At the most recent Atlanta Streets Alive event, the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition calculated that a whopping 82,300 people turned out to pedal around and hang out in four intown neighborhoods. All of those people, which were nearly enough to simultaneously fill Phillips Arena and the Georgia Dome, were not attracted by live music, an arts festival or a beer garden, because none of those things took place. Instead, it was four hours of socialization in vehicle-free streets located smack in the middle of the city that attracted such a massive crowd to the event.
How is it that such a simple event with no clear entertainment or purpose can pull such a crowd of people? More than likely, it is the same reason that the majority of new development in the metro Atlanta area has been dense, pedestrian-centric neighborhoods. The demand for more walkable communities, with every necessity and amenity you could want or need being located at your fingertips, has grown significantly. Suburban-type development has started to wane, sprawl is slowing and metro Atlanta new home residents have a desire to be closer and more connected than ever before.
According to a report titled WalkUp Wake-Up Call: Atlanta, about 60 percent of new development, or roughly 15 million of the 24 million feet, developed between 2009 and 2013 has featured dense developments that are a mix of office, retail and residential space, named WalkUps in the report. The report was released by Christopher Leinberger, a developer and professor at the George Washington University School of Business in Washington, D.C.
It was Leinberger who, perhaps infamously, stated in the 1990s that Atlanta was the fastest growing human settlement in the history of the world in terms of the amount of acres being consumed by its growing population, naming the city the poster child for sprawl.
Today, Leinberger says “We have seen the end of sprawl in Atlanta. The suburbs are not dead. This is the urbanization of the suburbs.”
His report focuses on places that are considered “regionally significant,” or places that have at least 1.4 million square feet of space and are therefore a draw for surrounding areas, and measured their walkability using the ratings on WalkScore.com. WalkUps have to have at least a 70.5 score on WalkScore’s 100-point scale.
The 24 million square feet of development from 2009 to 2013 was down considerably from the 57 million square feet developed from 2001 to 2008 during the housing boom. However, the share of urban, mixed-use developments has grown as a share of development.
From 1991 to 2000, the total of dense, walkable development was only 15 percent of Atlanta real estate. Between 2001 and 2008, the amount increased to 25 percent, and today, the number stands at a staggering 60 percent of new development. And while about 70 percent of these places are in Atlanta, there are still a large number in the suburbs.
The study named 27 walkable areas that currently exist in metro Atlanta, including neighborhoods such as Midtown, Georgia Tech, Atlantic Station, Buckhead, Lindbergh, Inman Park, Atlanta University Center, Sweet Auburn, Peachtree Center and Emory. There are also areas outside-the-perimeter including Sandy Springs, Perimeter Center and Cumberland’s core, as well as the downtowns of Decatur, Marietta and Roswell.
A second category named in the study consists of emerging walkable places in the metro area that include North Point, Town Center, Perimeter West at 400, Doraville, Brookhaven and Hapeville, among others.
The final category includes potential walk-ups, such as Kensington Station, Turner Field, Ft. McPherson, College Park, Serenbe and East Windward, among others.
According to the report, the data suggests that these WalkUps will be the center of both Atlanta real estate growth and wealth-creating employment in the metro area for decades to come.
During the Atlanta Streets Alive event, while surveying the monstrous crowd, Jim Durrett, the executive director of the Buckhead Community Improvement District, summed it up quite nicely. “If we’re not careful, Atlanta will become a really cool city.” If current WalkUp development trends continue, as well as events like Atlanta Streets Alive, he just might be right.