There is a tsunami of change coming to Atlanta and to cities around the world. The turmoil that we see emerging from these changes includes rapid population growth, demographic shifting and social inequities, wasteful land and energy consumption, rampant environmental degradation, worsening traffic congestion, escalating costs for housing and construction, and a widespread technological revolution. This is generating both a palpable sense of social unrest and a remarkable cultural awakening that channels that energy into new ideas and solutions.

Cities have always reflected the economic, social, and cultural turbulence of the times. While we may not know exactly what these current changes will mean for our lives, we do know that new ideas are needed to manage the scale and pace of this change. We also know there are people with great ideas all around us – if only they could be heard. That is the impetus for Generator, a nonprofit start-up conceived by Ryan Gravel, the idea-guy behind the Atlanta Beltline – an unexpected and transformational project now considered the “single biggest, most powerful urban idea in the United States.”

Taking lessons learned from the 20-year journey that brought the Atlanta Beltline to life, Generator facilitates a broad, inclusive dialogue about the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for cities. We offer both physical and digital platforms for sharing ideas that can address these changes, calling special attention to the amplification of ideas from people who may not otherwise be heard. Our goal is to seed and cultivate a positive cultural awakening that leverages inevitable change to also do good in the world. We want to help generate a shared understanding of how the city shapes our lives and in turn, how we shape the city around us – an understanding that will ultimately lead us to build the more equitable, resilient, and prosperous places where we want to live.

Generator’s work is organized into four broad, overlapping categories – research, education, activation and design:

RESEARCH: Generator builds on the work of its founder, Ryan Gravel. His personal research on the social and cultural impacts of physical infrastructure and public space forms the foundation of Generator’s open-source approach to understanding infrastructure projects locally and around the world. By focusing on ideas that support the future of cities, Generator research can include everything from vehicle automation to gentrification, chronic obesity, and disaster preparedness.

Our pilot research project is Linelabs, an online visualization tool that maps relationships between adaptive infrastructure reuse projects around the world, such as the Atlanta Beltline, Los Angeles River Revitalization, Underline in Miami, and Rail Corridor in Singapore. Through a playful interface, Linelabs allows users to explore what these projects mean and why they matter, and encourages grassroots organizers working on similar efforts to consider outcomes like health, equity, and climate resiliency.

EDUCATION: Generator exists to prepare a new generation of visionaries. We do this primarily through Generator Workshop, which is both a physical space and a curriculum. It is designed to work with multiple interest groups, disciplines, and fields of expertise, focusing participants to methods of inclusion, innovation, creative thinking, experimentation, and financial and political strategies for implementation.

Our pilot education project was “Generator Workshop: Buford Highway,” an elective course held in Georgia Tech’s College of Design in the Fall of 2017. For decades, the Buford Highway corridor has offered a safe landing point for immigrants and is celebrated for the ethnic diversity of its people and food. Rising land values, however, threaten the long-term viability of this diversity. We asked students to engage with people in the corridor and explore ideas to help sustain that diversity and the highway’s culture of adaptation and ingenuity.

ACTIVATION: Generator seeks to engage people in the social and cultural life of their city by translating its research and design proposals through events, visualization tools, art, music, performances, and film. The focal point of this work will be the physical space of its for-profit partner, Aftercar. By inviting patrons to engage in urban design experiments happening all around them, Generator provides entry points for people to see their city in a new light, and to appreciate its role in shaping their lives.

Our pilot activation project is Aftervan, a mobile lounge, photo booth, and art gallery that takes Generator into local communities and to larger national events like Austin’s SXSW or the Detroit Design Festival. It’s a 1978 Ford Econoline redesigned as a pop-up venue to capture stories and ideas and to inspire and encourage people to participate in shaping their future. Its inaugural event was Atlanta Streets Alive in September 2017, where it inspired a young company to sponsor its redesign and maintenance.

DESIGN: Generator intentionally develops design ideas that can deliver unexpected solutions for city life. Even audacious proposals that may otherwise seem unlikely – just like the Atlanta Beltline – become more possible with a careful, interdisciplinary, and often cross-jurisdictional approach that includes a commitment to health, social, and economic outcomes. By taking time to develop these proposals, Generator inspires people to see beyond the immediacy of local budgets and politics so that they can first envision the lives that they want.

Our pilot design project is called Rethink Freedom Parkway. With an eye to highway tear-down projects around the world, this idea suggests that Atlanta’s Freedom Parkway would find a higher value and more inclusive vision as a park. The original parkway, which began as a bittersweet compromise between a full-fledged highway and the communities that stood in its path, can be reorganized in ways that once again prioritize people over cars. And whether it is implemented or not, the idea illustrates our ability to design a better life for ourselves.

The culmination of these four program areas is the Library of Ideas, an online, searchable database of ideas conceived by Generator and its growing network of partners around the world. Content from the library will inform our research, shape our methods of education, animate our activation efforts, (most visibly at Aftercar), and inspire even more design proposals. Together, they will help us cultivate a cultural awakening that leverages inevitable change to deliver the lives that we want.

Begins: August 8, 2018
Ends: August 8, 2019