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Remaking Atlanta’s suburbs: Sandy Springs’ milestone in region’s redevelopment

David Pendered
City Springs, fountain

By David Pendered

A milestone in the region’s growth was passed last week in Sandy Springs. It marks a trajectory in the effort to retool suburbs from places built for Baby Boomers into ones suited for Gen Zers, and beyond.

City Springs, fountain

City Springs opened in 2018 on the site of a shuttered strip shopping center and is intended to serve Sandy Springs as a City Hall, cultural arts center and community gathering place. Credit: Kelly Jordan

That this milestone is located in Sandy Springs is of note. Sandy Springs represented the quintessential Atlanta suburb through its incorporation in 2005 – home to those who wanted the benefits of proximity to a big city, but not its taxes, social challenges and governance, according to Princeton University Professor Kevin Kruse, writing in his 2007 book, White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism.

Sandy Spring’s progress on its journey of redevelopment was evident at a gala hosted Oct. 3 by the Sandy Springs Conservancy. The milestone was established by the confluence of three things:

  • The event – The 6th annual dinner sponsored by the city’s greenspace advocate, Sandy Springs Conservancy, which is working with the city and PATH Foundation to build a citywide trail system that is to connect the city’s diverse neighborhoods;
  • The venue – City Springs, a year-old mixed use development for government services and cultural gatherings, which was built on the site of what had become a barren strip shopping center;
  • The speaker – Georgia Tech Professor Ellen Dunham-Jones, an expert on retooling suburbs who emphasizes the adaptive reuse of barren strip shopping centers. Dunham-Jones serves as director of Tech’s Urban Design Program and co-authored the 2008 book, Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs.

Dunham-Jones placed Sandy Springs squarely in the national movement of suburbs that are experiencing transformation into the 21st century. A series of suburban projects around the country showed strip shopping centers replaced by mixed use developments, road sprawl curbed by sidewalks and trails, and greenspace being established to replace private backyards as neighborhood gathering spots.

city springs

The contours of an exotic car shape the reflection of residences near City Springs into a structure that could trace its design inspiration to Antoni Gaudi. Credit: Kelly Jordan

Dunham-Jones referenced a research project that included Sandy Springs as one of metro Atlanta’s six Walkable Urban Places. The 2013 report, The WalkUP Wake-Up Call: Atlanta, was released by Chris Leinberger, a metropolitan land use strategist who currently chairs George Washington University’s Center for Real Estate & Urban Analysis.

Leinberger also identified emerging and potential WalkUPs. All nine emerging WalkUPs are suburban. Seven of eight potential WalkUPs are suburban, and the eighth is Fort McPherson.

These nodes are shifting the traditional notion of the center of the region, according to Dunham-Jones.

“Suburbs are now the geographic center of Atlanta,” she said.

These communities share emerging demands for new types of lifestyles, Dunham-Jones said. Boomers want a slightly more active lifestyle and the amenities that enable it. Comparatively few Gen Xers, with their earning power and taste for urban amenities, reside in suburbs. Gen Zers may not have the income for a residence in Midtown, and they reside in suburbs that are close to the job centers where many are employed.

Of the last point, Dunham-Jones said suburbs resolve this question for millennials: “Provide me an urban lifestyle at a price point I can afford.”

After the event, Dunham-Jones provided five national trends in suburban redevelopment that she sees as relevant in Sandy Springs:

Sandy Springs shopping center

Aged strip shopping centers, such as this one near the intersection of Roswell Road and Hammond Drive, are ripe for redevelopment to meet the needs of suburban residents in the 21st century. Credit: Kelly Jordan

  • “Redevelopment of auto-oriented properties to be more walkable, compact and supportive of a more urban lifestyle. City Springs is an example – and there are plenty more sites along Roswell Road that might be similarly redeveloped or re-greened
  • “Further reducing auto-dependency through greater bike and pedestrian connectivity: trails, sidewalks, new street networks to allow for more direct routes.
  • “Build pedestrian-friendly buildings on top of parking lots. Existing parking can be better managed as parking districts, shared, and or established in parking garages.
  • “Consider road diets and lowered speed limits on streets that they want to be more walkable
  • “Establish policy measures to preserve existing affordable housing and create new affordable housing that also reduces transportation costs.”

Dunham-Jones also offered two blue-sky thoughts as to areas Sandy Springs and, by extension, other suburbs could consider in planning their next steps:

  • “Reducing stormwater runoff to protect water quality;
  • “Building social capital with the construction of small parks that are heavilty programmed with activities.”

 

Sandy Springs, ranch house

Ranch homes in suburban communities, such as this one near the intersection of Glenridge Road near Hammond Drive, typified the design of the Baby Boomer generation, a time when carports were large, expansive grounds reduced the need for parks and fences made good neighbors. Credit: Kelly Jordan

 

City Springs, residence, reflection, car show

The polished surface of an Audi luxury vehicle provides a crystal-clear reflection of residences near City Springs, the Sandy Springs mixed use development that serves as City Hall and a civic space. Credit: Kelly Jordan

 

Sandy Springs Conservancy, 2019 Thought Leaders Dinner

Sandy Springs Conservancy’s 2019 Thought Leaders Dinner brought together this group (from left) conservancy Chair Jack Misiura; Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul; keynote speaker Ellen Dunham-Jones; conservancy Executive Director Melody Harclerode; and conservancy Past Chair Steve Levetan. Credit: Eric Bern

 

City Springs residence, car show

Residences near City Springs as reflected in an exotic car that was displayed during one of the programs intended to enliven Sandy Springs’ emerging downtown. Credit: Kelly Jordan

 

Sandy Springs, conservancy, ellen dunham-jones

Georgia Tech Professor Ellen Dunham-Jones spoke of the major themes of suburban redevelopment in her remarks at the Oct. 3 Sandy Springs Conservancy’s Thought Leaders Dinner. Credit: David Pendered

 

 

 

 

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David Pendered
David Pendered

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.

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3 Comments

  1. Avatar
    John Adams October 8, 2019 11:09 pm

    If you like this line of thinking, check out http://StrongTowns.org
    Chuck Marohn is literally writing the book on this.

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  2. Avatar
    Brainstar8 October 9, 2019 3:12 pm

    Sandy Springs appears to be in need of some refreshed design. No doubt, it will happen. Correct me if I am mistaken, but didn’t this city dramatic renew itself after it split from the City of ATL several decades ago?

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  3. Avatar
    O4W October 10, 2019 9:01 pm

    Sandy Springs was never part of the city of Atlanta.

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