On the Atlanta BeltLine residents and tourists alike walk, jog, bike and push strollers past grassy parks, street art, and posh restaurants recently constructed along a corridor of disused rail lines that encircle the city. One of the largest ongoing public/private urban redevelopment projects in the United States, the BeltLine is designed to connect forty-five neighborhoods with twenty-two miles of multi-use trails and, by 2030, a public transit system. The completed portions of the project, the Eastside and Westside trails, serve as an indication of the project’s potential as a respite from the city’s notorious traffic problems, a canvas for creative activities, and an engine for longer-term development. However, these changes are having other effects as well.
Residents in low-income neighborhoods cut through by the BeltLine fear the impacts of gentrification, including the fragmentation of historic communities and perhaps even their own displacement. Recent reports (from both academics and grassroots organizations) show that the allure of the BeltLine is contributing to increased property values and rental prices, pushing existing residents out of their homes and reshaping the demographics of a city long seen as a Black Mecca. As these concerns weigh upon residents, city hall, and the BeltLine leadership itself, many are turning to civic data: evidence of changes in the city with the potential to shape public discussions about the common good. But data only offer a partial view.
Within this context, the Atlanta Map Room sets out to create a space where we might document and reflect upon the connections and disjunctions between civic data and lived experiences along the BeltLine, through the collaborative creation of large-scale, interpretive maps. Inspired by the St. Louis Map Room, but reconfigured for a wide format view (4 feet x 16 feet), the Atlanta Map Room is a long-term research project focused on rethinking what it means to stage a conversation around civic data. How can the seemingly mundane details of property tax assessments, building permits, and community surveys become the source materials for acts of collaborative creative expression?
Over the course of the next few years, our team will be collaborating with the creators of the original Map Room, as well as students at Georgia Tech, and communities across Atlanta to explore invisible tensions in the city, between its rapid development as a commercial hub and its long history as a center for civil rights and culture in the Southeast. In the future, we hope to convene discussions about other fast changing corridors and edges in the region (appropriate for our linear mapping system), such as Buford Highway, the proposed extensions to the MARTA transit system, and even the Georgia coastline.
The Atlanta Map Room was first constructed during the summer of 2018, by four students working under the supervision of Yanni Loukissas, assistant professor of digital media at Georgia Tech. Christopher Polack is a recent graduate of Georgia Tech who received his bachelor of science in computer science in 2018. Muniba Khan is a third year computer science and mathematics student at Rollins College. Annabel Rothschild is a rising junior and computer science major at Wellesley College. Meghan Kulkarni is a senior at Chattahoochee High School in Johns Creek, Georgia. Furthermore, Jer Thorp and the St. Louis Map Room team lent crucial advice and encouragement to the project. In the fall of 2018, new students and collaborators are coming on-board. If you would like to learn more about the Atlanta Map Room please reach out and discover how you can get involved.