Destination 2017: Atlanta

On a recent weekday evening, hundreds of yoga lovers congregated in a field by the Historic Fourth Ward Skate Park in Atlanta. Neatly aligned in rows on their mats, they flowed in unison from one asana to the next, chaturangas morphing into cobra poses followed by downward-facing dogs, as an instructor guided them through an hour-long session. Many had walked to the class on the Atlanta BeltLine, which hugs the park. That concrete path buzzes with activity at this time of night, with runners and cyclists weaving through pedestrians, people walking their dogs, skateboarders trying out new tricks and mothers pushing baby strollers while wearing yoga pants.

To meander along the BeltLine is to experience the city’s newest defining feature, a 33-mile network of trails and parks that follows Atlanta’s mostly abandoned rail corridor around the city core. A $4.8 billion urban redevelopment project, the BeltLine is transforming how Atlanta residents and visitors experience the city by uniting 45 distinct neighborhoods. As Atlanta’s population grows to a predicted 9 million in the next 30 years, up from about 6 million today, the BeltLine is poised to steer people “intown,” as Atlantans refer to the central neighborhoods of the city. And it’s already attracting unprecedented investment, creating jobs, raising property values and revitalizing communities.

“It’s bringing Atlanta together,” says James Carr, a Morningside resident and founder of marketing firm Longleaf Media. He first moved to the Atlanta metro area in 2001, and after a year in New York returned in 2015, in part because the BeltLine complements his lifestyle. As an avid cyclist, Carr relies on it to get around intown safely. “It’s dangerous for bikes to get around the city,” he says, adding that the BeltLine’s multitude of activities and arts programming contributes to its appeal. “When you’re walking around, you see these amazing murals and art installations—there’s just a cool factor.”

Last year, 1.7 million people from all over the world walked, jogged, skated or biked along the BeltLine’s Eastside Trail, a 2-mile landscaped concrete path that connects Piedmont Park south to Reynoldstown, with a 1.25-mile extension almost completed. Other trails—the Northside and West End—exist along with unpaved interim routes at other points in the network, which will all eventually join to form a contiguous loop. The next phase, the Westside Trail, opens this fall. The project also boasts the largest temporary public art exhibition in the city—and the largest outdoor art exhibit in the South—and an arboretum spanning 22 miles comprising existing and cultivated tree species.

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