Happy neighbors, walkable communities

By David Ibata

Today, an official of the Atlanta Regional Commission talks about a public opinion poll that found the vast majority of metro residents are happy where they live and, rather than looking to new construction for future growth, favor redeveloping older areas and living in walkable communities. Also contributing to today’s page are builders of two Developments of Excellence recognized by ARC as “cutting-edge, livable designs”: a model senior housing project in Decatur, and a pedestrian-friendly new-home community in Woodstock.

Region moving in good direction

By Douglas R. Hooker

Even though all of us can find something about the Atlanta region that we would improve, most of us who live here think it’s a pretty good place to be.

That’s the feedback that the Atlanta Regional Commission received when it recently conducted a public opinion poll of nearly 2,200 residents of the 10-county Atlanta region. The responses show that people like where they live, and most plan on staying put.

More than 80 percent of respondents rated their neighborhood as good or excellent, and 67 percent gave the same rankings to the Atlanta region as a whole. When asked, “If you could move, where would you move?” 76 percent of respondents said they would “stay where they are” or move to a different neighborhood in metro Atlanta. Only 23 percent would leave the region.

A couple of questions give us a glimpse into the future. The survey asked, “If you could move, to what kind of place would you move?” The majority (58 percent) of respondents said they would prefer single-family housing. Interestingly, however, 39 percent said they would choose mixed-use development. And, when asked, “What is the best way to accommodate growth?” 76 percent of respondents answered, “Redevelop older areas” rather than “continue to build new suburbs.”

These responses tell us that most residents of the region would like to see the region’s growth occurring in places where the supporting infrastructure, like sewer and roads, already exists. This represents a shift in demand compared with the last several decades, when our regional footprint expanded, unabated.

This new trend did not happen overnight. Beginning in the late 1990s with the assistance of ARC’s Livable Centers Initiative, investments by local governments and Community Improvement Districts began to create more walkable places in town and employment centers.

While these walkable centers were a niche market in years past, today they are attracting the lion’s share of new investment. Since 2009, approximately 60 percent of new office and retail space and multifamily developments in the Atlanta region has occurred in Walkable Urban Places, or what George Washington University research professor Chris Leinberger calls WalkUPs.

Mr. Leinberger’s recent study finds that the Atlanta region is a leader in walkable, urban development, even in the suburbs, and a harbinger for the rest of the country. In WalkUP Wake Up Call: Atlanta, Leinberger reports that “sprawl in metro Atlanta is approaching an end” and that WalkUPs will be the primary locations for economic growth here and around the country. That is good news.

So, what does all this mean? Residents feel good about where the region stands today. And, since we are already building the types of places residents and future residents want to call home, they should continue to feel hopeful about new community choices. On top of that, national experts are optimistic about the region’s economic future, telling us that metro Atlanta is in a good place and on a good path.

Douglas R. Hooker is executive director of the Atlanta Regional Commission.

Good, affordable housing possible

By Douglas S. Faust

The Decatur Housing Authority was honored to receive the Development of Excellence Award from the Atlanta Regional Commission for the Oliver House at Allen Wilson, a community of 80 senior apartments developed by DHA. To grasp the importance of this award, it is essential to understand the context of the development, site, design and community efforts that made this award-winning community possible.

Allen Wilson Terrace was a 200-unit public housing community built in 1941 in a historically African-American community. Due to serious design deficiencies and the obsolescence of its utility systems, in 2005, DHA and the residents determined that the community required revitalization. The housing authority and its strategic partners, including the city of Decatur, undertook to develop new, market-quality units that would transform the former row housing into a community of change and hope.

With exceptional proximity to downtown Decatur, it was essential to capitalize on the access to public transportation and employment, shopping, restaurants and churches, as well as, parks, recreation and cultural facilities. The site is within two blocks of Decatur’s thriving downtown government, business and retail district, including a MARTA station.

Decatur embraced affordable housing in the core of the city as DHA, the Allen Wilson residents and larger community established and then met four key goals: retaining 191 of the 200 original units, minimizing off-site relocation to only 40 volunteer families (with a right to return), accommodating the growing senior population with 80 designated homes, and developing an exceptionally energy-efficient community with access to Decatur’s amenities.

Oliver House includes state-of-the-art energy and water conservation features, including a photovoltaic solar power array, geothermal heating/cooling in common areas, hybrid geothermal water heating, rainwater harvesting for toilet operation and landscape irrigation, low-water-use fixtures (toilets, showerheads and faucets), Energy Star appliances, efficient HVAC units, three-quarters of an acre of permanent greenspace and connections to a half-mile of paved walking trails. In recognition of its energy efficiency, Oliver House was awarded 2012 Earthcraft Multifamily development of the year by Southface and Greater Atlanta Home Builders.

Seniors enjoy a roof garden terrace, equipped fitness center, craft/card room, computer room, sun/media rooms, conference rooms, full kitchen and a catalogued library. Adjacent to the covered porch/patio, residents grow vegetables and flowers in raised gardens.

Allen Wilson is a superior project in many ways. It is affordable housing easily accessible to needed services, excellent educational prospects and employment opportunities. Low-income families are able to remain within the small-town-yet-urban community of Decatur, and benefit from an exceptional quality of life.

Douglas S. Faust is executive director of the Decatur Housing Authority.

Neighborhood make walkable

By David Knight

Walton Communities shares the dedication of the Atlanta Regional Commission to developing communities that will positively impact residents and communities while ensuring long-term sustainability.

When we began to consider developing a new community in downtown Woodstock, we quickly realized that the city of Woodstock offered a unique opportunity for Walton Communities to be a part of a modern, walkable neighborhood that would offer residents access to a vivid cultural arts community, a growing culinary scene, and a lively entertainment district.

By working together, we were able to further develop the city’s grid street initiative and complement the long-term plans for Main Street Woodstock. The city has been very welcoming and accommodating, and we are honored to have been a part of such a forward-thinking initiative.
Woodstock West by Walton offers residents the opportunity to extend the lifestyle of Main Street

Woodstock to their front door, and offers a destination in itself. Our community features 308 apartment homes and convenient access to both the Greenprints bike trail and the Elm Street Cultural Arts Village.
Amenities include a community room that offers complimentary Wi-Fi, coffee bar and library, and a fitness center with the latest in cardio and toning equipment. Our pool and cabana area provides a tanning ledge, water feature, outdoor kitchen and fire pit. Residents also enjoy our complimentary vehicle charging stations and Bark Park, and they can breathe easy — we are a smoke-free community.

We take pride in our neighborhoods and are committed to supporting our residents through exceptionally maintained communities and unique service programs. Woodstock West was constructed according to Sustainable Woodstock guidelines with a focus on energy efficiency and community connectivity.

Walton Communities goes beyond building neighborhoods where people live by creating communities where people thrive.

We appreciate the warm reception provided by the city of Woodstock, the Main Street business district, and the amazing neighbors that make up this community.

We have been fortunate to welcome nearly 400 new residents and have only a few new homes remaining.
The overwhelming interest in Woodstock West by Walton combined with the great positive feedback from our first residents are our greatest indicators of success.

We are honored to share the Atlanta Regional Commission’s “Development of Excellence” Award with the city of Woodstock and look forward to serving our residents and the community of Woodstock in the years to come.

David Knight is principal at Walton Communities.

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