated, should include not only the adjacent Emory Village, but farther destinations such as the Toco Hills and Sage Hill shopping centers as well as the strip malls at North Decatur and Clairmont roads.

According to participants, the Emory campus should increase its prominence as a community focal point, making more of its amenities easily accessible to the general public without the need for a car. And where new development might be located, participants expressed a desire for dense, transportation-friendly areas with multiple access points, mixed-income housing and diverse retail options that are open evenings and weekends. Residents also want a community review process for new development, “because details matter,” as one group put it.

David Dixon of Goody Clancy said that community input is important throughout any development or redevelopment process. “As projects change, which occurs as blueprints give way to backhoes, open communication will help the community understand the inevitable trade-offs that occur,” he said.