New report: Atlanta’s sprawl among nation’s worst; ARC’s Doug Hooker says ranking ‘a look back in time’

By David Pendered

ARC Executive Director Doug Hooker is pushing back against a new national ranking by Smart Growth America that shows metro Atlanta is one of the worst regions in the country when it comes to sprawl.

This development in downtown Woodstock was promoted by the ARC and is one example of why the ARC contends a new report that cites Atlanta's sprawl is out of date. File/Credit: Donita Pendered

This development in downtown Woodstock was promoted by the ARC and is one example of why the ARC contends a new report that cites Atlanta’s sprawl is out of date. File/Credit: Donita Pendered

Hooker cites a 2013 report by Chris Leinberger, a land use strategist and developer, that announced metro Atlanta is, “experiencing the end of sprawl.” Leinberger’s study observed that walkable urban development now accounts for most of the development in metro Atlanta.

The report by Smart Growth America carries additional sting because it links a number of social maladies to sprawl. Social mobility is one striking measure.

Metro Atlanta ranks 50 out of 50 regions, and 99 out of 100 when compared to the nation’s top cities, rising above only Memphis, according to the report by Harvard University. This report was cited in the Smart Growth America report.

The new report provides a number of charts that shows where metro Atlanta fits into the national picture in terms of communities that enable people to walk to meet most of their daily needs and obligations.

The one sentence that references Atlanta states:

  • “Among large metro areas (defined as having a population more than one million people), New York, the national leader is the most compact and connected [with a score of 203.4]. Atlanta, GA, is the most sprawling, with a score of 41.0.”
Click on the image to see a larger version. Credit: David Pendered, Smart Growth America

Click on the image to see a larger version. Credit: David Pendered, Smart Growth America

Hooker did not allow the most recent report to pass without rebuttal from the region’s planning and intergovernmental coordination agency.

Hooker cited three points to make his case that metro Atlanta has turned the corner on development practices that foster growth in rural areas far from job centers that have resulted in some of the longest job commutes in the country:

  1. The ARC’s Livable Centers Initiative has enabled communities to redevelop such that, “LCI areas account for 5 percent of the region’s land area, but they contain 7 percent of the region’s housing, 24 percent of commercial space and 38 percent of office space.”
  2. Leinberger’s report that shows development patterns in the region has shifted toward greater density;
  3. ARC’s 2013 “Metro Atlanta Speaks” public opinion survey that showed, “almost 40 percent of those surveyed would consider moving into a mixed-use community if they had the opportunity to move within the region. More than 75 percent favored redeveloping older areas as the ‘best way for metro Atlanta to accommodate growth,’ and when asked, ‘What is the best long-term solution to traffic problems in metro Atlanta,’ more than 62 percent pointed to either ‘improvements to public transportation’ or ‘developing communities in which people live close to where they work.’”

Incidentally, Leinberger’s report characterized metro Atlanta as the “poster child of sprawl” and used the region to deliver a sweeping prognosis that placed his report in a historic context in the realm of urban development:

  • “Surprisingly, this research has found that sprawl in metro Atlanta is approaching an end. Assuming these trends continue and Atlanta is a harbinger for the country, the end of sprawl is the end of an era that is nearly as significant as the “closing of the frontier,” as proclaimed by the historian Fredrick Jackson Turner following the release of the 1890 Census.”

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

4 replies
  1. Joe Seconder says:

    & the Braves moving to Cobb is ANOTHER example that the sprawl continues. Unless of course they concurrently build light rail from Midtown to Cumberland, & then extend it along the top end of 285 to the Doraville MARTA station.Report

    Reply
  2. atlurbanist says:

    I don’t see how Hooker’s info is a rebuttal. Yes, sprawl growth is coming to an end and many good anti-sprawl initiatives are taking place. But these good things are happening after the main damage of sprawl growth has been done — and Metro Atlanta grew in this inefficient, harmful way faster and wider than any other large metro in the US.
    The report from Smart Growth America isn’t claiming that Metro Atlanta is a lost cause when it comes to better growth, or that good things aren’t happening to reverse sprawl. It’s only presenting data that shows how bad the problem grew to become, and what a huge task we’re up against as a region.
    The numbers don’t lie. Despite the willingness on the part of many leaders to reverse sprawl’s damage, the fact is that the damage here is more extensive than it is in any other large metro. It shows the importance of committing to bettering our built environment on a regional level.Report

    Reply
  3. atlurbanist says:

    I don’t see how Hooker’s info is a rebuttal. Yes, sprawl growth is coming to an end and many good anti-sprawl initiatives are taking place. But these good things are happening after the main damage of sprawl growth has been done — and Metro Atlanta grew in this inefficient, harmful way faster and wider than any other large metro in the US.
    The report from Smart Growth America isn’t claiming that Metro Atlanta is a lost cause when it comes to better growth, or that good things aren’t happening to reverse sprawl. It’s only presenting data that shows how bad the problem grew to become, and what a huge task we’re up against as a region.
    The numbers don’t lie. Despite the willingness on the part of many leaders to reverse sprawl’s damage, the fact is that the damage here is more extensive than it is in any other large metro. It shows the importance of committing to bettering our built environment on a regional level.Report

    Reply
  4. lloydprogroup says:

    If there is any doubt about Atlanta’s sprawl come during rush hour. It seems that all the people up north drive south and all the people down south drive up north of the city. The same goes for east and west.
    Remember the simpler days of a live, work and shop community?

    You lived near your job.
    We need more of that here to stop the sprawl.
    That means combining the brains of local business leaders + government to help make that happen.
    We have to do a lot of work to either build better connections.

    Just our 2 cents.
    http://www.lloydprogroup.com/coverage/home-insurance/ | Nationwide Insurance
    1830 Water Place Suite 105, Atlanta, GA 30339Report

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

What are your thoughts?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.