the private sellers.”
Implementing smart growth
Montague’s multidisciplinary background prepared her for the complex project. Her father, a 27-year civil engineer in Washington, DC’s metro system, provided her with an insider’s view of transit. She majored in economics at the University of Chicago and got her master’s degree in city planning and real estate from MIT. But it was her community advocacy work that taught her the power that smart growth has to transform lives.
As CEO for the nonprofit Enterprise Foundation (now Enterprise Community Partners), Montague brought affordable housing to cities across the country. Under Montague’s leadership, the foundation developed a Green Communities Initiative to promote environmental building practices in an effort to reduce carbon emissions in urban areas. Montague used the organization’s heft to bring in funding for planning grants. Those investments offered developers incentives to green the way they built, and Enterprise then made sure that the energy and resource-savings would be passed on to residents.
“There has got to be an integration of concerns and stewardship for people and places,” Montague says. “That’s what the environmental sustainability movement represents for me.”
The BeltLine’s green spaces are expected to counteract smog, lower asthma rates, and encourage more healthy physical activity. A Georgia Institute of Technology health assessment of the BeltLine reported that proximity to nature has been shown to reduce stress and lengthen life.
The project, while still in the early stages, has presented Montague with myriad challenges. In order to develop the BeltLine, the city must purchase swaths of land mostly owned by rail companies. A key stretch along the northeast corridor was owned by a private developer who originally wanted to build two dense condominium towers there. “Many people said it would be impossible to secure for the city,” Montague says. Even though the financial sector is in crisis, she convinced two commercial banks that had previously worked with the city to participate in a bond sale. The city issued $64.5 million in bonds and used part of the money to purchase the land.
In northeast Atlanta, the Department of Watershed Management proposed a necessary but unsightly 800-foot stormwater tunnel on a former industrial park site. Residents protested the ugly addition. Montague was able to diffuse the land-use landmine by bringing environmentalists, community members, and city departments to the table. Under her direction, the city merged priorities and came up with plans for an aesthetically-pleasing water feature that enhances the park while providing an emergency water supply. By accomplishing two goals at once, the facility will also save the city $10 million.
“Atlanta is a city that has long been experiencing pressures that might potentially displace residents,” Montague says. “Because part of what we’re doing is investing resources, planning things for future land uses, there is a concern.”
Earlier this year, that tension bubbled up when a citizens group that advises the BeltLine published a letter accusing the project’s top officials of not providing enough opportunity for public input. “We have to find the right balance between process and results,” Montague