Visions for Buford Highway’s future — some with big dreams, some with small details — were offered in recent weeks by two different groups of Georgia Tech students seeking ways to preserve affordability and diversity as the famous immigrant neighborhood redevelops.
One group, taught by Ryan Gravel, the father of Atlanta’s BeltLine, envisions Buford Highway with expansive green space, public art, safer pedestrian access and an emphasis on the diverse cultural ties that make the road corridor unique.
Another group, under the tutelage of Professor Gary Cornell, explored some of those same ideas, but under a more traditional land-use and urban-planning methodology that included a formal presentation to Brookhaven City Council.
Students from Gravel’s Generator Workshop class, the pilot program for his new nonprofit urban design organization, Generator Studio, presented their projects at a Nov. 28 open house in an empty storefront at the Northeast Plaza shopping center on Buford Highway.
The class was done in partnership with We Love BuHi, a nonprofit founded by Brookhaven resident Marian Liou that works to highlight the people who live and work on Buford Highway.
The course discussed how students’ ideas could be implemented, but Liou said the class was especially exciting because the ideas weren’t limited by policies or feasibility.
“Really, they just are some thought experiments for how to preserve cultural diversity as things are changing,” Liou said.
Gravel said they all need more development to move beyond the conceptual stage they are in now, but if students put in the work, some ideas could move forward.
One student’s project would create public spaces at MARTA bus stops along Buford Highway. The student, Christy Dodson, proposed creating a public garden space, a park or adding benches. “There is a lot of underutilized space along bus routes,” Dodson said.
Chris Landry’s project focused on populating vacant storefronts along Buford Highway by allowing an afterschool program to set up shop in them. The programs would be led by a nonprofit and teach youth art, culinary or construction skills.
“The program would be teaching youth skills they’re not being exposed to in school and create a renewed interest in the vacant space,” Landry said.
A project by Seth Furman proposes legalizing street food carts and creating zones where they could be used. The overhead needed to operate a food cart is much less than a full restaurant, and this would give recent immigrants an opportunity to open a restaurant with fewer legal requirements and a lower cost, Furman said.
Another project by Chris Bailey envisions an expansive park and event space at the intersection of Buford Highway and Clairmont Road.
T. Coston Dickinson tied his project into the Peachtree Creek Greenway, a park and trail that is planned to run along the road. He envisions creating pocket parks, including a large seating area, along the creek connected to the greenway. The project would also have wetlands created to filter the water and improve water quality, he said.
Lauren Wells proposed major construction in her project, including a large amphitheater and a community park that would include an urban garden. Wells acknowledged the community may not want a large amphitheater and said her project is about creating any kind of public gathering space.
“I don’t know if they would agree to the character I have proposed, but I think they would be on board with creating green space,” Wells said.
Another project proposed creating a large, colorful public art installation at Buford Highway’s intersection with Shallowford Road. Traffic would be redirected around the art to provide “a moment of pause within a busy street and heavily trafficked intersection,” student Emily Wirt wrote in her proposal.
Another 12 Georgia Tech graduate students this semester tackled some of the issues facing Buford Highway, including rapid redevelopment and the need for affordable housing, as part of their capstone project for a master’s degree from the School of City & Regional Planning.
They were asked to find ways to assist the city of Brookhaven by making recommendations for equitable redevelopment linking Buford Highway with the Peachtree Greenway and made a formal presentation to Brookhaven City Council at its Nov. 28 work session.
A major recommendation from the students was to divide Buford Highway into three zoning districts to control future development, said one of the student project leaders, Ian Michael Rogers.
BuHi Zoning District 1, or B1, would start at the Atlanta city line and run to Corporate Boulevard; B2 would run from Corporate Boulevard to Briarwood Road and include Northeast Plaza; and B3 would run from Briarwood Road to Clairmont Road.
B1, for example, would include low- to medium-density mixed-used developments and is the potential site for a permanent City Hall, the students recommended. B2 would include medium-to high-density mixed-use projects. B3 would be for medium- to high-density residential projects.
Other recommendations included gateway and signage along Buford Highway and more green space.
Student John Saxton said that nearly 40 acres of parking is available within a quarter mile of Northeast Plaza — enough space for 383 basketball courts or 31 soccer fields. Talks with the owners of Northeast Plaza about potentially including green space in their parking lot is a possibility, he said.
When it comes to affordable housing, the students determined 34.9 percent of renters along Buford Highway are paying more than 30 percent of their income on housing and utilities — a rule of thumb for unaffordablity. That’s a significant number, because 82 percent of residents along Buford Highway are renters. Nearly 62 percent of the residents are non-white Hispanics and another 26.6 percent are below the poverty line, according to data gathered by the students.
Recommendations also include protected bike and pedestrian paths along Buford Highway, a trail connecting apartments to Montclair Elementary School and connections to the Greenway.
–Evelyn Andrews and Dyana Bagby