"If you build a city that is great for an eight-year-old and for an 80-year-old, then you build a city that is going to be great for everybody. They’re like an indicator species. We need to stop building cities as if everybody in them is 30 years old and athletic."

— Gil Penalosa, the "pied piper for sustainable transportation," quoted in a Globe & Mail profile. 

(Source: plantedcity, via humanscalecities)

A spotlight on Downtown Atlanta, maybe a bit too soon?


A Creative Loafing article this week does a good job of detailing the successes and challenges of Downtown Atlanta from the residents’ point of view.

A series of items have appeared recently in local media about the changes taking place here, with big openings happening this year (College Football Hall of Fame, Atlanta Streetcar, Center for Civil & Human Rights) and more on the way (the potential sale of city-owned Underground Atlanta for development, the new Falcons Stadium).

Having all this focus on my neighborhood right now is a mixed blessing. It’s good to have people thinking about the area in a new light, but I’m also very aware that Downtown, as a neighborhood, may not be quite ready for a big “look at us now!” kind of spotlight on this level. 

This whole “year of downtown" thing is a little to PR-ish for me. Yes, we’ve got these large-scale, flashy projects happening here for visitors, but as a resident I’m more excited about the small scale stuff that affects livability, and I’m really happy to read these proposals for new residential developments. Getting more people living here long-term will give the area a big boost.

This is the most important quote, to me, from the CL article (which is really thorough and covers much more than just the big projects happening):

23,000 residents have filled more than 95 percent of Downtown’s existing units. Faced with overwhelming housing demand, and only a handful of various projects such as the 250 Piedmont Avenue's and the Atlanta Daily World building's residential conversions on deck, new residential projects might follow in the next few years. 

A spotlight might be more appropriate in a couple of years, after these proposed residential projects are open and the streetcar has had a chance to work its mojo.

Two things of note the article doens’t mention: 1.) The zoned elementary school, Centennial Place. It’s doing a great job in a challenging spot and it’s converting to a charter school this year. That’s a big plus for Downtown. 2.) Bike lanes! We’re getting a cycle track on Peachtree Center Avenue that connects with the Edgewood Avenue bike lane; a separated bike lane on Portman Blvd; and the Freedom Path multiuse trail (which intersects with the Beltline) is going to be extended to Centennial Park.

Developments like these two can go under the radar compared to big-money projects, but they represent the kind of change that will make Downtown a better place to live in for a broad range of people.

Families in the city: scooter edition


Here’s a beautiful photo I found via m-aurelien of someone riding a kick scooter in Lyon, France. 

After a visit to Paris a few years ago, where we saw whole families riding kick scooters on the sidewalk (and interacting quite politely and safely with pedestrians), I bought some scooters for our family to ride on in Midtown Atlanta where we lived at the time.

When we moved Downtown, I was excited to be able to ride on the sidewalk with my kid since he was getting big enough to scoot himself. Kick scooters are a great way to go a few blocks and quickly pass by the gack of surface parking and blank walls that we have on so many Downtown streets, and they’re just fun. 

But then a police officer (who was zooming around the sidewalks on a Segway, no less) stopped me and said that we can’t ride them Downtown. It turns out there’s a city ordinance that forbids skateboards and kick scooters in the entire Downtown area.

I emailed the city council members with Downtown districts, Kwanza Hall and Cleta Winslow, and asked them if the ordinance could be changed. They said they’d look into it and I hope they will.

I think that if we’re going to try to build a great neighborhood in this historic center of the city, particularly given the promise of streetcar-spurred development to lure new residential construction, we need to make sure that families and kids can have similar kinds of experiences here that they can have in other Atlanta neighborhoods.

It’s Downtown so, obviously, it’s never going to be Virginia Highlands — and I don’t want it to. But letting a kid ride a kick scooter is indicative of the kind of change that’s needed for getting families to live here. And every neighborhood needs kids. They make adults behave better just by their very presence (I could write a book on that topic based on our experience here).

So for now we can ride scooters in places like the Old Fourth Ward (below) — and really anywhere in the city except our home. But I’m going to keep pushing to make sure our own neighborhood is welcoming to families and kids, because that’s a good litmus test for the livability of any urban space.


Downtown Atlanta’s growing residential base


Cushman & Wakefield, an international real-estate trend watcher and service provider, throws my Downtown Atlanta home some serious love this week in a blog post on its website: The Time for Downtown is Now

Here’s a quote I particularly like because it references the importance of residents (I’m highly biased, obviously).

With more interest in urban living, Downtown’s residential base has been growing, along with the number of apartment and condo options in the area. The area’s population is approaching 30,000, and retailers are taking notice of this growing and affluent market. Nearly 230,000 square feet of new shops or restaurants are being built or are planned for Downtown, which will only further attract residents and visitors.

For many years, this area was a Central Business District filled with life during the weekdays while sitting silent and dark in most parts at night. But with the current residential life and, hopefully, more to come, it’s becoming a multifaceted place with a truly sustainable mix of uses.

It’s nice to read this positive outlook from professionals who specialize in urban trends. And following the love we got from the New York Times a few weeks ago, this is too much. I’m blushing.

I’d come right out and recommend Downtown as a great place to move to, but unless you catch the occasional foreclosure, you’re pretty much out of luck. We’re all filled up and eager to see new residential built.

I’ve included a pic from a block party on Poplar Street last year. We had a great time.

"Desirable cities in growing regions either add housing rapidly or become unaffordable to most and socially inequitable. It’s that simple. Limiting housing supply is what drives out the poor."

Tall is Good: How a Lack of Building Up is Keeping Our Cities Down | Alissa Walker, Gizmodo.com

Stadium should do no harm to surrounding communities : Blank, city, and state have responsibility to not create a sea of asphalt outside new facility

Falcons fans might not see the effects that their presence has on the area. But the residents who live in the surrounding communities have had to tolerate noise, trash, and antics…”10 to 12 hours of what amounts to a festival that, under a normal circumstance, would have to go before city and be permitted.” And the rest of the year, the lots are dead zones.


Millennials with kids staying put in urban places


The above graphic comes from an Atlantic Cities article on the decline of driving. I found these survey results to be startling. Keep in mind that these are “strongly agree” answers.

Notice that the numbers of Millennials with kids in both urban and suburban settings who strongly agree about staying put are pretty much the same. And look at that high number of 42% who strongly agree that having kids doesn’t mean you have to move “out of the city.”

Info like this should get in front of the eyes of anyone with a hand in urban livability. We need to make sure that schools, child care and playgrounds are plentiful in our cities and that our streets are safe to walk. The old paradigm of “live in the city while you’re young then move to a cul-de-sac subdivision when you have kids” has changed. We can’t plan for that anymore if we expect to prosper.