Ryan Gravel

Ryan Gravel, the visionary behind the Atlanta BeltLine project, will speak Thursday for the inaugural event of the College of Coastal Georgia Foundation’s 2019 Distinguished Speaker Series.

Community transformation can begin with just one big idea.

Whether in a city as large as Los Angeles or as small as Brunswick, all it takes is tapping into the right potential, and revitalization will follow.

Ryan Gravel has made a career out of watching cities transform themselves. As a graduate student at Georgia Tech, he used his master’s thesis to propose turning a 22-mile stretch of old railroad lines into a series of multi-use trails, streetcar routes and parks. The Atlanta BeltLine was born from this idea, and that project spurred on urban redevelopment in Atlanta.

Gravel will be in Brunswick on Thursday to kick off the College of Coastal Georgia Foundation’s 2019 Distinguished Speaker Series.

He will give a talk at 6 p.m. on Thursday at the Southeast Conference Center on the college’s campus. Registration for the event, which is free, will begin at 5:30 p.m.

“The idea is to leverage on underperforming infrastructural assets to initiate the creation of a new way of life for people and revitalize communities and spur on economic development,” Gravel said Monday. “So I’ll be telling that story.”

Gravel, who now owns a consulting practice for urban planning, wrote a book titled “Where We Want to Live,” which puts the conversation into a more global context.

He’s traveled internationally and seen what other cities are doing to transform. He’s observed that there are similar lessons and themes to learn around the world.

The BeltLine project, he said, fit into a larger conversation about the city’s civic identify and what needed to happen to leverage the community’s growth.

That discussion is not new in Brunswick. The question of how to revitalize downtown Brunswick has gone on for years, and many ideas have been proposed. While a wide variety of successful businesses have made downtown a vibrant place, many feel that the area has not reached its full potential.

Gravel’s typical client in his consulting practice is trying to figure out how to pull off a big idea, he said. They’re seeking ways to pull together a vision around an idea that is compelling to many.

“It’s more about a way of thinking about investment and making sure they are aligned with what the opportunity is, what that place in the world is about,” he said.

The ideas can create a new, more sustainable future for a community, he said.

“They’re leveraging their assets, to connect them to their place in the world,” Gravel said. “… I think a lot of people want to live in a place that is special. It doesn’t have to be the most special place in the world. It just has to be connected to something.”

He said he’s looking forward to learning about the story of Brunswick. Gravel will share his experiences Thursday during the event, and he will sit down for an on-stage interview with Bert Roughton, former managing editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Gravel will also field questions from the audience.

“The idea is to think about who you are as a place, what kind of opportunities are available, what kind of future you want and then align the investment in the policies you set to achieve those goals,” Gravel said.

Advanced registration for the event is required. Registration can be completed at coastalgeorgia.eventbrite.com.

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