Let’s build Atlanta as a city, not a suburb

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By King Williams

It’s 2018, and the massive amounts of large-scale developments in Atlanta astound both long-time residents as well as newcomers.

The current pace of development rivals any of the other construction booms that Atlanta has had at any time in the modern era.

Atlanta’s current phase of large-scale developments include Fuqua Development’s Madison Yards project, Quarry Yards, Carter and Georgia State University’s redevelopment of Turner Field/Summerhill, multiple projects along the Atlanta BeltLine, the redevelopment of Underground Atlanta as well as the highly contested Gulch redevelopment project.

In addition to those, there are scores of other developments of apartments, condominiums and new single-family homes.

The danger is that we are replicating the suburban aesthetic and cultural environment of decades past by focusing on parking, car-oriented retail and a suburban design ethos with little regard for how these design choices work within the city.

One example is the recent 2017 sale of Underground Atlanta to South Carolina-based WRS Realty, which is mostly known for suburban strip malls anchored by Walmart and cellular providers. (story continues below)

 

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This was my question to WRS Realty concerning the sale of Underground Atlanta & the commitment to preserving history

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WRS is tasked with redeveloping one of Atlanta’s most historic sites, which includes the preservation of the older existing buildings. But it is now unclear whether WRS plans to document the historic events that occurred at Underground, such as the Civil War, its history as a transit hub, the 1906 Race Riot or the area’s history in the 1970s as a destination for nightlife.

Former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Atlanta City Council drew the most ire because of two positions: first, allowing for 2,000 additional parking spaces and second, the ‘abandoning’ of the public streets surrounding Underground to be privately ‘monitored and developed’ by WRS Realty.

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Just west of Underground Atlanta lies the Gulch, a 28-acre site that was home to Terminal Station and backs up to the Five Points MARTA station.
California-based CIM is proposing to redevelop the Gulch, also ground zero of Atlanta’s history, into a retail, residential, office and entertainment complex.

 

 

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I was riding a bike from @iwifresh day spa over in #CastleberyHills & decided to talk while biking about #TheGulch part 1…

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This what #greenlightthegulch is all about & my part 2 on thoughts on #TheGulch

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This proposal misguidedly calls for the building of 8,000 additional parking spaces, but the developer would not be required to develop a multimodal transit station. The development also would allow for privatized city streets as well as water and sewage infrastructure, in addition to $1.75 billion in tax credits.

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Additionally, the current Atlanta Beltline proposal at the border of Chosewood Park and Grant Park calls for the development of surface parking as well as proposed public storage units directly on the site of the Beltline.
Directly across from Centennial Olympic Park, a building that was the home of the first recorded country music song could be demolished to build a Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville and hotel…full stop, a Margaritaville?

In downtown, we also have another new parking deck that has opened for city and state workers near the State Capitol. And there is the new Judicial Center (that could be named after Gov. Nathan Deal) that will open in 2019 across the street from that parking deck.

The GSU-Carter redevelopment of Turner Field and Summerhill neighborhood, which includes large-scale student housing projects, commercial retail plus office spaces, that are all drive first, walk later developments.

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Privatized city streets, massive amounts of additional parking, public storage units, big box retailers with a lack of higher-density towers has me wondering if the city actually knows what its doing. Free or low-cost, suburban-styled parking abounds in the city.

With these car-oriented developments, Atlanta will lose money in the long run because it will not have the density it needs for future growth.
In some parts of the city, there are restrictions to expand multifamily housing developments while allowing the continued building of single-family homes
with few restrictions. In contrast, the city should require safe and adequate sidewalks in every neighborhood.

Using streets as privatized, country-club gatekeepers ultimately harms the city by restricting who can be a part of a community. In the past, suburban-style developments were designed to discourage black people from entering those gated communities. Combined with the historical white flight of Atlanta during the 1950’s through 1970’s, the city should be more proactive in reinvesting in the long time residents who’ve stayed and benefit from these new developments.

The urban versus suburban design of the city is outside of the questions related to housing affordability, residential displacement, cultural and historic erasure – all issues we need to address as we develop our city.
The good news? We still have an opportunity to build a better Atlanta – as a city, not a suburb.

King can be reached at [email protected] or @iamkingwilliams on Instagram and Twitter.

