Increasing the Accountability and Equity of Investments in the Atlanta Beltline

Author: Sonia Torres Rodríguez
Date Posted: August 24, 2022

The Atlanta BeltLine is a 22-mile railroad corridor that is designed to improve greenspace, housing, economic development, and connectivity in Atlanta, Georgia. As Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. (ABI), the organization that oversees all aspects of planning, developing, executing projects for the trail, explored their commitment to creating more equitable outcomes for legacy residents, they recognized the importance of using community-level data in identifying and remedying existing disparities. In partnership with Neighborhood Nexus, ABI used a series of interactive maps to determine how to leverage the trail’s multi-million-dollar investments to benefit historically disinvested communities in Atlanta.

As a first step in better understanding how the BeltLine trail might impact communities, Neighborhood Nexus developed a Demographic Data Explorer that compiled a variety of neighborhood change indicators for neighborhoods in the vicinity of the BeltLine. Nonet Sykes, chief equity and inclusion officer of ABI, shared that the tool and the resulting guidance provided by Neighborhood Nexus led her organization to designate “equity priority areas,” especially alongside the west side of the BeltLine, where the explorer showed the highest rates of housing cost burden, unemployment, and reliance on public transit.

Neighborhood Nexus then partnered with ABI to understand how the past 15 years of financial investments in and around the BeltLine had interacted with the neighborhood trends highlighted by the demographic explorer, especially in the equity priority areas. The Investment Data Explorer is a novel attempt in the equitable development field to publicly track and map all of the investments made through federal, state, and local public grants as well as private and philanthropic funds associated with the BeltlLine. To develop this tool, Neighborhood Nexus provided extensive support to help ABI revamp and standardize their internal data processes. The visualization of investment data allowed both the leadership team and the community to see how financial resources were aligned with identified equity priority areas. For example, some trail expansions in 2020 were planned for the east side of the BeltLine, away from the neighborhoods that were designated as equity priority areas. Armed with the data needed to pivot, the ABI board chose to move the planned multimillion-dollar trail expansions to the neighborhoods to the west of the BeltLine.

These tools helped ABI understand that new amenities could create pressure on rents and home prices and led ABI to create the Legacy Resident Retention Program. The $12.5 million program is helping Atlanta homeowners in the southwestern quadrant of the BeltLine with property tax bills through 2030; so far, it has engaged hundreds of residents. Overall, these tools have made ABI more competitive in attracting federal and state-level infrastructure monies, and, importantly, improved the relationship ABI has with community members by providing tangible and actionable equity commitments and data to discuss at monthly townhalls.

This story was written by Sonia Torres Rodríguez at the Urban Institute. A thank you to Tommy Pearce and Nonet Sykes for their support with this story. Neighborhood Nexus is the Atlanta Partner in the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership, a learning network in more than 30 cities coordinated by the Urban Institute. All Partners ensure communities have access to data and the skills to use information to advance equity and well-being across neighborhoods.

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