An Affiliate of the Georgia Municipal Association
Survey Reveals Residents Believe in Redevelopment
November 26, 2013

More than 75 percent of metro Atlanta residents who responded to the Atlanta Regional Commission’s public opinion survey called “Metro Atlanta Speaks” believe redeveloping older areas is the best way for metro Atlanta to accommodate growth, compared to 18.3 percent who believe building new suburbs is the answer. That statistic appears to underscore the results of a study released in October that quantifies a significant shift away from the auto centered development model of the second half of the 20th century to pedestrian-friendly centers that allow people to live near jobs, shopping and services. Study author Chris Leinberger was the keynote speaker at during the ARC’s State of the Region breakfast on Nov. 1.

Chris Leinberger

“It absolutely surprised me that after studying you for 30 years, you [metro Atlanta] are fundamentally changing how you invest in the built environment and how you invest in yourself,” Leinberger told the more than 1,000 regional leaders gathered at the Georgia World Congress center for the breakfast. “It is about building walkable urban places in a place that over the last 30 years has been known as the poster child of sprawl.”

Leinberger said while many had noticed metro Atlanta’s shift in development patterns, his study is the first to demonstrate “on paper, with numbers” that metro Atlanta is headed towards a “constellation of walkable urban places both in the central city and in the suburbs.”

“Welcome to the future,” he added. “It is a post sprawl future.”  Leinberger believes that over the next generation the Atlanta region will continue to develop walkable, centralized communities but only on less than 10 percent of its existing urbanized land while the bulk of drivable suburban places will stay just as they are.

Leinberger also urged the region to learn from cities like Paris, Nuremburg, Belgium and American cities like Seattle and Portland, which all have rail transit, bike share programs and a vibrant street scene.

“It is at the street level that they succeed,” he said.  

The Atlanta region should also better balance its rail and highway spending, Leinberger said.

“I would suggest 50 percent of your transportation dollars be spent on rail and bike improvements and 50 percent go towards your roads—with the vast majority of it should be going towards the maintenance of your roads,” he said, and further called for the region to expand MARTA—the region’s limited rapid transit system.

“You are underinvested massively in MARTA,” he said. To pay for rail expansion and bike and pedestrian improvements, Leinberger said the region should employ a 3-way mix of federal, local and private funding.

“It is up to you to raise taxes as you’ve done with TADs (tax improvement districts) and other sales tax increases but it is going to be up to the private sector to come to the table to help pay for the rail transit and bike improvements that are so crucial,” he said. He noted that the region could pay off the debt incurred from expanding rail transit by capturing some of the property value increases in areas served by expanded transit—a model employed in the region 100 years ago.

“Rail transit didn’t make any economic sense then and it doesn’t today,” said. “It had to be subsidized.”

© 2012 Metro Atlanta Mayors Association