BY BRIAN CARR
Look closely at a concentrated area near the south end of Midtown Atlanta, and you can begin to see opportunities that will breathe new life into the open spaces there.
Through recent private investment on some properties and the recently-announced community placemaking grant that Niantic awarded via Project for Public Spaces for a joint project between Midtown Alliance and MARTA to upgrade the North Avenue MARTA Station plaza, a constellation of spaces is emerging that can draw people together to experience the best of their city. The opportunity to change how a diverse group of people can use the concrete plaza on the north side of the North Avenue MARTA station stands out as the catalyst for creating the activities and programs that will knit all the nearby spaces together.
Leading the effort to orchestrate partnerships and engage the Midtown community in shaping the vision for the North Avenue MARTA plaza is the team from Project for Public Spaces (PPS), an organization that has been creating community-powered public spaces worldwide for nearly 50 years. The community placemaking grant that Midtown Alliance received via PPS is funded through Niantic, the San Francisco-based tech company.
Our Conversation With PPS About Their Work on the Ground
Elena Madison is the Director of Projects at PPS. She has implemented compelling public spaces that foster human connection across the globe, and has led projects in Atlanta through the years, including recent upgrades at Woodruff Park downtown. We checked in with her about the PPS team’s recent visit to Midtown to assess the plaza and convene a series of meetings with Midtown community members to author a vision for what the MARTA North Avenue station plaza can become.
“It’s great to have MARTA on board and thinking about how the spaces outside their stations are part of a bigger network that offer choices about things to see and do,” said Madison. “Surrounding property owners have made quality investments and are thinking along the same lines. The key will be to bring these many properties together to coordinate with each other on programming and think big.”
The work involves both programming and upgrading the physical space. Madison also observed that the physical space presents as very monotone throughout the plaza, and there’s a ready-made opportunity to introduce more color. She also noted that the concrete aggregate hardscape needs some interventions to appear softer, for example through additional landscaping.
Recent Stakeholder Meetings Begin to Shape Vision for Programming and Physical Space
“We were fortunate to engage the community at different levels,” Madison said about her team’s Midtown visit. “The pop-up meetings in the plaza brought a lot of participants and they were energized to contribute their ideas.”
Participants in the visioning sessions keyed in on the big idea that physical enhancements to the wide-open plaza will need to offer enough flexibility to be able to pivot between different types of uses and events. They also discussed the ready access to many groups in the area that could be tapped to bring their talents to performances at the plaza, such as students from nearby Georgia Tech or dancers from the Full Radius Dance company. Madison described these types of potential programming partnerships as a “diamond in the rough” for Midtown as a means to attract daytime workers and residents to come outside and experience these types of activities.
“Midtown is doing a lot,” Madison said about the efforts across many properties and organizations toward attracting people to spend time in the district. “The places we’re creating together need to be connected and somewhat elastic to foster activity. And Midtown Alliance has a foot in the door now, and it’s working.”