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Build for the People Who Live There

_L2A0641By Gunnar Branson CEO, NAREIM Paul Meadows, the CEO of Atlanta Beltline Inc. recently spoke to the NAREIM Asset & Portfolio Management meeting. Over the last few years, his group has transformed some of the most troubled, overlooked or discounted neighborhoods in the City of Atlanta by transforming 22 miles of abandoned railroads that circle downtown into multi-use trails and parks. What we saw in the Old Fourth Ward was astonishing – new housing and apartments along the path, the transformation of an abandoned 2.5 Million square foot distribution center into a multi-use retail, multi-family, and office development called the Ponce City Market – and all the signs of a thriving urban neighborhood. If you haven’t visited Atlanta recently, you owe it to yourself to spend an hour exploring some of the completed trail. It is remarkable what they’ve accomplished in so short a time. This is a unique place. No carbon copy of suburban spaces planted into a city – instead there is a genuine sense of “locality” here. Although thriving and new, it still has the layers that generations of residents have built up over a century of living and working in the area. Paul said something very interesting, “You have to build for the people who live there.” Difficult to disagree, and yet, too often we can focus instead on the people we want to move in – and in the process lose what makes a place valuable. Are we building enough for the people who already live in places like Detroit, Philadelphia, or Baltimore? Or are we too quick to transplant a shiny and homogenized suburban façade into the city? Do the office buildings in our portfolios serve the actual needs of office users, or are they simply the most efficient way for us to stack up square feet? Is a traditional shopping center delivering everything retailers want in a space? Another question: are we building the optimal investment program for investors – helping them deliver to their constituencies? Are we giving them true transparency to the performance of assets? Or are we simply offering what’s easiest for us to produce?
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