Giving people ownership of sidewalks near the Atlanta Streetcar

The writer of a recent AJC piece, “Accessibility not equal for all Atlantans,” tells the story of when she stopped to help a man who’s wheelchair was stuck in the Atlanta Streetcar tracks on Jackson Street:

“…when we were both safely on the sidewalk, I noticed why he was out in the road to begin with. There was a giant pothole in the sidewalk and gravel strewn across the pedestrian right of way.”

She then goes on to make a good argument for more of the city’s budget being devoted to sidewalk repair and maintenance. But if you look at this section of Jackson Street closely, you can see that there’s more to the story than a need for maintenance. There’s also a need for good land use.

Aerial view of the eastern-most part of the Atlanta Streetcar route

Many of the parcels here are taken up by empty lots and parking lots, and there are at least two abandoned buildings (a smaller one is out of view to the side of the larger one I’ve labeled in the above image).

While it’s a shame that sidewalks near the streetcar tracks are in bad shape, it’s also shameful that we’ve allowed underused properties in this key spot. They have no one to take ownership of them by way of daily occupation by stores, residents, offices and the like.

Putting a reasonable density of active uses on these parcels would be a way of giving people ownership of sidewalks. There would be a variation on the “eyes on the street” concept happening here — eyes on the sidewalk and voices to speak out for them on a daily basis. Without that, this is an area that caters primarily to cars in terms of its land use, with people driving into the church on the right of the photo and into the other parking lots.

Daily residents and business owners, in buildings that front the street, are the kind of people who care about the state of the sidewalks in front of their doors. Cars don’t mind a little gravel and a few potholes.

— — — — — — — — —

EDITED TO ADD: Thanks much to a reader who sends this note about the above image:

“Each of the parcels (excluding the gas station), is owned by either Ebenezer Baptist or Wheat Street Baptist. These institutional land owners, who pay zero in property taxes, are the biggest underlying challenge to redevelopment along the streetcar line. I’m glad to see Big Bethel finally attempting to move forward with development of parcels they own, but all of these parties need to partner and release control in order to get their projects moving more rapidly.”

Great comment, and I agree. These properties are hurting the city twice — first by paying no taxes, and second by offering no active uses to the street that could improve the neighborhood. It’s a problem that should have been addressed long ago.