Community Connectedness in the 21st Century

Written by Stephanie Norton on CADdetails

Throughout history, the traditional definition of community is a geographically circumscribed entity.  Today, social networking sites like Facebook, Myspace and Twitter have become a new sort of community, virtually connecting people and ideas, and perhaps even having a positive effect toward revitalizing our ‘brick and mortar’ cities and public spaces.  People are moving into downtowns, driving less, walking more, living in smaller homes they can actually afford, choosing local businesses and slower food, prioritizing health, going green and valuing community and social networking like never before.

This article examines how the internet generation and their experiences are already helping to shape the vibrant, interconnected cities of the future.

BeltLine, Atlanta, Georgia

 The Atlanta BeltLine is a $2.8 billion redevelopment project that will shape the way Atlanta grows throughout the next several decades. The project provides a network of public parks, multi-use trails and transit along a historic 22-mile railroad corridor circling downtown and connecting 45 diverse neighborhoods directly to each other. According, it is the most comprehensive economic development effort ever undertaken in the City of Atlanta, and among the largest, most wide-ranging urban redevelopment projects currently underway in the United States.

The ambitious project will increase Atlanta’s green space by nearly 40%, adding nearly 1,300 acres of parks and green space over the next 25 years. In addition, it is expected to generate more than $20 billion of new economic development and approximately 30,000 new jobs.

At the heart of the Atlanta BeltLine is an integrated approach to land use, transportation, green space and sustainable development that will create a framework for future growth. During the past 20 years, metro Atlanta’s growth has occurred in widely spread and disconnected pockets of development which have strained the region’s quality of life and economic growth. By attracting and organizing some of the region’s future growth around parks, transit, and trails, the BeltLine will help change the pattern of regional sprawl in the coming decades and lead to a vibrant, interconnected and livable Atlanta with an enhanced quality of life.

Woodall Rogers Park, Dallas, Texas

Recreation atop a freeway? It might sound like an oxymoron, but the partially completed 5.2-acre Woodall Rogers Park (“The Park”), pictured at right, represents the culmination of one of the most innovative urban park planning projects in history. Scheduled to open in 2012, The Park will cover the below-grade Woodall Rogers Freeway to offer Dallas residents three blocks of urban green space. It will provide connectivity to the city’s flourishing Arts District (currently bisected by the freeway) and serve as a central gathering space for Dallas residents and its visitors.

Plans include a performance pavilion, restaurant, walking trails, dog park, children’s discovery garden and playground, water features, an area for games and much more. The Park will create a front lawn for the surrounding cultural offerings including the Dallas Center for Performing Arts, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Morton Meyerson Symphony Hall, the Nasher Sculpture Center, the Trammell & Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art, Booker T. Washington High School for the Visual and Performing Arts and the future Museum of Nature and Science.

Connectivity is central to The Park’s purpose. The Park will promote increased pedestrian, trolley and bicycle use between Uptown, Downtown and the Arts District, contributing to a more connected city center and bringing new traditions, shared experiences and fun to the center of Dallas.

New York’s High Line

The High Line, a 1.45 mile-long elevated steel structure, was originally constructed in the 1930s, to lift dangerous freight trains off Manhattan’s streets. Today, Section 1 of the High Line, below right, is open as an innovative and contemporary public park in the sky owned by the City of New York and operated under the jurisdiction of the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation.

Since its opening in June, 2009, the High Line has become a coveted space by both residents and visitors for its beauty and uniqueness. At 25 feet above ground, the High Line offers respite from the chaos of the city’s streets and unparalleled park space with stunning views of the Hudson and Manhattan. Over the last two years, architects have been busy designing section two of the High Line, which is projected to open this spring from 20th to 30th street.

When all sections are complete, the High Line will connect the West Side neighbourhoods of the Meatpacking District, West Chelsea and Clinton/Hell’s Kitchen via an integrated landscape of meandering concrete pathways and rugged, naturalistic plantings inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew on the disused tracks. Fixed and movable seating, lighting, and special features are also included in the park.

Access points from street level will be located every two to three blocks. Many of these access points will include elevators, and all will include stairs. The recycling of the railway into an urban park has already spurred real estate development in the neighbourhoods which lie along the line.

Race Street Pier, Delaware River, Philadelphia

Construction is currently underway to transform a vacant, one-acre pier just south of Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Bridge into a vibrant public space complete with trees, a promenade, a lawn, and a terrace.  Set to debut on May 11th, 2011, Race Street Pier is an integral part of an ambitious series of open space improvements proposed for every half mile along the central Delaware Riverfront.

The physical design of the pier is split into two levels – an upper level with a grand sky promenade and a lower level for water related activities and passive recreation. A dramatic ramp rises along the north face alongside the Ben Franklin Bridge, dramatizing the sense of arriving in the space of the river. A lower terrace supports a lawn with generous seating and social spaces.

Park designers secured 37 mature trees left over from the World Trade Center building project, giving the park a mature look from the start. The pathways and railings are all lit with solar-powered LED lighting to give the pier a modern feel during the day and at night. The Race Street site will also see increased sidewalk widths, dedicated bike lanes, bollards, and curb realignments to direct the flow of pedestrian and cycle traffic. An interactive screen will be installed underneath and above the expressway to entice people toward the communal green space.

In addition to the Race Street Pier the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation (DRWC) will be working over the next two years to create more waterfront oasis’ at a number of major waterfront intersections from Allegheny Avenue in North Philly all the way to Oregon Avenue in the heart of South Philly.  Ultimately, each pier and green space will be a stop on an extensive pedestrian and bike trail for residents and visitors to enjoy.

Projects like the BeltLine, Woodall Rogers Park, High Line and the Race Street Pier have very real and regenerative effects on our cities. These projects rediscover clues to significant elements of our past, reinterpret their original design intents, and create particularly relevant environments for our future. They reconnect and transform; they place high value on the distinctiveness of place and people, and they look toward a future where cities are sustainable, inhabited, alive, and meaningful.

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