These days, so many of us are looking to live in dynamic, pedestrian-friendly places, the kind where you don’t have to get in your car to do everything. But creating these communities can be difficult.

That’s the challenge Atlanta Regional Commission’s Livable Centers Initiative (LCI) program is set up to address, awarding planning grants each year to help communities re-envision themselves as more vibrant, connected places. This year, 11 communities have received LCI grants.

The projects provide a glimpse into the transformation potential these grants offer. They include: revitalizing a dying shopping mall in Gwinnett County; energizing a downtown in Henry County to improve road safety and examine ways to offer “missing middle” housing options, and turning a suburban corridor in Cobb County into a place that’s safer for pedestrians and bicyclists, while promoting transit and boosting the economy.

Since 2000, LCI grants have helped communities to reach their goals of creating more pedestrian-friendly places that better connect people to jobs and transit options.

The grants are funded through federal transportation dollars. They cover 80% of the cost of each study or project, with the grant recipient making a 20% match. Here’s a look at several of this year’s recipients:

In Gwinnett: From Moribund Mall to Transit Hub

Since Gwinnett County purchased 39 acres of the aging Gwinnett Place Mall property late last year, movement to reimagine the space has ramped up. The $220,000 LCI grant from ARC will enable the advancement of a bold development plan that will explore how to integrate a potential county bus rapid transit route into a planned expansion of Gwinnett Place Transit Center that will transform it into the hub of a 15-mile BRT route that begins at the Doraville MARTA station to the south and runs to the Sugarloaf Mills Park-and-Ride in the north.

The study, which begins this summer and will continue for just over a year, will be one of the first opportunities for Gwinnett residents to get involved and have their opinions heard.

As Joe Allen, executive director of the Gwinnett Place Community Improvement District (CID) told the AJC in a recent story, “It allows us to really do a deep dive…It’s a chance to roll up our sleeves, get our hands dirty, see what could be successful.”

The LCI study’s goal is to support transit, cars, and pedestrians, improving both transportation and quality of life.

In the City of Atlanta: A Creative Approach to Better Bus Stops

This year, two City of Atlanta neighborhoods will be the focus of a new type of LCI study. The will be using their grants, of $64,000 and $80,000 respectively, to focus on improving safety for pedestrians at bus stops through creative placemaking.

Creative placemaking refers to the deliberate integration of arts and culture into community revitalization work. (Listen to this 90-second explainer.) The thinking is that introducing artistic/cultural perspectives on the ground floor of planning efforts can result in more innovative, creative results that tap into a diversity of perspectives.

Enter the artists. This year, teams of participants in ARC’s Arts Leaders of Metro Atlanta (ALMA) class have been asked to develop arts and culture-led solutions to a number of regional challenges, including designing better bus stops at these sites as well as creatively engaging community members around these proposed improvements.

Other 2021 LCI Planning Grant Recipients

City of Alpharetta

Grant Amount: $160,000

The Alpharetta-South Main Street Creative Placemaking and Economic Strategy will take place along South Main Street (Hwy 9), from the Town Center, south to the city limits. This plan seeks to develop opportunities for safe walking and biking while promoting transit ridership. It also aims to examine opportunities for redevelopment that promote creative placemaking and the continued success of the Downtown Alpharetta LCI.

City of Douglasville

Grant Amount: $160,000

The Douglasville Town Center Implementation Strategy will update the Douglasville LCI to stitch together several existing projects to streamline them and set out plans of action, including the housing strategy work currently underway through ARC’s Community Development Assistance Program, a planned town green, creative placemaking, and upgraded connections to the Northside area.

City of Grantville

Grant Amount: $100,000

The Grantville LCI Plan will create a new study area within the City of Grantville, a small city on the southern border of Coweta County, as it looks to develop a transit connection to the Xpress commuter bus system and a revitalize its downtown.

Sugarloaf Community Improvement District (CID)

Grant Amount: $100,000

The Sugarloaf Transit Enhancement and Future Station Planning Study will further examine a planned BRT station stop at Sugarloaf Mall and multimodal connection to the Infinite Energy Center. The study will also explore short-term transit enhancements at the existing Park and Ride location near Sugarloaf Mall.

City of Hampton

Grant Amount: $80,000

The City of Hampton King, George, and Daniel Streets Revitalization Strategy will examine this set of streets near Downtown Hampton as the city looks to revitalize the area and improve transportation safety without displacing existing residents. This strategy will examine different so-called “missing middle” housing options that could be applied in this area.

City of South Fulton

Grant Amount: $120,000

The Old National Highway LCI Study Update will explore new transportation options and develop an economic development strategy for the corridor that includes creative placemaking.

ARC staff will also help the City of South Fulton with visioning of elements for its future town center.

Lilburn Community Improvement District (CID)

Grant Amount: $120,000

The Lilburn LCI Plan Update will focus on developing a walkable and vibrant downtown by updating its existing LCI Plan within the Old Towne Lilburn and the Downtown Development Zone to promote creative placemaking and diversity of housing options.

What’s Next ATL, produced by the Atlanta Regional Commission, is a community resource that explores how metro Atlanta is growing and changing, and how the region is addressing its most pressing challenges.