"We want to create an environment where people want to walk in, want to bike in and want to take transit in. And that is not a sea of surface parking lots."

Parking Lots Demolished in Cities’ Revenue Bid as Driving Wanes | Business Week, 4/10/14

"Paving decisions" in Atlanta

The top image is taken from a 1909 aerial map of Atlanta, at the intersection of Trinity Avenue and Forsyth Street. It’s typical of the compact land use of pre-automobile cities. The bottom photo shows what we have in that spot today.

I shaded in blue what is pretty much the only set of structures left intact after the surroundings were obliterated by the desire to build parking lots. 

How did this happen? The answer comes via a quote posted by citymaus :

In their headlong search for modernity through mobility, American urbanites made a decision to destroy the living environments of nineteenth-century neighborhoods by converting their gathering places into traffic jams, their playgrounds into motorways, and their shopping places into elongated parking lots. These paving decisions effectively made obsolete many of urban America’s older neighborhoods.

What isn’t answered in the quote is this question: why does this urban decay linger? What is preventing us from turning this transit-connected space (that’s a MARTA station on the lower right) with gridded streets into something more valuable, efficient, and uplifting for the city? 

Downtown residents have been wondering for many years, but there are no simple answers and very little initiative seems to exist in city government to find a solution. This, despite the millions of dollars that were spent to build the rail station and the great potential for revenue from transit-connected development.

Quote source: “Transforming the Use of Urban Space – Look at the Revolution in Street Pavements, 1880-1924” Journal of Urban History, 5(3)

"[Planning Professor Reid] Ewing tracked fewer fatal car crashes in counties with less sprawl. More densely populated counties actually had more car crashes (more traffic), but fatalities were lower. So a person living in Walker County, Georgia, is three times as likely to be killed in a car crash than a person living in Denver County, Colorado."

Urban Sprawl: Get Fat, Stay Poor, And Die In Car Crashes : a new report on metro density says it straight: quality of life improves in compact cities | Fastcodesign.com, 4/7/14

"Not only do we limit the options for family-friendly urban living, we overwhelmingly discourage it while also subsidizing its alternatives."

Housing is the Key to Family-Friendly Cities | Planetizen, 4/7/2014

— As a downtown dad, this is an issue near and dear to me, and it is explored well here by Bradley Calvert, an Atlanta architect. He nails the importance of building housing in the urban core that appeals to middle-income families, along with the need for better schools to serve them. And he looks at the market and social forces that form hurdles for achieving this goal.

Downtown Atlanta’s car infrastructure
This is a cool photo, above, but also depressing. Look at how much of this visible land space is devoted entirely to the movement and storage of cars:

Of course buses and bikes move on these roads too, but primarily this is cars, which is why there are so many lanes. And I haven’t even highlighted everything — there are some other parking garages way in the background.
This is Downtown Atlanta, the historic starting point of the city. It has gridded streets that were built years before automobiles and that were once served by a wide system of streetcars. Back then, these parcels that now host parking garages and surface lots were filled with buildings that housed people.
Even one of the most walkable parts of the city is affected heavily by car dependency. It’s impossible to live in a bubble of good urbanism in a metro area that relies so heavily on cars (and mostly single-occupancy ones) that serve the larger car-centric built environment. Sprawl affects us all.

Downtown Atlanta’s car infrastructure

This is a cool photo, above, but also depressing. Look at how much of this visible land space is devoted entirely to the movement and storage of cars:

Car storage

Of course buses and bikes move on these roads too, but primarily this is cars, which is why there are so many lanes. And I haven’t even highlighted everything — there are some other parking garages way in the background.

This is Downtown Atlanta, the historic starting point of the city. It has gridded streets that were built years before automobiles and that were once served by a wide system of streetcars. Back then, these parcels that now host parking garages and surface lots were filled with buildings that housed people.

Even one of the most walkable parts of the city is affected heavily by car dependency. It’s impossible to live in a bubble of good urbanism in a metro area that relies so heavily on cars (and mostly single-occupancy ones) that serve the larger car-centric built environment. Sprawl affects us all.

(Source: damnshelostweight, via throwback91)

New report confirms Metro Atlanta as leader in sprawl

image

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.

"Population growth has been shifting to the core counties of the USA’s 381 metro areas…Basically, the USA’s urban core is getting denser, while far-flung suburbs watch their growth dwindle. Driven by young professionals and retiring Baby Boomers who like living in cities, the trend is “180 degrees” from the last decade’s rush to the exurbs."

See ya, suburbs: More want to live in the big city | USA TODAY, March 27, 2014