King Williams is a multimedia documentary film director and author based in Atlanta, Georgia. He is an associate producer on the upcoming Sara Burns (daughter of documentarian Ken Burns)/Dave McMahon’s Spring 2019 documentary – ‘East Lake’ – on the former East Lake Meadows housing project. King’s documentary “The Atlanta Way: A Documentary on Gentrification” will be released this January. His podcast on gentrification – “The Neighborhood Watch” – with Dr. Renee Skeete is available on iTunes and SoundCloud. And his book ‘The Gentrification Handbook’ will released in the summer of 2019. King can be reached at [email protected] or @iamkingwilliams on Instagram and Twitter. His google voice number is: 470-310-1795.

8 replies
  1. Steve Hagen says:

    Mr. King makes some great points. I moved here from Miami and about 2014 Miami reduced the parking space requirements at least in high rise condos, maybe for retail also in their urban core. I believe the reason for reducing parking requirements is to encourage people who buy the condos to actually live in them and work in the area using public transportation. In an urban core, big box retailers should not expect to draw customers with huge amounts of parking. Their customers should be served with easy public transport.Report

    Reply
  2. John R Adams says:

    King, thank you for sharing your insights and perspective. Your closing 4 or 5 paragraphs really drive it all home. We really need to get away from car-oriented development, and increase density and foot/bike traffic. Kudos to you for speaking out.Report

    Reply
  3. Paula Kupersmith says:

    King, thank you for highlighting the need for planning. City of Atlanta has a design plan – it was unanimously approved by City Council to assure good urbanism over the long-term, not the mayoral term. It is up to us to hold any mayor and council to it.

    Our current City Council’s position on large projects is hopeful, but there is still much to be done to unify their city planning approach. Example: Southwest Atlanta representatives (and the council as a whole) turned a blind eye to Ivory Young’s ramrod tactics regarding the passing of Westside Yards, a massive multi-use development that will add 50,000 cars to Northside Dr. alone – right across from the Mercedes Benz stadium. Not a peep from those CM’s who represent much of our richest Black history. Not a question from any other member who would prefer their own projects pass undeterred per the usual gentlemen’s agreements.

    I’m grateful for all of Atlanta’s coverage of, and involvement in, the Gulch conversation; the light shone on council process benefits us all – and pushes council to consider our city as a whole.Report

    Reply
  4. Will Adams says:

    I wrote something similar a few years ago here on the Saporta Report, though within the context of how potential Atlanta transit expansion can be more effectively enabled by mixed use density through updated zoning laws, removing land use restrictions, instituting traffic congestion pricing, removing mandated parking minimums, better historic preservation, etc. And so it’s quite refreshing to read someone write so eloquently on these topics. Because unless more people understand and fight for these planning commitments to guide future design principles within Atlanta, adding more MARTA lines, Beltline trams and light rail isn’t going to help mitigate car dependency.

    But I also think the critical point of contention here is the cultural, civic and politically externalities that Atlantans won’t admit to or have yet to discuss. Metro Atlanta is highly segmented and also highly balkanized, quite fiercely, on racial, political and social grounds, leading to levels of ineptitude, red tape and bureaucracy that were previously unthinkable. Think of all the nimbyism local governments enable in places like Buckhead, Decatur, Sandy Springs, Dunwoody, Alpharetta, John’s Creek, etc. Only 8% of the metro region lives within the City of Atlanta, still less than the 500k who lived there 50 years ago. And if we want to mitigate car dependency, then incentives should be in place to encourage people to live in the City, not the suburbs.

    But do people want to live in the suburbs? All indications are that enough still do, especially given the recent relocation of the Braves to Cobb County, so this is as much of a City Planning concern as it is a social and cultural concern.Report

    Reply
  5. Dana Blankenhorn says:

    By the time most of these developments are built, we’re going to have a lot of self-driving cars in this city. Cars that are rented, not owned. Cars that don’t need parking lots. So what happens with all these parking lots? Georgia State once turned a parking lot into an academic building. Are there any other ways to repurpose them?

    Another, semi-related point about parking lots. The terms and conditions for parking in them vary widely. If there were a uniform set of pricing, and a uniform technology for accessing these lots when they’re not being used, they’d be used more. And you wouldn’t need so many of them. Nor would you then require on-street parking.

    Imagine what Atlanta would look like without on-street parking.Report

    Reply
  6. atlman says:

    A brief rejoinder: the Braves preferred to remain in Atlanta but the city wisely rejected giving them $400 million AND control of future revenue streams AND surrounding property rights. Cobb was willing to surrender that and more, though it cost them the political leadership who approved it without consulting the voters.Report

    Reply

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