Tim and Becky O’Mara moved into Adair Park in 2008, excited about the prospect of remodeling a home in a historic area and living life on the oak-lined streets of an in-town neighborhood.
Unfortunately, the O’Maras soon discovered that litter, violence, drugs, prostitution and crime were also characteristic of their area’s inner-city living. But rather than cut their losses and move, they’ve helped transform Adair Park into the neighborhood they dreamed of in the first place.
It all started with a chance encounter with a neighborhood girl whose request to borrow some glue for a school project blossomed into a steady friendship. When one day the girl showed up without her bike for the first time, the O’Maras asked where it was and learned that the girl needed new tires. They offered to let her do chores for the money needed to buy new tires, and ultimately surprised her with a whole new bike.
“That sort of created this avalanche of kids who were like, ‘We want bikes,’ ” Tim says. The O’Maras struck a deal with the neighborhood kids: pick up four to five bags of trash around the neighborhood and get a bike, which the O’Maras were collecting from friends who had old, unused bikes collecting dust in suburban basements and garages.
“We began getting more kids, more bikes and the thing just started snowballing,” Tim says. “All during this time the crime was going down, the streets were getting cleaned up, and the neighbors started viewing the kids differently. People started trusting each other and talking to each other.”
Neighbors started to give the neighborhood kids their own odd jobs, from cutting grass to walking dogs. Then, with the trash problem rapidly diminishing and bike maintenance needs growing, the O’Maras started to put kids to work repairing bikes to earn their own as well.
In April 2010, with bikes all over their house, yard and porch, the O’Maras decided they were truly onto something and went all-in by opening the Beltline Bike Shop – aptly named after the Beltline project that Tim hopes will continue to foster community-building by connecting parks, schools, shopping and 45 in-town neighborhoods. “I could see, in 10 years or so, Atlanta being extremely bike-friendly,” he says.
For now, Tim is happy to be encouraging a young generation to rely on a healthy and environmentally friendly mode of transportation with an even simper end goal. “I think it’s more of a side benefit of everything else the bike does,” Tim says. “The kids are not riding the bike because it’s healthy. They’re riding it because it’s fun. There are good influences and bad influences in the neighborhood. The bikes just got the little kids to go play, got them away from just sitting there, hanging with the older kids and making bad choices.”
To date, the Beltline Bike Shop has given away 250 bikes, repaired 2,700 and led the collection of 830 bags of trash. The shop is open three days a week and, for a nominal fee, everyone is welcome to stop by and use their tools and expertise to repair their own bikes.