Leaders of the organizations building the Atlanta BeltLine park, trail and transit system have issued statements blasting “systemic racism and inequities” in the wake of protests over the death of George Floyd. The statements in part address criticism of the BeltLine’s own role in displacing minority communities, saying it must not become part of “infrastructural racism.”

The June 3 statements came from Clyde Higgs, CEO of Atlanta BeltLine Inc., and Rob Brawner, executive director of the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership. ABI is the group building and operating the BeltLine, while ABP is its fundraising arm that carries out such community missions as creating affordable housing.

The BeltLine is planned as a loop around central Atlanta, largely using old rail lines, and intended as a way to unify the city and boost economic opportunity. Several sections have been built, including around Atlanta Memorial Park, with another section in Buckhead recently entering the design stage. But the project has seen gentrification controversies in recent years. A failure to meet affordable housing goals in 2017 led to the departure of ABI’s previous CEO and caused Ryan Gravel, the urban planner who conceived the project, to resign from ABP’s board.

Higgs’ statement said ABI is “heartbroken over the senseless deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others.”

Clyde Higgs, CEO of Atlanta BeltLine Inc.

“While we are disheartened by the violence and devastation that we have witnessed in recent days, we understand the pain and frustration behind the protests,” Higgs wrote. “The outcries are not only a painful reminder of the generations of systemic racism, they are a call to action.

“We stand with advocates who are calling for an end to structural inequities and the creation of more equitable conditions in our communities. The BeltLine was envisioned as a beacon of light, a catalyst for hope, and a bridge between communities where barriers once stood,” he continued.

He said ABI will do better to listen to community needs.

“We will be intentional, work to build trust, and operate with empathy and concern for residents and businesses along the BeltLine who have felt isolated and marginalized,” Higgs wrote. “Our only option is to come together as one, respect each other, and reimagine a new reality where all lives are valued, and everyone thrives. Our future and our city depend on us coming together as One Atlanta.”

Brawner wrote that ABP is “deeply saddened by the murders of innocent black men and women and the systemic racism their deaths represent.”

Rob Brawner, executive director of the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership.

“As a white man, I know I will never experience the daily discrimination black Americans face,” Brawner wrote. “I have not been subjected to generational oppression. I could too easily fall back into being the ‘white moderate’ Dr. King warned of in his ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail­’ — the stumbling block preferring the absence of tension to the presence of justice. And that is not enough — not for me, not for my family, and not for any other white person.”

The BeltLine project, he wrote, will “focus on people.”

“Otherwise, our collective investments will simply perpetuate an ‘infrastructural racism’ where world class amenities are enjoyed by the privileged while communities of color are displaced,” he wrote. “We need to be better than that. We need to love our neighbors better than that.”

To read the full statements, see the BeltLine website here.

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John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.