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Public Life Experts Get a Firsthand Look at Midtown's Opportunity

Midtown site visit and field observations set context for what people want to do, where they want to be


This image from an event at Commercial Row Commons captures a great example of a space designed for people to gather and connect.


New development. New people. New challenges. New opportunities. Midtown Atlanta has experienced red-hot growth over a sustained period of time. More than 100 new buildings have opened their doors in the past 20 years, adding more choices to Midtown's mixed-use profile and attracting residents, workers and visitors. But the 780-acre district has just over one acre of permanent public space. This imbalance means that the community's need for publicly-accessible places to gather is not being met adequately, and nearby Piedmont Park can't do it all.

Midtown Alliance's 2022 annual meeting examined the importance of bringing people together as we contemplate a resilient future for urban places beyond the pandemic. Keynote speaker Matthew Lister with Gehl Studio described the opportunities in this presentation at the event:

Lister's observations and ideas about robust public life left Midtown Alliance wanting more. Now, the expanded partnership with Gehl Studio is looking holistically at shaping Midtown’s future as it relates to public life, public space and sustained economic development. Gehl's team was on the ground recently for a site visit, so they could see the district firsthand and assess conditions. 


First, what is public life? And why is it important for cities? 

Eamon O'Connor and Lily Wubeshet from Gehl Studio explain more in this short clip:

What fosters public life? Look for the soft edges.

"We're thinking about soft edges," O'Connor said. "How to soften the edge where the building facade meets the street." According to O'Connor, the best-performing blocks in cities are the ones that include places for people. This grading scale developed by Gehl explains further:

How does your block rate using this scale? Download and print this tool, go out and assess your block, and let us know how it grades out by e-mailing us at


Gehl and Midtown Alliance have worked in the field over the past few weeks on an analysis of every block face among Midtown's 120 city blocks to identify where the vibrant facades are and where the underperforming facades are. Results are currently being compiled on a heat map. The assessment is one tool that will shape the action plan that helps designers, property owners and tenants do more with their building's "front yards," the spaces fronting the sidewalk. Other work at this stage involves observations in the field about how people use open space in the district, and the patterns that reveal how people get to that space.


Closer Look: More than 3,000 respondents have taken our Community Survey since it launched in early September. We're beginning to sift through the results and connect the findings to our organization's near-term work plan. One thing we see is that respondents prioritize having access to more open spaces in the district. Have you completed our survey yet? There's still time! Please head over now to the survey and weigh in on what you want to see more of in Midtown.

Take the Survey Now



The work ahead ... 

"Midtown is very walkable, and that is probably the most important attribute to make a place successful at bringing out public life," said Wubeshet. "Midtown has good bones. All we need to do through this work is enhance and create more invitations to bring people outside. The plazas, parks and spaces here are calling for people to use them."

Get more background about the ongoing work by watching this short clip from our conversation with Gehl:

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