By Han Vance

It was a bright and sunny early spring day at the Atlanta Botanical Garden in Piedmont Park, the site of the 11th Annual Parks and Greenspace Conference. This big event of the year for Park Pride, an organization which represents all of Atlanta’s parks, was lead sponsored by Cox Conserves and had a sub-theme of transportation.

The melding of parks with transit is hot on the minds of many Atlantans these days, with the Atlanta BeltLine currently under construction and our first-ever major regional comprehensive transportation referendum (T-SPLOST) up for vote on July 31. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed launched the event with a video address from China which emphasized his support of parks and encouraged all to vote on the referendum. Then the informative panels and breakout sessions began.

Touring the northern section of the Eastside Trail with Atlanta BeltLine (pictured) representatives gave insight to the dimension and scope of the massive urban revitalization and transformation project, while doing nothing to quell the inevitable anxiety surrounding the actual completion of such a monumental undertaking. So much of the heavy work is below ground level, and much remains far from finished.

Seeing the rapid progress New York City made in building two of the three phases of the somewhat similar High Line, via a discussion by sharp COO Melissa Fisher, further demonstrated the perception versus reality of scale conundrum. Many Manhattans could physically be placed inside one single Atlanta perimeter, and the BeltLine is a full 22-mile loop, while the High Line is less than two miles in its totality. The stretch I walked of the BeltLine was bigger than the whole High Line.

Mike Lydon of The Street Plans Collaborative exposed what a real livable street can be and can mean to a community, with several sessions on his works in Miami and in Brooklyn. Small-scale tactics such as temporarily converting parking spaces into micro-parks in front of cooperative businesses illustrated the importance of grass roots support and invention in a rebounding and re-envisioned America.

The high point of the event was the closing panel, moderated by Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. President and CEO Brian Leary (Leary is profiled in the April “Green Issue” of Atlanta INtown). Mr. Leary shepherded an illuminating discussion by Mr. Lydon, Ms. Fisher and Ryan Gravel. Mr. Gravel is currently a senior associate with Perkins + Will, famous for first conceiving the Atlanta BeltLine. His experience studying abroad in Paris most influential in shaping his vision for what a great city can be.