Nation?s capital has built 20 walkable urban centers with 10 more taking shape
ATLANTA ? Metro Atlanta should look to Washington, D.C. if it wants to see the future of urban growth, a nationally renowned expert in the field told Atlanta builders, planners and smart growth proponents today.
?You?ve been a model. As I said during a visit here in the 1990s, you were the fastest growing settlement in human history. But now you?ve got some catching up to do. Washington, D.C. is the model of where the city is going,? said Chris Leinberger, a fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of the recent book The Option of Urbanism: Investing in a New American Dream. Leinberger is also a developer and was one of the founders of Robert Charles Lesser & Co., one of the country?s leading real estate consulting firms.
Leinberger spoke Thursday morning to an audience of 375 in the theater auditorium at the American Cancer Society in downtown Atlanta. His appearance was sponsored by the Livable Communities Coalition, Urban Land Institute-Atlanta District Council, Georgia chapter of the American Planning Association, Congress for the New Urbanism-Atlanta Chapter ? all members of the Coalition ? and Robert Charles Lesser & Co.
Leinberger believes that American land development is undergoing a structural shift. The shift, which began in the mid-1990s, is toward ?walkable urbanism,? Leinberger?s term for new developments and communities that mix commercial and residential uses in neighborhoods that are easy to navigate on foot. Such communities also typically have ready access to transit.
The shift is easily seen in Washington, a metro area comparable in size to Atlanta. Twenty years ago, there were two walkable urban centers in metro Washington, Leinberger said. There are 20 now, with another 10 taking shape. Atlanta, on the other hand, has five or six. ?Where will the other 25 go?? he asked.
Leinberger predicts that the rise of walkable urban centers will continue. Pent-up demand drives the increase. In Atlanta, no more than approximately 10 percent of the population lives in walkable urban centers, Leinberger estimates. Yet market surveys show that nearly 30 percent of the metro Atlanta population prefers walkable urban centers over ?drivable? suburban communities.
The demand is fueled by the millennial generation, the oldest of whom are now in their mid-20s, and by Baby Boomers whose children are grown and who are now reaching retirement. Gas prices also contribute to the demand. By some estimates, households on the fringe of urban areas spend up to 25 percent of their monthly budgets on transportation, a category that combines the costs of driving and owning cars. For households in walkable urban areas, the portion of monthly budget spent on transportation is typically 9 percent.
Leinberger recommended that the metro Atlanta region:
Following Leinberger?s talk, three local panelists added comments:
Formed in 2005, the Livable Communities Coalition is the metro Atlanta region?s smart growth catalyst. It unites 42 organizations working to change the way metro Atlanta grows by focusing on land use, transportation, housing, and conservation of open green space and natural resources. Member organizations include regional leaders in the areas of aging, building and development, business, urban and landscape design, government, housing, planning, sustainable development, the environment, and transit and transportation alternatives. For more information on the Coalition, please visit its Web site at livablecommunitiescoalition.org.
Chris Leinberger: The Structural Shift in Building in Metropolitan Atlanta