The fabric of ThreadATL is small but mighty. Founded by a handful of concerned citizens, the advocacy organization is taking on Atlanta’s complicated intersection between development and urbanism – one of which being the controversial move to privatize Atlanta Underground’s streets.
Darin Givens, the former blog darling of ATL Urbanist turned current Co-Founder of ThreadATL, sat down with us to discuss the importance of thoughtful development, why privatization of downtown streets is bad for our civic community and how Atlanta’s urban environment is a social justice issue.
Tell us about ThreadATL and its genesis. What was the transition from ATL Urbanist to ThreadATL?
ThreadATL was founded by Lauren Welsh, Matt Garbett and myself; we knew each other from working on building preservation and tactical urbanism projects. I had been running the ATL Urbanist blog which became strangely popular all over the world; it was interesting to see that people were so interested in urbanism and the built environment in Atlanta. After 5 years of working on the blog, I wanted to take action; I wanted to share the information I had learned about Atlanta and spread best practices in urbanism.
Lauren, Matt, and I found that many other cities are taking advantage of urbanism to benefit communities but that interest is lacking in the offices of the City of Atlanta, as well as amongst voters. We felt there was room in Atlanta for an advocacy organization to help connect leaders and voters to information about reshaping our urban landscape. We started as a website then threw some events to test the waters and there has been a lot of interest which is very exciting.
We are specifically focused on trying to get politicians and voters to buy into good urbanism. We are committed to showing lawmakers the positivity in things like density and reducing parking. We also want to share with voters that if we shape developments and streets a certain way, we can encourage bikers and make it easier to walk and that makes a better, safer city. We focus on the development of our city as a whole.
Tell us about your work in Downtown Atlanta.
Right now a lot of our focus is on trying to keep the streets in Underground Atlanta public. The City of Atlanta decided to abandon the streets within Underground Atlanta very quickly and without any public notice or opportunity to comment. The property includes the streets that run through the mall and the ones above ground that people used to get to places like MARTA and the courthouse. We believe they should remain functioning city streets but the City of Atlanta is allowing the company that bought them, WRS, to take them over as private.
Having private streets means the owners, like WRS, can restrict use of them. It is not unlike Atlantic Station where there is a list of behavioral restrictions to walk down those streets; you can get kicked out of Atlanta Station for something like wearing the wrong clothes. We don’t want that to happen in Underground because it is right next to the Five Points MARTA station which is the most heavily used transit station in the Southeast. Privatizing those streets would create a mega-block of private restriction en route to public transit. Details in our urban fabric like this are about social justice. Bad, torn urban fabric, impact the most vulnerable in our city and we don’t want that to happen.
ThreadATL has decided to support legal action against this transaction and folks across Atlanta have shown an incredible amount of support. We were thrilled to see so many people come out to our fundraiser at the Georgia Beer Garden recently; we gave Atlanta Downtown Neighborhood Association all the event proceeds to go towards their legal fees.
So why are public streets important for social good?
Public streets are our domain. We should be thinking of streets the way we think about parks. Streets are the right of way between buildings that belong to the city; they belong to all of us. In Atlanta, we sometimes think of our streets as car sewers, but at ThreadATL, we want folks to think of streets as they are in places like Paris; streets can be places that are enjoyable and give you a unique sense of a city.
When Atlanta does something like abandon historic streets that have been public since 1840 and are on top of where the city was born, it is an outward sign of apathy. We need to treasure the places where so many events have happened that are significant in Atlanta. The streets that the city are now abandoning are where the Black Lives Matter protests started and civil rights marchers passed through. They are part of our collective social good history. This is where protests happened and people embraced public spaces for the common good to improve our city. We have to ask ourselves what it means that we are giving this away. Why don’t we recognize the value of public streets? It’s a heady, principled issue but we think it is vital to the sustained cultural success of Atlanta.
Where do you see ThreadATL going in the future and how can Atlanta support your mission?
We are excited to be filing for our 501(c)3 nonprofit status soon. From there, we can raise money more aggressively to host events such as local candidate forums and workshops on urbanism.
Supporters can go to our website to comment on our work and tell us how you feel about urbanism across Atlanta. We also have mailing list sign-ups that register you to receive volunteer opportunities. Finally, follow us on our Facebook page where we often have calls to action like writing City Council about specific issues or attend fundraising events.
Photography is property of Steve Eberhardt. Headline photo is property of ThreadATL.