Like in many large American cities, neighborhoods in Atlanta are divided by a variety of factors such as race and income, and low-income neighborhoods and neighborhoods of color have historically had less access to resources than wealthy and white neighborhoods. This includes less access to sports facilities and green spaces, as well as less access to pay-to-play sports leagues.
Global design firm HKS collaborated with public and private interests through its pro bono practice, Citizen HKS, to help bridge this gap with an unlikely pairing: transit stations and soccer.
The Design Solution
HKS joined the partnership of Soccer in the Streets, Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA), the city of Atlanta’s Department of City Planning and the Atlanta United Foundation to help develop a cohesive vision for StationSoccer: a multi-site master plan to integrate youth soccer fields into underutilized land in and near 10 MARTA stations around the city. The soccer fields host the “League of Stations,” a free youth soccer league.
The HKS project team used extensive geographic information system (GIS) data to identify distinctions in factors such as demographics, walkability, land use and per capita income, but also engaged with each community to gain a wholistic understanding of the character of each neighborhood.
Based on the research, HKS developed a unique program for each station that honors and serves the identity and culture of the community. For example, the neighborhood around Kensington Station has a large number of immigrants, so artist Kevin Bongang was commissioned to design a mural on the asphalt around the soccer field to represent the mosaic of cultures in the area. At East Lake Station, bike racks are also sculptural objects to highlight the prominence of biking in the community.
StationSoccer also offers educational and community programming at its fields. Stations may feature a community garden, a learning center inside a decommissioned MARTA rail car, a mobile health truck or event space, all of which are included in a “kit of parts” that allows each station to be customized for each neighborhood’s unique needs. Each station also features benches made of Golden Spikes that pay homage to Atlanta United as a benefactor and Atlanta’s history as a railroad hub.
The Design Impact
The League of Stations is the world’s first transit soccer league and now impacts 5,000 children in Atlanta. Because StationSoccer fields are built into transit itself, they’re accessible to not only those whole live near a particular station, but those who have access to MARTA’s entire service area.
Soccer in the Streets has partnered with schools for years, but the new StationSoccer fields allow students from nearby schools to join a recreational league to play soccer outside of school. According to Soccer in the Streets’ annual impact reports, parents are thankful for the opportunity for their children to spend time outside and be active, especially as the world emerges from the COVD-19 pandemic.
Once neglected greyfield land, StationSoccer fields are now vibrant community spaces that promote healthy lifestyles and amplify the identities of the neighborhoods they serve. StationSoccer is healthier for the environment, too. The heat island effect and runoff are reduced by replacing impervious pavement with pervious surfaces and with the infusion of nature and shade.
StationSoccer has gained national attention with a visit from Pete Buttigieg, U.S. secretary of transportation. StationSoccer is now featured on the U.S. Department of Transportation website as an example of a successful transit-oriented development that combines transit, wellness and sport while cultivating healthy communities. The StationSoccer masterplan and design process are also featured in the AIA Equitable Communities Resource as a premier example of how architects can help create equitable communities.
- Youth soccer fields
- Learning center
- Community gardens
- Public art
- Golden Spike benches
- Event spaces
- 2023 AIA Georgia Aspire Design Award Urban Design/Master Planning — Citation
- 2021 AIA Georgia Design Award — Unbuilt
- 2019 Atlanta Regional Commission Great Places Award
- 2017 Atlanta Urban Design Commission Community Award
- 2017 Urban Land Institute Social Innovation Award