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Thursday, October 10, 2013

The end of sprawl in metro Atlanta?

This is a much more pleasant office park
Metro Atlanta's days as "the poster child of urban sprawl" might be nearing an end.

A study released late last week by the Atlanta Regional Commission and Georgia Tech says that metro Atlanta is setting an example for the rest of the country with its development of walkable urban places - or, as they're referred to in the report, "WalkUPs."

The study conducted by Christopher Leinberger, a Brookings Institution fellow and smart-growth booster, focuses on more than 25 such areas in the region and the development of real estate surrounding them. He says "Regionally significant WalkUPs will be the primary location of economic growth in metropolitan Atlanta."

From the mid-1990's onwards, metro Atlanta has moved away from drivable suburban development towards walkable, urban areas, that have denser populations, employ multiple modes of transportation, and integrate diverse retail and real-estate options for the public. Leingberger cited a decrease in households with children and an increase in single or two-person households as a key reason for this shift.

Leinberger identifies that there are seven different types of these urban areas in any metropolitan region and Atlanta has at least one example for each: Downtown (GSU-Government Center and Peachtree Center); Downtown Adjacent Midtown, Centennial Olympic Park, Castleberry Hill); Urban Commercial (Arts Center, Buckhead Village, Inman Park); Urban University (Georgia Tech, Emory, Atlanta University Center); Suburban Town Center (Downtown Decatur, Downtown Marietta); Drivable Sub-Urban Commercial Redevelopment (Buckhead, Perimeter at The Center, Lindbergh Downtown, Buckhead Triangle; and Greenfield and Brownfield (Atlantic Station).

Other key findings included that 74 percent of these established "walkable urban places" are in Atlanta proper and 16 of those 27 are served by rail transit. In addition to the already established urban areas in metro Atlanta, the study found nine emerging areas and 10 other areas that have the potential to be accessible, populated and walkable like Midtown or Atlantic Station.

Projects like the Atlanta Beltline, the 22-mile loop of parks, trails, and transit that will connect 45 neighborhoods, will likely move many potential and emerging areas to the established list once they're completed.

"Atlanta doesn't get enough recognition for the great communities we've built or expanded since the Olympics or late 90s," Dan Reuter, Community Development Manager at the Atlanta Regional Commission ,said in an interview with CL. "In the last decade there's been a clear desire from a lot of people, young and old, to live in places where they don't need cars, where they can walk to a coffee shop, walk to restaurants, and use transit to get to work. This is a pubic interest in Atlanta and in the U.S.. [This study] reinforces the direction we're already headed in."

Leinberger thinks that this variety of accessible and diverse urban areas are not only going to lead to economic growth for metropolitan areas, but be the economic market in the future in not only metro Atlanta but many other regions as well.

"The market has spoken," Leinberger says in the study. "It is now time for public policy to reflect this new market demand by putting in the necessary infrastructure and zoning as well as encouraging place management entities, such as the Community Improvement Districts (CIDs), which will be the location of most future economic growth and development."

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