OU Institute for Quality Communities Hosts Atlanta BeltLine CEO for Insights on Community Development

On April 11, 2024, The Christopher C. Gibbs College of Architecture Institute for Quality Communities (IQC) hosted Clyde Higgs, President and CEO of the Atlanta BeltLine, to share lessons learned from the iconic project. The fully booked event drew dozens of students, members of the Taft community, event sponsors, and friends from the broader metro community.

During the Spring 2024 semester, the OU IQC and the Environmental Design Practicum students led by Vanessa Morrison, and Interior Design Studio IV students co-led by Mia Kile and Marco Piscitelli, collaborated with the community of Taft; one of Oklahoma’s 13 surviving Black townships. Known for its deep legacies connected to education, entrepreneurship, innovation, and resiliency, Taft community leaders are embarking on several initiatives to preserve their town’s history while revitalizing the community to help it thrive once again. Students were tasked with exploring two existing project sites to help strengthen the quality of life in Taft, involving a stretch of an abandoned railway repurposed into a walking trail and a historic, underutilized nearby school.

The Atlanta BeltLine is an internationally recognized urban revitalization project that has elevated a historic railway into a green space that is not only strengthening connectivity amongst Atlanta neighborhoods, but is also catalyzing economic development and improving quality of life by bringing in over 33 miles of multi-modal pedestrian friendly trail, 50,000 in permanent jobs, 5,600 affordable housing units, a growing contribution of over 10 billion in economic development revenue for the city, and more. Higgs discussed how the project created opportunities for cultural flourishing, inclusive development, strengthened social cohesion, and stronger communities throughout the city while alleviating the dependency on cars. His insights highlighted the BeltLine’s successes and challenges, and demonstrated how similar lessons could be applied in more rural communities, including Taft.

“There are so many lessons that the world is learning from the Atlanta BeltLine. This project is informing how students and practitioners can be bold in our approaches to holistic community development. It was such a gift for our students, Taft, and for the Gibbs community to get to hear more about the BeltLine’s impact through Clyde’s lens,” said Vanessa Morrison, Interim Director of the IQC.

Throughout the semester students engaged with community leaders and subject matter experts to inform their research on placemaking, cultural preservation, economic development, design, and revitalization. Their final projects included design and programming concepts to help advance Taft’s revitalization goals toward future implementation. Additionally, the OU IQC is now a member of the BeltLine network where internships and other research opportunities will be extended to students at Gibbs. 

Higgs’ visit concluded with a moderated discussion led by interim OU IQC director, Vanessa Morrison, allowing attendees to engage with him directly and ask questions. This interactive segment provided a deeper understanding of how the BeltLine’s lessons could be applied to the Taft community’s ongoing efforts. 

This event was made possible through the support and partnership of OG&E, TSW, ULI Oklahoma, the Oklahoma City Black Chamber of Commerce, Johnson and Associates, and the Oklahoma City Minority Founder Accelerator.