‘Imagining’ a new Memorial Drive: Traffic, affordable housing are top concernsMemorial Drive resident Lauren Curtright looks at a satellite image at the Imagine Memorial Pop-Up Design Studio, Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018. Photo by Cathi Harris
Southeast Atlanta residents living and commuting along Memorial Drive didn’t need encouragement to share their ideas about how to improve the busy urban corridor.
A three-day “Pop-Up Design Studio” hosted Thursday through Saturday at Alonzo A. Crim High School yielded thousands of comments on everything from pedestrian safety and improved transit access to preservation of affordable housing and sustainable business development.
Attendees huddled with planning professionals with the Imagine Memorial LCI study and poured over large-format satellite images of different focus areas.
Participant comments were sketched on the surface in bright Sharpie marker.
“This needs to be more like a Peachtree and less like a highway,” read one.
“Narrow sidewalks” explained a series of red squiggles.
“No street-facing garages!!” was a comment left on a proposed new housing development.
“To make sure the benefits of development get spread out to the entire community, you have to have a seat at the table,” said Edgewood resident Sedrick Lakpa, explaining his attendance at Saturday’s session. “We don’t want improvements that just benefit the property owners or these little pockets of the neighborhoods surrounding new businesses. I want to see the people who have been living here for years benefit also.”
That is also the main goal of the Imagine Memorial effort, notes Greg Giuffrida, corridor executive for Imagine Memorial LCI, a project of the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Livable Centers Initiative (LCI).
The Livable Centers Initiative is a grant program administered by the ARC that uses federal transportation funds to support the planning of “walkable communities that contain a variety of mobility options, encourage healthy lifestyles, and support access to jobs and services,” according to the program’s website.
LCI grants do not cover actual development or construction in their focus areas, but support studies and planning documents that recommend zoning and infrastructure changes that are consistent with the community’s goals.
Imagine Memorial is building on a previous LCI that focused on the section of Memorial Drive from the state Capitol to Moreland Avenue and its adjacent neighborhoods, north and south.
The new plan will include those areas and extend the effort to also cover the neighborhoods and commercial areas along Memorial all the way to the intersection with Candler Road.
“The Imagine Memorial planning effort was begun in 2014 by Atlanta City Council member Natalyn Mosby Archibong to pick up where that plan left off and look more closely at other parts of the Memorial Drive Corridor in the City of Atlanta that had not been as closely studied,” Giuffrida said.
While the central city core has been the focus of several different urban planning initiatives, the areas east of Moreland, particularly those south of Memorial have not, said Matt Cherry, senior associate with Lord Aeck Sargent, the architecture firm awarded the grant to write the LCI plan.
“We want to look at the whole area in a more comprehensive way and fill in a lot of the gaps,” he added.
Pedestrian safety has been a top concern by all participants, with a particular focus on reducing traffic speeds and improving intersections near Crim and nearby elementary schools, Ivy Preparatory Academy and Drew Charter School.
“For some of the MARTA [bus] stops, there is no sidewalk, just a patch of grass at the edge of the road,” said Lauren Curtright, who lives on Memorial and commutes by bus and train to the Perimeter. “A lot of the high school kids use MARTA and you see them rushing to make sure they get the bus. I really worry about that. I want improvements to crosswalks and bus stops because I use them, but it is really needed for these areas that serve a lot of students.”
Preserving affordable housing in the area is another key focus, said Giuffrida. Like many intown Atlanta neighborhoods, the ones surrounding Memorial are starting see lots of housing new housing development and redevelopment.
One element of the plan will be to recommend ways for the city and local groups to incentivize developers set aside a percentage of new development as workforce house. But they also will look at ways to support existing housing stock, particularly older apartment complexes.
“We have been seeing a lot of these being renovated and fixed up, recently.” Giuffrida said.“Rather than new units, these older buildings are where you are going to see a lot of your affordable housing.”
Planners are also meeting with and collaborating with other nonprofit and governmental organizations to stay abreast of their development plans and encourage any new projects to be consistent with the LCI’s goals.
One example is Parkview Station, a former shopping center along Memorial between Warren Street and Wilkinson Drive. It is currently owned by and houses Ivy Preparatory Academy-Kirkwood, an all-girls charter school.
“They own the whole property, except for the Auto Zone at the corner,” said Giuffrida. “But they don’t need all of that surface parking and would like to develop it.”
The plan can recommend uses of the property that would benefit the community and support the school as well.
Learning about other new projects that are being planned has been an unexpected benefit of attending the Imagine Memorial meetings, said Lakpa.
“I’ve already learned about some projects that I didn’t know about,” he said. “That’s sort of how it has gone for years in this area. Developers come in and build something, and they don’t try to work with the people who live here. They make some money, but then it doesn’t work out, and they close down. We’re left with the empty building. If we know about it from the beginning, we can give input in and attract businesses that will improve and help the community.”
You can learn more about Imagine Memorial at memorialdriveatl.com and the Livable Centers Initiative at