The City of Atlanta now has an exceedingly rare opportunity to correct some of its most atrocious attacks on the urban built environment. As the city works with private developers to once again redevelop the areas of Turner Field and the Atlanta Civic Center by pursuing urban residential development designed primarily for pedestrians, cyclists, and smaller commercial activity, these two redevelopment projects can serve as the beginning of Atlanta’s abandonment of anti-urban and suburban influenced development and as a return to the defining features of cities: walkable, mixed-use, people-centered development.Atlanta may have wiped away most of the small-scale commercial and industrial establishments that once dotted its old residential neighborhoods, but new projects over the past several years indicate that the City of Atlanta and developers have finally embraced at least some concepts of mixed-use land use development. However, all of the recent mixed-use projects in Atlanta still concentrate nearly all commercial activity in one area such as the Edgewood Retail District and Atlantic Station. Opportunities for small-scale commercial activity such as the grocery store that once existed on Hill Street and Georgia Avenue in Grant Park, largely do not exist, denying the possibility for truly walkable neighborhoods.Additionally, most recent mixed-used developments in Atlanta are overwhelmingly oriented toward accommodating the private automobile and much of the city’s land continues to be reserved for the transportation and storage of vehicles. If the development of Turner Field and the Atlanta Civic Center carry on with the now 60 year-long experiment to accommodate vehicles storage for each resident and each potential visitor, they will, like every post-1950 Atlanta development, continue to rob the city of urban qualities. If these developments merely hide parking facilities by building large underground garages or by wrapping mixed-use buildings around enormous parking decks, if they are built with multi-lane thoroughfares running through or alongside them as with Atlantic Station, then they will reflect the sentiments proclaimed in 1952 that “traffic” is the “life blood of a city.”Instead, as the City of Atlanta approves more mixed-use development, local officials should look to the many vibrant urban residential neighborhoods across the nation and the world, which have scattered community commercial activity and which have either no parking garages or only very limited underground parking for only a fraction of the residents and on-street parking for all others.Atlanta lost many of its urban qualities through conscious land use changes. The City of Atlanta has within its governing authority the power to implement wise land use regulations that can promote urban vibrancy and discourage, what Darin Givens of the “ATL Urbanist” has termed “drive-to urbanism.” Atlanta may have finally once again come to value the urban qualities of mixed-use development. However, mixed-use developments that do not maximize land for people, but instead reserve significant space for vehicle throughput capacity and storage, are still symbols of the war on density. If the city continues to allow developers to erect super-parking decks and if the city continues to reserve its public streets almost exclusively for private automobiles, Atlanta will remain an anti-urban city where the demands of the private automobile reign supreme over the actual lifeblood of the city— its residents, also known as pedestrians. The redevelopment of Turner Field and the Atlanta Civic Center will test Atlanta’s willingness to become, once again, an urban center.
Atlanta Studies | Atlanta’s War on Density