Once seen as urban blight, abandoned industrial corridors and rail lines have been transformed into some of the country’s most popular parks and trails. “They’ve been reborn as places for people,” says Ed McMahon of the Washington-based Urban Land Institute. “It’s amazing how many cities are embracing their industrial past.” He shares some favorite examples with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY.
Sprawling Atlanta is now home to one of the largest bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly projects in the nation, McMahon says. The BeltLine, a former rail line circling the city, has already has attracted billions of dollars of investment, including Ponce City Market. The former Sears warehouse now houses a food hall, offices and an amusement park on its roof, and even has valet parking for bikes. Eventually reaching 22 miles, the trail already features art displays, yoga sessions and tours. “It’s really transforming the city.” beltline.org
When it opened in 2015, this elevated rail line brought badly needed park space to Logan Square and other neighborhoods near downtown Chicago. “It was really kind of neglected,” McMahon says. Now it serves bike commuters, runners, dog-walkers and families out for a stroll. “It has had a pretty significant impact there.” the606.org
Walkway Over the Hudson
This partially burned railroad trestle had been an eyesore since the 1970s until a local group had the vision to transform it into a park. Stretching more than 1.25 miles, the state of New York calls it the longest elevated pedestrian bridge in the world. “It’s not only a great project, but it has led to the redevelopment of downtown Poughkeepsie,” McMahon says. walkway.org
Three Rivers Heritage Trail
For decades, the former steel-making giant turned its back on its rivers, reserving its banks for transportation and industry. But in recent years, the city has reclaimed its greenspace with a 24-mile system of trails. “Pittsburgh has an incredible natural setting, but you really couldn’t access the water until it started turning all these rail spurs into trails,” McMahon says. friendsoftheriverfront.org
The world’s first elevated park inspired many of the projects on McMahon’s list. The nearly 3-mile esplanade opened in 1988 on a former rail line that passes above neighborhoods and dips through tunnels and trenches. Visitors come for the galleries and shops that have opened in the viaduct’s arches, and for the gardens and landscaping,…