Beltline creator sets sights on Buford Highway

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There isn’t much doubt about it, most people will finally agree that there are really great restaurants throughout the Metro Atlanta area.

Growing up in Roswell, it seemed that transplanted New Yorker’s loved to complain about the food. The Italian food was boring, there were no good bagels, and forget about finding a good Chinese restaurant. Well nowadays, I don’t hear that kind of talk. Folks are pretty fat and happy in Atlanta.

Chefs have grown more and more creative — creative in a way that draws people consistently into their restaurants. Different parts of the metro area are developing their own styles, too.

Canton Street in Roswell has more great restaurants per square foot than maybe anywhere else in the metro area, all serving out of buildings first built in the late 1800s. Alpharetta’s restaurants are a bit more spread out and refined, but fantastic. Ponce City Market in Atlanta has its food court packed with several unique and great restaurants where most of the seating is stretched along barstools.

Perhaps the most unique area walks a thin line between being considered under the radar here in Atlanta, and well-known among chef circles outside of Atlanta. It is Buford Highway. Written up in Bon Appetit, this 7-mile stretch of road heading north from I-285 was called a “United Nations of restaurants.” In this stretch of road you can get Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, Indian, Somali, Mexican, combinations of those, and many other types of food. Some of you might think that you’ve got Vietnamese, Chinese and Mexican restaurants close to your home. But the difference here is that these restaurants cook their food as if they are serving not Americans, but people from their home countries.

It has developed a serious “it” factor. So much so that when Anthony Bourdain, a king of cool, brought his show to Atlanta, he spent a lot of time eating in and complimenting restaurants there.

To the eye, this stretch of road is probably not the most inviting. These great restaurants are scattered throughout strip malls that were built during a time when we had little ability for urban planning. But that could be about to change.

One of Atlanta’s kings of cool, Ryan Gravel, is setting his sights on Buford Highway.

If you do not know, Gravel conceptualized the idea of The Beltline while a student at Georgia Tech, and then worked as a planner to make it a reality. The Beltline has become one of the most successful redevelopment ideas of our time anywhere in the country and has transformed every community it runs through. He left The Beltline project because he thought they were getting away from his idea to incorporate more affordable, lower-income workforce housing.

According to news accounts, Gravel created a nonprofit called Generator. Its mission is to be an “idea studio…committed to the production of ideas about cities that nobody is asking for.” His first Generator workshop will be a School of Design class at Georgia Tech that will focus on Buford Highway.

According to the article, he finds this area interesting because it deals with a lot of issues prevalent throughout the country. There is a large immigrant population there, and he sees this as a way to create a solution for suburban immigrant populations throughout the country. They are going to look at different transit options and different ways to move people around. His design principals will go much deeper than transit and affordable housing options. He wants to create ways to force people to interact and “love” each other more.

In today’s political climate, you can’t argue with that.


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