Must read! This CNBC piece takes a look at Woodstock, GA as an example of a suburban place that’s thriving by becoming walkable and growing in a compact (non-sprawly) way. Go, Woodstock!
I’ve enjoyed reading recent articles in the national press about the rise of walkable places in metro Atlanta. Their source is a report from Christopher Leinberger titled “The WalkUP Wake-Up Call: Atlanta.”
You can read some good coverage on the report (and download the entirety of it) on Saporta Report. What I like most is finding out where walkable places — ones mixing retail, office, residential and parks — are growing throughout the metro suburbs. These places demonstrate that “suburb” does not necessarily equal “drive-only sprawl.”
Just take a look at downtown Marietta, where I was born. Pictured above, the city square has grown into a wonderful and lively place with new multifamily buildings and homes nearby, alongside beautiful old homes over a century old.
I was displeased to see in a USA Today article covering the Leinberger report that long-time sprawl apologist Wendell Cox had yet another ridiculous quote to spoil my urbanist party. Read it and wince:
Wendell Cox, who heads the St. Louis area firm Demographia. “My sense is the hype about walkable communities is overblown,” he said. “In Atlanta, as well as the rest of the country, the bulk of the growth continues to be in suburban areas.”
Wendell!! Suburbs can be walkable. Saying that the bulk of growth is in suburbs doesn’t mean that people are moving only toward drive-only sprawl and shunning walkability. In fact, according to Leinberger, the suburbs are shunning growth in drive-only places and favoring growth in walkable ones.
Photo by Flickr user City of Marietta, GA
Misunderstanding Historic Preservation | Next City, 03/17/2011
— What Happens When a Town Puts People Before Cars? | Atlantic Cities, 8/20/2013
The New York Times has a great piece today on US metros that struggle most with economic mobility with a focus on Metro Atlanta which, as the above image shows, suffers from the problem in a distinct way.
I found it fascinating to read about the connection between economic mobility and geography. There are huge expanses of low-income areas in Metro Atlanta and people have become entrenched within them in a geographic way, hurting their chances at economic mobility while also making it hard to get around from place to place.
…[Atlanta] is one of America’s most affluent metropolitan areas yet also one of the most physically divided by income. The low-income neighborhoods here often stretch for miles, with rows of houses and low-slung apartments, interrupted by the occasional strip mall, and lacking much in the way of good-paying jobs.
The geographical aspect of the problem is particularly vexing. As the article points out, the sprawling, car-dependent nature of the metro makes life much harder for low-income people. The low-density suburban areas that were built over the last decades are becoming populated by low-income people who are most vulnerable to being hurt by the lack of a walkable, transit-rich environment.
in Atlanta, the most common lament seems to be precisely that concentrated poverty, extensive traffic and a weak public-transit system make it difficult to get to the job opportunities. “When poor communities are segregated,” said Cindia Cameron, an organizer for 9 to 5, a women’s rights group, “everything about life is harder.”
Please take a few minutes to read the full article. This is the kind of struggle we need to keep in mind while the economy allows developers to start producing more sprawl. The short-term gains of this isolating development style cause long-term problems that continue to become more apparent over the years.
Mableton is a typical suburban community in Cobb County. The landscape is car-oriented, with winding residential roads full of detached homes separated from commercial corridors. It’s a sprawling model of the kind of use-based zoning that creates an environment hostile to pedestrians, particularly ones aging in place and increasingly less willing (or able) to drive.
Here’s the hoped-for future: retrofitting a suburban community so it becomes a new incarnation of an old-fashioned, walkable urban neighborhood. The new Mableton will have a town green, shops, and townhomes along a tree-lined boulevard. Parking lots will be transformed into parks. Mableton will become a “lifelong community,” where older residents can walk to a coffee shop, pharmacy, and farmers market while young families can walk to the elementary school, playgrounds, and puppet shows.
It’s a wonderful vision, one that fits in well with the goals found in “Retrofitting Suburbia" by Georgia Tech’s Ellen Dunham-Jones which, among other things, address the documented need for walkable places that accommodate an aging population.
The Mableton plan is long-term and very slow moving — the process of creating a new street grid alone will take several years. It’s entirely possible that another suburban community could pattern this plan and execute it more quickly. But that’s the best thing about what’s happening here: this one community, through its initiative and commitment, has shown what can be accomplished and has formed a blueprint for making it happen, one that can be copied and modified throughout the car-oriented sprawltburbs of Metro Atlanta.
Image credit: Duany Plater-Zyberk