The Chattahoochee RiverLands

Honor Award

Analysis and Planning

Metro Atlanta Region, Georgia, United States
Client: Trust for Public Land, Atlanta Regional Commission, City of Atlanta, Cobb County Government

The jury was impressed with the regional scope for one of the most congested metros in the country. To connect one million residents to a 125-mile greenway is ambitious. The visionary plan takes a careful macro and micro lens approach and is grounded in a strong community-driven foundation with care toward universal access. Conservation and environmental justice lie at the heart of the vision, as the plan aims to expand equitable access and connect disparate parts of West Atlanta to the river. The inclusion of anti-displacement strategies and workforce development opportunities is tremendous. The plan delivers creative and coherent place-making, spatial, and formal expressions. The exhibits and narrative show robust knowledge of the proposed site and improvements. The public engagement proves the community's desire for such improvements in the Chattahoochee area. Overall, this is an impressive plan with tactical strategies that have the power to change lives.

- 2023 Awards Jury

Project Credits

Trust for Public Land, Client

Atlanta Regional Commission, Client

City of Atlanta, Client

Cobb County, Client

Gresham Smith Landscape Architects: Louis John, ASLA; Jared Kaelin, ASLA; Erin Masterson, ASLA; Morgan Dunay, ASLA, Subconsultant - Transportation & Multi-modal Trail Design

Biohabitats, Subconsultant - Ecological Design & Planning

New South Associates, Subconsultant - Anthropology & History

Dr. Na'Taki Osborne Jelks, Subconsultant - Environmental Justice

Dr. Richard Milligan, Subconsultant - Geography

Edwards-Pitman, Subconsultant - Environmental Engineering

Project Statement

Building on over 50 years of grassroots planning, the Chattahoochee RiverLands is a generational vision for a 125-mile greenway, blueway, and network of open spaces reconnecting over 1 million residents with the Chattahoochee River across the Metro Atlanta Region. Developed over two years and underpinned by a tremendous engagement effort encompassing over a hundred meetings with more than 290 local groups, the vision stitches together open spaces into an uninterrupted multi-modal trail—expanding connectivity and economic development opportunities in West Atlanta communities that have historically lacked access to the river. Already, the vision has spurred over $169 million in investment and inspired state and federal policy initiatives.

Project Narrative

Spanning over 125 miles across the Metro Atlanta Region, the Chattahoochee RiverLands is a generational vision for a contiguous greenway, blueway, and network of open spaces that will reconnect over 1 million residents with the Chattahoochee River across 19 cities and seven counties.

Unanimously adopted by a regional planning agency in 2020, the vision builds on over 50 years of grassroots planning and environmental advocacy, re-examining 1970s-era policy to drastically expand river access and connectivity while also incorporating ecological restoration initiatives. The planning process entailed an extensive two-year engagement effort, including over a hundred meetings with more than 290 local groups —a combination of open houses, focus groups, driving tours, and immersive on-site programs dubbed “river rambles.” One ramble partnered with the National Park Service and a local behavioral health center for youth on a rafting trip; another partnered with a number of supportive service organizations for individuals living with physical and mental disabilities to help inform accessibility guidelines for the proposed trail system. As a result, the guidelines now incorporate a ”braille trail” and other sensory, interpretative, and safety features. The team also developed an interactive project website populated with proposed demonstration projects, site histories, engagement event recaps, and information about projects now underway.

At a broader scale, the RiverLands vision incorporates new equitable development guidelines distilled from a series of “equity studio hours” co-led with local scholars and social justice advocates—including specific anti-displacement strategies and proposed policies to capture value, workforce development opportunities, and better-paying jobs in West Atlanta communities that are at particular risk of gentrification.

Since the vision’s completion in 2020, the project has made significant advancements—including over $169 million in investment to acquire new properties and build pilot projects (including a “showcase project” where all aspects of the regional trail will be built out). The prominent national non-profit that convened the Chattahoochee Working Group in 2018 continues to champion the RiverLands vision and hold jurisdiction for its goals, helping ensure a continuous user experience and restored regional habitat as it evolves. The original team also fleshed out a comprehensive design guidelines document to inform trail design, identity, materiality, and the ecological and social impacts of projects in decades to come.