Since 2009, 60 percent of new office, retail and rental properties in Atlanta have been built in what Christopher Leinberger calls “walkable urban places” – those neighborhoods already blessed by high Walk Scores or on their way there. That new construction has taken place on less than 1 percent of the metropolitan Atlanta region’s land mass, suggesting a shift in real estate patterns from expansion at the city’s edges to denser development within its existing borders.
“This is indicative that we’re seeing the end of sprawl,” says Leinberger, a research professor with the George Washington University School of Business, who led the study in conjunction with Georgia Tech and the Atlanta Regional Commission. “It does not say that everything turns off. There will still be new drivable suburban development. It’s just that the majority will be walkable urban, and it will be not just in the redevelopment of our downtowns, but in the urbanization of the suburbs.”…
“I think there’s a cause-and-effect issue here,” he says. “I think that when the economy picks up steam, it’s going to be because we learn how to build walkable urban places. Real estate caused this debacle, and real estate has always acted as a catalyst for economic recoveries.”
He figures we’re sputtering along at 2 percent growth precisely because we’re not building enough of the walkable urban product that the market wants. “And it’s signaling with pretty flashing lights,” he says, “to build more of this stuff.”
New Urbanists FTW! The argument here is that the suburbs will continue – with their features of home ownership, cars, local control, autonomy, etc. – but they will look different due to denser designs, feature different kinds of community and social life, and include more features like cultural centers or mixed-use neighborhoods that are more traditionally associated with cities.
One obstacle to this might be how much existing suburbs are willing to increase their densities. This make make financial sense or be good for growth but it could also alter the character of more sprawling communities. For example, many suburbs have already considered or built transit-oriented development where denser housing and space is built near mass transit. But, would they be willing to extend such construction across more of their area?