We’re pleased to announce that the route for Atlanta Streets Alive on September 24 is being extended south of Five Points onto Broad Street in South Downtown!
Although it may be hard for us to believe today that Atlanta’s been anything but a car-dominated town, South Downtown is uniquely able to tell a different story.
This is where Atlanta got started in the 1830s as a frontier railroad town near the crossing of trails and wagon roads used by native Creeks and European settlers. This is where you’ll find Atlanta’s oldest street grid, laid out here in the 1840s, and many of its oldest buildings dating as far back as the 1860s. If you look carefully, you’ll even find hundred-year-old sections of sidewalk!
Broad Street looking north from Mitchell Street in 1870.
Stereograph from The New York Public Library Digital Collections.
Changes in transportation and society have always been a part of South Downtown’s story. When the decision was made to segregate Atlanta’s streetcars in the 1890s, prominent black citizens such as attorney Peyton Allen whose office was on Broad Street boycotted by riding their bicycles rather than being told where they could sit.
But as Atlantans changed their transportation habits away from walking, biking, and transit towards automobiles, South Downtown reflected those changes. Crosswalks were painted to show pedestrians where they could and could not go across streets. Two-way streets became restricted to one-way traffic. Buildings were demolished to make way for parking and wider streets. Interstate highway construction separated the commercial core from adjoining residential neighborhoods.
Broad Street looking north from Mitchell Street in November 1969.
Photograph from Central Atlanta Progress courtesy of the Atlanta History Center.
But more recently, changes have been made to start making South Downtown’s streets safer, healthier, more sustainable, and vibrant for everyone.
Since Atlanta Streets Alive was last on Broad Street in September 2013, a lot has changed!
Mammal Gallery which had just opened has now been joined by arts organizations like Downtown Players Club, Eyedrum, Murmur, Broad Street Visitors Center, and others filling long-vacant storefronts and bringing people downtown on evenings and weekends for art, music, dance, poetry, and more. Activities often spill out onto the sidewalks, streets, and even rooftops!
People gather on Broad Street for the start of the Great Atlanta Bicycle Parade on September 8, 2013.
Photograph by Kyle Kessler.
ELEVATE, the City’s annual downtown public arts festival, has added murals from Sarah Emerson and Yoyo Ferro alongside earlier murals by Hense, Born, Sever, Push, and Tilt. Last year the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs launched a mural bike rack program and is adding more this year.
You’re now also likely to see more people riding these streets on bicycles for many reasons. The Link, a program organized by SoPo Bicycle Cooperative, helps residents staying at the Gateway Center to earn a free bicycle by volunteering at their shop and learning maintenance and repair basics. Groups like Civil Bikes are leading tours through the area to share its history and its street art. And Atlanta’s Relay Bike Share program which launched in downtown last year includes a hub on Broad Street and several others around South Downtown.
The Five Points MARTA Station itself has had a bit of a makeover recently with some new artwork, a community garden, and the addition of Station Soccer — the world’s first soccer field located in a transit station!
How Broad Street, looking south from MLK Jr Drive, may appear with streetscape improvements, public amenities, and historic building renovations.
Rendering by Dover, Kohl & Partners courtesy of Newport RE US.
Nearby Mercedes-Benz Stadium is nearing completion and billions of dollars in major development projects are planned for Underground Atlanta, the Gulch, and much of South Downtown. So now is a great time to engage with this historic part of our city, learn more about the people and businesses that make this place what it is, and become an advocate for what changes you want to see and don’t want to see.
We hope to see you out on the streets on September 24th!
* Guest blog post by Kyle Kessler