This proposal was first published on Dec. 12, 2014 after attending my 50th high school reunion in Newark, NJ and experiencing the Highline on a day trip into New York City.
New York Highline up the West Side
I loved the Highline’s ability to influence development along it like Atlanta’s Beltline does in the Olde Fourth Ward and applied this aim to the Ashford-Dunwoody Rd. corridor. The objective is to surround Perimeter Mall with a Highline-type linear park to spur infill construction in the six big commercial islands making up downtown Dunwoody.
At the turn of the 20th Century, the City of Atlanta raised the central business district on pillars to accommodate the noisy and smoky trains that entered and exited downtown. Underground Atlanta, for example, is really at ground level. The railroad gulch, 120 years later, is finally being filled in with the new Centennial Yards development.
Atlanta’s viaduct system raised downtown above the trains.
Until the Pandemic, the City of Dunwoody daily experienced high volume auto traffic that brought tens of thousands of commuting workers and even more consumers into the Perimeter district. Wide streets and vast parking lots accommodated the car traffic, but also limited municipal efforts to transform Perimeter into a vibrant pedestrian village with a walkable landscape.
Locations of major Perimeter area retail islands.
The Ashford / Perimeter Mall corridor has been built out with six giant commercial islands; Ravinia, Hammond power center, Perimeter Mall, Perimeter Center Place, Ashford Wal-Mart Center, and the Park Place restaurant center. These islands were constructed before human scale and walkable development became desirable.
The only way to pull large retail islands together is through construction of pedestrian bridges that cross Ashford-Dunwoody Road’s eight lanes. Nine years ago, I asked Mike Davis, Dunwoody’s first mayor and a nice man, about pedestrian bridges. He said that the Perimeter Improvement District (PID) had studied bridges and found the cost high and the use limited to warrant significant investment.
Regardless, the Pandemic shattered the commercial real estate market and subsequent remote work reduced traffic flows and made expensive anachronisms out of huge parking garages. Shopping centers with their vast parking lots are being transformed into mixed use properties to push residents towards realizing the fifteen-minute city concept.
Proposal: Build an Elevated Linear Park around Perimeter Mall
Granted, the PID and City of Dunwoody has made several million dollars of substantial improvements to the Perimeter area hardscape, mostly in decorative sidewalks and bike lanes. But it is not enough – a vision like Atlanta’s transformative Beltline is needed for Dunwoody.
Atlanta Beltline Design Construction Update, Aug. 2021 – Northwest Trail and Channel leading to Tanyard Creek Rendering
In 2014, I proposed to Brett Walker, Dunwoody Parks Director, that the city build an elevated linear park up Ashford Dunwoody from Hammond to the north side of the Mall, then turn left across Perimeter Parkway West, then left and down Perimeter Center Parkway to Hammond and back to Ashford Dunwoody.
I estimated the cost in 2014 at $200 to $300 million. Mr. Walker shared that PID had just invested $2 million in sidewalk and bike lane upgrades. I agreed that was a lot of money but the city had to build the linear park then because it would probably become unaffordable in the future.
And it may have for the most part – estimates now approach $1 – 2 billion and recruiting the labor force would be very difficult. It is rumored however that The Battery is studying a highline concept that would link it with Cumberland, Akers Mill, and an attraction with extreme rides.
Perimeter competes with the Battery for customers, residents, businesses, and attractions. If The Battery builds a highline, will Perimeter be left behind?
Putting the elevated linear park project on hold guarantees that the price will go up until ground is eventually broken. A ten-year-long construction program would result in an idyllic downtown Dunwoody.
The New York Highline has attracted high rise condo and office development along a two-mile- long stretch of walkway. Outparcels in Perimeter parking lots could also be sold to developers to build high rise condos and apartments with plazas over the parking lots.
The new real estate properties would grow the tax digest and help finance park construction. New residents and consumers will shop the Mall and other retail islands by using the bridge and park to scurry around by foot.
Phase 1: Build an elevated linear park up the middle of Ashford-Dunwoody Rd. Make it elaborately landscaped and fitted with benches and several kiosks to serve pedestrians.
Phase 2: Branch the viaduct off from Ashford to stretch across Perimeter Parkway West in order to connect The Terraces, Perimeter Center Place, and the Ashford Lane open carry district to the new Highlife development.
Phase 3: Build next stretch of park down the middle of Perimeter Center Parkway and connect with Highlife mixed use, the MARTA Station, and the new State Farm campus.
Phase 4: Build across Hammond to Ashford to complete encircling of the Mall and connection to all commercial islands. New residential structures with plazas will cover much of the parking lots. Autos will still come, park, and go but more invisibly.
Phase 5: Construction of a small tram or other people mover to be built alongside the linear park for shuttling people moving throughout the district.
Estimated construction schedule: Ten years and upon completion, Dunwoody will have one of the great walkable downtowns in Metro Atlanta and perhaps the country. The city will have turned its #1 negative, traffic, into a positive.
Conclusion: Yes, this is a big expensive project but upon completion, Dunwoody will enjoy a world class pastoral walkway with beautiful vistas from virtually every perch on the viaduct. Dunwoody’s central business district will have been transformed from six big parking lots into a vibrant walkable city center.