May 30, 2013
THEME: Point of View

The BeltLine Bikeshop: A Community Resource Springs From The Trailway

A few afternoons every week,  Tim O’Mara can be seen working in a garage in Adair Park, Atlanta, fixing bikes and chatting with the local kids, Shrek playing on the TV in the background. This garage is the BeltLine Bike Shop. Here you can get help fixing your bike, use tools to fix it yourself, change a tire, or donate bikes and bike parts to be fixed up and given away. It is through these donations that Tim and his wife Becky are able teach kids the values of hard work and goal setting by helping them earn their own bikes by helping the neighborhood.

In 2008, the O’Maras moved to this historic neighborhood in Southwest Atlanta. Shortly after moving in, they began to notice the troubles that afflicted their little community. Litter was collecting in the streets. The park across the way saw frequent gang violence, drugs use, and prostitution. Children could not enjoy what was once a central neighborhood amenity.

A seed of an idea was planted when they were asked by a young girl from their neighborhood to help her earn money for new bike tires. They agreed to have her do some chores around their house in exchange for new tires. After a few weeks, they surprised her with not just new tires, but a brand new bike. Word spread and soon many neighborhood kids were asking the couple how they could earn bikes as well. They realized that while very few of these children owned bikes, there were probably plenty of bikes around the city just sitting in garages collecting dust, waiting to be used. If only there was a way for people to donate these bikes, maybe then the kids of Adair Park could get their wheels.

Tim and Becky soon improvised, starting a bike shop out of their garage and fixing up two-wheelers donated by friends. After listening to neighborhood frustrations about litter in the streets, the O’Maras created a program in which local kids can earn bikes by helping the neighborhood, beautifying streets by picking up litter around Adair Park. From this model, the BeltLine Bike Shop was formed. Residents were thrilled as they saw a marked improvement in their environs and the kids were just as happy to finally have their very own bikes.

The Bike Shop eventually outgrew the O’Mara’s home and they now rent out a nearby garage. Here, the kids become a part of the community. While earning their bikes, they learn the value of hard work and respect, and are able to build positive relationships with adult role models.

And it all starts with a bike.

On a recent visit the Bikeshop, I was able to see this in action. As I pulled up, kids came from all directions, bikes in tow. They have nothing but respect for the O’Mara’s, and the feeling is mutual. Rules such as, “Don’t lie”, “Don’t spread rumors”, and “Don’t curse” are posted on the wall alongside photos of the kids with their new bikes.

I was thrilled to see something like this happening in the community, and am excited at the thought of more of these positive, organic additions to the community popping up around the BeltLine. As designers we strive to create work that improves the lives of those who use it – the BeltLine proves that you often have to look beyond the scope of the project itself to understand the greater impact your work has upon a community.

If you’d like to support the shop, visit them online here.

Click here to read more about the BeltLine on our blog.

This post was authored by Bethany Legg.

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