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Next-Century Suburban Design

Next-century urban regions will be strong networks of clusters, not hub-and-spoke urban cores.

We have heard much recently about “making Atlanta a great city” and “moving forward not backward” and “keeping up with other cities” by giving politicians and developers a massive amount of tax money to spend on their favorite projects.

Atlanta is already a great city and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Our suburban lifestyle is the best in the nation by far. IBM and other corporations discovered long ago that once they moved executives into Atlanta, they would give up further promotions to stay here. As a region we have been in the top 10 in growth for years and are very likely to continue that growth. 

We have a congestion problem because our transportation planning has been dysfunctional for years. We have planned (and spent) as if Atlanta is still the hub-and-spoke city that it was in the 1960’s. We have ignored the suburban growth pattern and failed to create a grid of arteries. 

In his excellent study on this subject (“Getting Georgia Going”) Baruch Feigenbaum notes:

“The arterial network that should serve as the backbone for transportation is underdeveloped. Atlanta has quite possibly the worst arterial network of any of the 10 largest metro areas in the country. A great deal of attention is focused on the shortcomings of the region's transit network, but the region's highway network is not much better. Creating a grid network would improve Atlanta's traffic flow.”

The Atlanta region has grown into a network of clusters. From a growth viewpoint, this is a very strong structure and one that we should encourage and promote.  That requires very different thinking on the part of the state as well as local government officials.  Regional governance structures that attempt to cement in place a dominant “urban core” are misguided and in the end will prevent rather than encourage the region’s growth. 

We should begin by focusing on the origin of the problem – a dysfunctional GDOT. The GDOT board should be elected, similar to the Public Service Commission, and minimal professional standards for its top management established. 

Our transportation planners should begin by identifying roads that should serve as major arteries in the regional grid, and developing innovative, continuous-flow roadway designs for these arteries.  This can be done without building full-scale expressways.  Other cities have done it with flyovers, roundabouts and cross-unders, yet preserved the ability for local access to stores when desired.  Roadways designated as arteries should have minimal standards for such design, preventing local officials from putting stoplights every ¼ mile to slow them down. 

Companies don’t move to Atlanta because of our urban core or transit system.  They come because of the airport, the suburban lifestyle and great housing values.  Companies that avoid Atlanta do so because of our state income tax, our dysfunctional governments at state, county and city levels and our abysmal school systems.  If we want to compete effectively we should focus on those problems. 

The competitive regions in the next century will be strong networks of suburban clusters with great arterial grids, not central cities.  This does not mean that in-town lifestyles will deteriorate.  Quite the opposite.  There will always be a segment of the population that desires high-rise apartment living close to the city center.  Developers can and will meet that need as the market demand dictates. 

As witnessed by the Avalon complex in Alpharetta, there is even demand for that lifestyle in the suburbs, and Avalon’s developers are constructing a product to meet that demand without grossly distorting our transportation planning or requiring massive tax subsidies.  What is interesting to note is that the Avalon market study makes clear that its success will be dependent on the surrounding suburban neighborhoods.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

ACC-SEC Booster July 02, 2012 at 11:57 PM
Though it should noted that, despite the transportation and congestion challenges, Atlanta's suburban lifestyle is a bit more unique than most cities with the preponderance and overabundance of lush greenery, lakes, hills and even small mountains. Heck, there are other major cities, especially say in mostly-flat and vegetation-challenged Texas and other western locales and even a few eastern ones that would love to have the scenic suburban and exurban assets that the Atlanta Region has.
ACC-SEC Booster July 03, 2012 at 12:11 AM
{{"I would drive to hangout in downtown Decatur...but I wouldnt drive the same distance to hang out at a strip mall in Cherokee county"}} I agree that aged urban neighborhoods with an abundance of streetlife, charm and character are big draws for those around the region, even from surrounding suburban and exurban areas. But, on the other hand there are some really nice dining jewels in the form of great restaurants to be found in what seemingly may be a nondescript suburban shopping center. I've personally dined at many a high-quality eating establishment tucked into strip malls all over OTP suburban Metro Atlanta. Just like in the city, the burbs have got some really nice dining establishments, too.
ACC-SEC Booster July 03, 2012 at 12:17 AM
Great points, as those well-respected institutions of higher-learning (Georgia Tech, Atlanta University Center, Agnes Scott College, the up-and-coming Georgia State University which looks to be Atlanta's urban answer to a New York University and Emory University which is frequently mentioned as a candidate for future Ivy League expansion) are located in the urban core of ITP Atlanta.
Maggie July 12, 2012 at 04:50 PM
As the Mom of a Tech (honors') grad, who is a product of middle and HS in Georgia,.....he left this sorry State for a much better job, with more pay (salary), and a much much better quality of life!!! Thank you HOPE scholarship but, beyond that.....nadda to the head-in-the sand/good 'ole boy politics of Georgia!!
Maggie July 12, 2012 at 04:55 PM
spot on Mr. Lowry!!! If you live in mid-Cherokee country and wish to dine in Decatur, pack snacks and water, as you have no earthly idea (with traffic, etc) how long it will take you to get there +++ the gas $$$ it'll cost you!! This hold true for any 'distance' in this sorry regional sprawl!!

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