Signs of Street Life in Sprawlanta?

I lived in Athens, Georgia, for seven years, and though Atlanta is only about an hour away (by car, of course), with a little effort I could probably count the number of times I made the trip. This video, the first in the American Makeover web series, goes a long way toward explaining why "Sprawlanta" — all 8,378 square miles of it — is no place for anyone interested in a walkable environment.

Not that Atlanta doesn’t have traditional pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods. But these pockets of relative sanity are normally bound by interstates or the hostile, high-speed traffic sewers that crisscross the metro area. As the film explains, the average Atlanta commute is an astounding 66-mile round trip, while the pedestrian fatality rate exceeds one death per week.

Into the breach come builders like Charles Brewer, the Internet entrepreneur behind Glenwood Park, a new urbanist development of walkable streets, green spaces and sidewalk cafes constructed on a former brownfield site close to downtown and the state capitol. While it’s still hemmed in by freeways and wouldn’t live up to an "old urbanism" standard for walkability, enviros like Kaid Benfield of the NRDC are hailing Glenwood Park as a shining example of smart growth in an otherwise dismal sprawlopolis.

  • Excellent video!

  • Paul

    Too bad Glenwood Park is in a relatively transit un-friendly area. It’s just more “drive-to urbanism.” The people who can afford to live there certainly dont work at the few minimum wage restaurants that have opened. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a huge step in the right direction, but why didn’t they put this development somewhere with transit access instead of immediately adjacent to a major highway?

    For the real walkable Atlanta, just head on over to Midtown. Three subway stops, multiple bus routes, tens of thousands of residents, tens of thousands of jobs at all pay scales, a huge beautiful public park, and walking distance to both Georgia Tech and downtown. I live in midtown with no car, and it’s no problem.

  • mike

    I agree with Paul here.

    I lived in Atlanta for several years, and I lived in Midtown. Despite the relatively constant fear of being mugged shot in my neighborhood, it was quite walkable. I could walk to Piedmont Park or several of the shops nearby. For longer distances as well as work, I rode my bike everywhere. I was lucky that work was only 3 miles away, but that is why I also chose to live in Midtown. Also, I used to ride the bus or metro to many other places. As a non-Atlantan, NE-transplant, I was always shocked when native Atlantans confessed that they had never been on the MARTA system in their entire lives. “Isn’t it dangerous and dirty?” they would ask. Truly sad.

    What isn’t discussed here is that Atlantans want more and more space, so they move further away where land is cheaper. Businesses stay in Atlanta, demanding that workers commute in, so the city obliges both by building ridiculous highways. Atlanta should just say, “No more highways, and all of the existing ones are now toll roads”. People would start moving closer to the city, getting used to slightly less space (still a lot by Northeast standards!), and start being able to walk more. With more people in the center of Atlanta, tax revenue would increase, and they could hire more cops to take care of the crime that has also been driving people out.

    Atlanta is a strange place, and all ideas are welcome, but to say that all of Atlanta is not walkable/bikable is absurd. However, many of the problems with Atlanta are so ingrained in the mentality of the people who call it home. They think the way Atlanta is “designed” is normal, and none of the politicians seem to care to try to stop it.


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