A report released today from Smart Growth America calls Metro Atlanta the most sprawling large metro in the US. This confirms that, despite the strides in good urbanism happening all over the region in pockets, there’s a major uphill battle in the long run due to the sprawling development of the past.
Measuring Sprawl 2014 “evaluates development patterns in 221 major metropolitan areas and their counties based on four factors: density, land use mix, street connectivity and activity centering.”
The report lists the damage done to people living in sprawl:
- Sprawl harms economic mobility. In compact, connected areas, “a child born in the bottom 20% of the income scale has a better chance of rising to the top 20% of the income scale by age 30.”
- People in sprawling areas spend more on the combined expenses of housing and transportation and have fewer transportation options.
- Life expectancy is greater for people in compact, connected areas, where both fatal auto collision rates & average body mass index are lower and air quality is better.
And so the Atlanta region has its work cut out for it, being at a greater disadvantage than any other large metro in the US when it comes to inefficient, costly, damaging urban development patterns. It’s going to take good leadership on a region-wide level to make significant changes and retrofit the sprawl for a more sustainable urban environment that benefits us all.
— Why Downtown Development May Be More Affordable Than The Suburbs | Forbes.com, 3/15/2014
— Money Hall | Charles Marohn, Strong Towns Blog, 2/24/2014
Thanks very much to a reader named Joe for sending me a link to this fascinating piece he wrote about Atlanta’s sprawl, posted on the GSU library blog.
In the wake of Snow Jam 2014, which saw millions of Metro Atlanta car commuters stranded on icy interstates, he takes a look at the origins of the region’s car-dependent sprawl — a situation that led directly to a reliance on interstates and personal cars for commuting.
According to the post, a 1952 Atlanta regional plan titled Up Ahead “clearly supported the development of a low-density, car-oriented region.” The image above comes from that plan and shows a single-use neighborhood design that keeps uses detached (single-family homes all in one place, stores detached elsewhere) and channels car traffic all onto one to the major artery road.
Does it look familiar? This resembles what most the metro looks like now, though, due to population growth, it’s on a much larger scale that puts most homes even further from destinations than pictured here.
Here’s a good quote:
Although a complex myriad of factors influenced Atlanta’s urban form, such as FHA lending policies that encouraged newly constructed single-family home purchases, an interstate highway system that allowed people to easily move to the suburbs, and weak local land use policies that contributed to the loss of an urban fringe, sprawl across the region was, in part, achieved by choosing to live in the many low-density, limited through traffic, suburban neighborhoods that dot the region.
The one point on which I’ll quibble with this is the phrase “choosing to live” — for new residents, there was not much of a housing choice to be made in a region that offered little alternative to detached-use sprawl in its zoning practices.
I’m very glad to see the metro trending away from this development type in current construction, but we’ve got a long way to go when it comes to repairing the sprawl damage of the past.