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New ATL planning director to Bankhead residents: We need your help designing city's future

Tim Keane's tour of the city takes him to West Atlanta

There’s a certain patch of West Atlanta, between Proctor Creek and Joseph E. Lowery Boulevard, that feels a bit like a kind of blank spot on the map, Drewnell Thomas said as she opened Thursday night’s meeting of the Historic Westin Heights / Bankhead Neighborhood Association.
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? Everybody talks about Vine City and English Avenue, Thomas, the association president, told the group. But the area she’s talking about, roughly between Joseph E. Boone Boulevard and Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway (the old Bankhead Highway) faces similar challenges such as neglected and vacant housing. 
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?Looking around is a little like looking at someone who could use some dental work.
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? “We need to make sure there are no missing teeth in Atlanta," Thomas said. "We need to make sure we get some prosthetics."
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? To start addressing the issue, Thomas invited Atlanta’s new planning chief to the neighborhood meeting to see what he could do about neglected housing, blight, and brownfields. And lo, Tim Keane, Commissioner of the Department of Planning and Community Development, came.
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? “My first task is to do a lot of listening,” Keane told the crowd of roughly three dozen people.
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? Many of those in attendance were members of the church that hosted the meeting. It sits beside a boarded-up, fire-blackened former family home.
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? Keane moved to City Hall a few months ago after Mayor Kasim Reed wooed him from the same post in Charleston, S.C. His department’s job is to oversee the built environment and public realm — think the design of city streets and buildings to construction plans and housing preservation.
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?Since arriving he's won some applause in City Hall and communities for his candor and progressive views on issues such as transit, urban design, and affordability. He's also got his hands full overhaul his department's troubled division that handles building permits.
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? Keane said that when he arrived, his department didn’t have the capacity to be very valuable in decisions about design and development in the city. But it should be, he said, and it should be getting the community involved in those decisions.
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? “So that we can direct design and development decisions like that and make strong recommendations to the mayor and city council,” Keane said.
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? He emphasized that he’s very much in a learning mode about Atlanta’s neighborhoods and that he wants help planning what he hopes will be a more populous city 20 years down the line.
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? “We could, over that period of time, become more dense and urban and become more natural and restore nature at the same time if we do it right,” Keane said.
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? “Say we want to have a million and a half people in Atlanta rather than the 500,000 we have now,” he said. "This place better be a lot better place to live when we get there. Which means a lot of specifics about how the neighborhood grows, how this neighborhood grows. And the people that live here have to define that, have to help us design that."
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? Atlanta City Councilman Ivory Lee Young, who also attended the meeting, said he’s working on securing funding for the area for what’s called redevelopment planning. Planners would first make an inventory of what’s currently in the community and who lives there, and then ask residents to help decide what they need and what their land should be used for.
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? Keane left after an hour, apologizing profusely for having a second meeting to attend. One of the church members invited him back for an upcoming fall fest and feast. He said he would plan to come then, if not sooner.
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? After the meeting, Thomas said she felt optimistic, and that she’s never known a planning director to come to such a meeting.
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? “The fact that he just came … to this part of the west side,” she said, is an accomplishment.




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