Following their excellent series of animations of urban sprawl in US metros using satellite photos (not currently online, unfortunately), NextCity now posts a series of GIFs that show patterns of density — over almost a century — in several US metros, including Atlanta.
Above is a GIF that shows the well-known sprawl here. The post calls us the “sprawliest US city” and notes that, unlike other sprawling metros such as L.A. and Houston, Atlanta’s growth of the years lacks any periods of “dense sprawl.” This means that our car-centric pattern of development is not only a land hog, it’s also extremely unwalkable and difficult to serve with transit.
But the news is not all bad. The animation also shows where some nice gains in density have been made in the center of the city, near the transit-served and pedestrian-friendly streets of Midtown and Downtown. A quote:
Atlanta does, however, follow the pattern of most big U.S. cities of finally turning inward in the first decade of the millennium, with growth in Downtown and Midtown.
As Real estate analyst Christopher Leinberger has said: “it is altogether probable that in terms of land area Atlanta is the fastest-growing human settlement in history.”
The zoning-enforced development of car-dependent places during the last few decades was part of an experiment in social engineering and inefficient placemaking that has clearly failed. Fueled by cheap land and county governments that placed quick economic return over long-term sustainability, car-sprawl development was embraced by Metro Atlanta moreso than any other place in the US (if not worldwide).
The car-sprawl damage to the outlying areas is significant and will take much time to undo, but I’m confident that good urbansim will happen eventually all across the metro.
Why the confidence? Because we have so much evidence of the economic, environmental and social harm of car-centric, sprawling places. This is no longer a fringe theory. And compact, walkable places are not a passing fad — we’re waking up from the decades of car-sprawl to see that this was a strange deviation in the healthy norm of human settlements.
The thing Metro Atlanta has most in its favor, in regard to creating healthier urban places, is competition. Intown, we’re experiencing a major apartment boom that shows no sign of slowing down. This will bring thousands more residents into the city and near transit, walkable streets and bike infrastructure. Those dark-blue splotches at the end of the animation are the winning team in the competition and I doubt it will take long before other places throughout the metro (many in fact already have) get in the game.