Why Soccer Fields Are Sprouting Up at Atlanta’s Transit Stations

Why Soccer Fields Are Sprouting Up at Atlanta’s Transit Stations

Swaths of MARTA’s empty space are being turned into athletic fields for kids and adults. The goal is to build a transit-oriented soccer league.

In 1978, Atlanta’s public transit operator built an amphitheater at the Five Points station, the nexus of its rail network, hoping that people would take transit to attend events there.

They didn’t. As the decades passed, MARTA’s amphitheater went unused due to a lack of programming, and it took up valuable real estate in the heart of downtown. But over the past two years, that space has finally become the gathering place that was envisioned decades ago. It’s now the site of a soccer field, which planners claim is the world’s first inside of a transit station. It’s also the first step in what the city hopes will be an entire network of fields that host a transit-oriented soccer league.

The idea began in 2013 during a trip that Sanjay Patel took to the U.K. He saw kids there taking the train to get to soccer games, and he thought: Why couldn’t Atlantans do the same? MARTA stations tend to take up a lot of land, with vacant pockets leftover. He knew that these swaths of empty, unused space would be ideal for mini soccer fields.

Patel, director of strategic projects at Atlanta nonprofit Soccer in the Streets, got to work. The organization, which aims to empower underserved youth through soccer, opened Five Points field in 2016. The second field opened in September, in the historic West End neighborhood, replacing a vacant lot underneath elevated rail tracks. The next is scheduled to open by spring 2019, and seven other MARTA soccer fields are planned to open over the next three years. This future network of 10 stations will make up a soccer league where kids and parents can travel by transit to different teams’ fields.
The amphitheater-turned-soccer field at Five Points station. (Courtesy of Soccer in the Streets)
Almost every day, you can find people playing soccer on MARTA fields after school or work, running across the bright green artificial turf. Each field is 90 to 100 feet long, about a third the length of a standard high-school soccer field.

“It’s straightforward enough to go and build a mini soccer field,” says Phil Hill, executive director of Soccer in the Streets. “But it really is a case of if you will build it, they will not come. You could build these things and nothing would happen.” That’s why, in addition to children’s teams, Soccer in the Streets has adult leagues and weekend pick-up games.

Patel and other people behind the fields hope they will bring the surrounding communities together and perhaps add another facet to Atlanta’s transit stations.

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