That was the message Christopher Leinberger, research professor at George Washington University’s School of Business in Washington, gave Friday at the Atlanta Regional Commission’s State of the Region breakfast at the Georgia World Congress Center in downtown Atlanta.
While the strategy is nothing new — Atlantic Station, Decatur and other metro Atlanta communities come to mind — Leinberger said he now has the data to back it. Last month he and the college’s Mason Austin released a 64-page report on an Atlanta development study, “The WalkUP Wake-Up Call: Atlanta,” and Leinberger was interviewed by national publications about the document (WalkUP stands for Walkable Urban Places).
“A lot of the press has been saying over the last two weeks, ‘We’ve known this. We’ve seen this,’” he said. “But in my defense, this is the first study where we’ve seen this. The first person to point this out to me was the city planner for the city of Atlanta, Leon Eplan.”
Leinberger also serves as president of LOCUS, a Washington-based, national smart-growth development nonprofit; a nonresident senior fellow at Brookings Institution in Washington and the founding partner of Arcadia Land Co., a New Urbanism and transit-oriented development firm.
The commission is metro Atlanta’s regional planning and intergovernmental coordination organization serving a 10-county area, the same land mass the study used for its findings. According to the report, metro Atlanta’s walkable urban properties are 112 percent higher in value overall than non-walkable ones.
Following a video showing different communities in metro Atlanta, especially intown ones, Leinberger said, “Unlike 20 to 30 years ago, when you would see a lot of pretty buildings, it showed you. It showed people. That’s what I’m talking about today.”
He said between 1992 and 2000, only 10 percent of metro Atlanta had established walkup areas and only 4 percent of it had emerging walkup areas. But since 2008, that number has jumped to 50 percent established walkup communities and 10 percent emerging ones.
Leinberger also compared Atlanta to U.S. and international cities such as Paris, Brussels and Portland, saying they have set the New Urbanism bar for this city.
“It’s a different future,” he said. “[Metro Atlanta] is going to be a constellation of walkable urban places both in the central city and in the suburbs. Your 5.3 million people, $47,000 per capita [gross domestic product]. Your freeways and traffic, people know it. MARTA, people know it. This research … shows a structural shift. There are 27 established walkable urban places. … There are another nine becoming walkable.”
In closing the program, commission Executive Director Doug Hooker talked about the shift to New Urbanism.
“It’s clear we are moving in the right direction and a good direction,” he said.
ARC hands out awards
Also at the meeting, themed “Great Places,” the commission applauded smart growth in the region and handed out four awards.
In its annual Development of Excellence Awards, the overall winner was Oliver House at Allen Wilson Terrace in Decatur. It is a new senior living facility with energy-efficient features. The Great Place Award went to Piedmont Park in Midtown. The Atlanta Beltline’s Eastside Trail earned Exceptional Merit for Transformational Redevelopment. It’s a two-mile long path; a portion of the Beltline is in Buckhead. The Woodstock West mixed-use project received Exceptional Merit for LCI (Livable Centers Initiative) Achievement.
Also at the meeting, commission board Chairmam Tad Leithead shared the findings of the organization’s first Metro Atlanta Speaks Regional Survey.
“We now have a statistically valid snapshot of the major things we face. … The real value will come when people respond,” he said. “We plan to do the survey annually and continue to update it with people’s responses. This morning you will hear the very first report on this survey.”
Residents’ responses in the study include the following:
o Two-thirds described the city as good or excellent
o Eight of 10 said they like the city’s neighborhoods.
o Three of four said they would stay in metro Atlanta if they had the opportunity to move to another city.
o Eight of 10 said metro Atlanta is the same or better than other metro cities in the country.
o Seven of 10 said improving transportation is important to them.