The association awards the distinction throughout the U.S. annually. Downtown Decatur was the only neighborhood to be recognized in Georgia.
Public Affairs Coordinator for the association, Denny Johnson, said the city’s downtown area was “singled out for its emphasis on sustainability, transportation alternatives, community engagement and measures to protect neighborhood character.”
The city experienced many changes in growth and use since its charter was established in 1823, but it still holds the title of DeKalb County’s government seat.
“Our downtown [area], built around a traditional courthouse square, is the heart and soul of Decatur and continues to evolve into a thriving center that is walkable, safe and inviting for people of all ages,” said Mayor Jim Baskett.
Residents’ input and planning is one of the reasons the city is a blend of homes, offices, restaurants and retail shops.
The Decatur Town Center Plan, designed in 1982 for the purpose of guiding the area’s redevelopment, came from a citizen-based advisory board.
“The city took a hit in the 1960s and 70s due to suburbanization outside of the city, but in the 1980s, residents wanted to improve the downtown area’s functionality, so the planning process became primarily the citizens’ plan,” said Assistant City Manager Lyn Menne.
She said residents wanted pedestrian friendly streets, more housing and preservation of the history of the city.
In the past 30 years since the plan was established, the downtown area has continued to experience growth.
“In the 1980s, we saw more office buildings come in and in the 1990s, restaurants and retail stores brought foot traffic back to the area,” Menne said.
She also said it’s important for people to realize the dedication and enthusiasm citizens have shown for their community.
“To me, what’s important is a strong sense of place and I always see people going out and enjoying this area in a variety of ways, so downtown Decatur is a place where we can connect with each other,” said Menne. “It didn’t get built overnight. After 180 years, it’s still evolving.”