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Thought Leader Design

Street and Sidewalk Design Vital to Enjoyment, Economic Development

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In part two of this series on urban design, Heather Alhadeff, Senior Transportation Planner in the Atlanta Urban Design practice at Perkins+Will, uses the Little Five Points district in Atlanta as an example of the importance of good street and sidewalk design for economic vitality

I’ve been coming to Little Five Points since I was a child when my mother would bring me here from our home in Morningside. If you look in the history books, the ’70’s are not described as Little Five Points proudest moments. But the colorful community feel and small businesses didn’t “die on the vine” like other commercial areas. Instead the focus was on supporting new businesses like Sevananda and saving buildings with character.  The same plaza and sidewalk presence that was important to locals in the ’70s exists today and results in a creative and vibrant economy. It’s still one of my favorite neighborhoods in Atlanta to shop, eat, go to the theater and just stroll around the streets.

The area, which was established in the 1900s, is named after the five streets that make up the central intersection of the area, and it’s surrounded by some of the most historic neighborhoods in Atlanta, including Inman Park, Edgewood, Poncey-Highland and Candler Park.

Today, these streets and sidewalks provide a perfect place to see contrasts between good urban design and areas that need improvement. As you can see in the video, good urban design can include variety in the color and character of the buildings, wide and well-maintained sidewalks, trees that create a pleasant environment while providing shade and a buffer between pedestrians and cars.

Even small investments in urban design can make a difference to the economic vitality of a business. A restaurant here has a planter outside the patio that softens the space between the pavement and the patrons.

Contrast that area with those further south of the major intersection where crossing the street is quite dangerous to pedestrians and sidewalks are barely differentiated from the street. Large parcels of land are bisected by an excessive six lanes of roadway. Yet, one restaurant has invested in the sidewalk zone with its entrances clearly marked for pedestrians and a large landscaped patio where you can hear birds chirping over the sound of the traffic . Heck, even a gas station has upgraded its image with a brick exterior, landscaping, windows and even a bike rack. The station owner gets it — the design of streets and sidewalks has a big influence on vitality and economic development.

Next time you’re walking through a neighborhood, ask yourself: Is this a pleasant experience or do I just want to get out of here quickly? If you are enjoying it, someone most likely took the time and made an investment in good urban design.

P.S. The City of Atlanta has included Moreland Ave on the local project list for the Transportation Investment Act.  People, not cars carry a wallet. For maximum economic impact, I hope the final design of the project will accommodate cars, but also be held to the highest standard of quality for pedestrian and cyclists.


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