These Streets Were Made For Walking
Exploring Atlanta’s Pedestrian-Friendly Communities
By Anna Bentley
While searching for your new home in metro Atlanta, you mightbe looking for a community that puts you within walking distance of great dining, shopping and maybe even your job. Well, you’re in luck! All across the metro area, more and more people are embracing the idea of pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods
These areas are defined by such factors as higher-density development; a mix of residential, retail and office spaces; wider, landscaped sidewalks; and an increased focus on safer conditions for pedestrians. And though this may seem like a relatively recent trend, it’s anything but.
“The idea of walkable communities is definitely not new. It’s actually old,” says Dan Reuter, community development manager for the Atlanta Regional Commission, an organization that promotes and funds livable centers throughout metro Atlanta. The rise of the car took communities away from their walkable roots, moving development toward sprawling suburbs and strip-mall shopping centers. Now, though, that trend is reversing.
“In the last 20 years in the United States, this idea of creating more walkable communities has really taken hold,” says Reuter. “In metro Atlanta, we’ve now got many, many more walkable communities than we did in the late 1990s.”
From revitalized downtown centers to smart new developments, here are just a few of Atlanta’s pedestrian-friendly communities.
Historic Downtowns, Reimagined
One of the region’s first communities to revamp its downtown area was Smyrna, a booming city about 30 minutes northwest of Atlanta. While some cities devoted resources to revitalizing their existing historic areas, Smyrna took another route by building a town center completely from scratch. The Market Village, with its mixed-use development of restaurants, shops and townhomes, as well as a nearby community center, public library and parks, created a cultural focal point for the community in the early 2000s. Now, the Market Village hosts festivals, concerts and other events throughout the year.
The city has continued to make commitments to walkability. Medians throughout the city’s main roads help slow traffic and encourage foot traffic, and a mixed-use development with single-family homes, luxury apartments, and retail and dining recently broke ground less than a mile from the Market Village.
Inside the Perimeter, just east of Atlanta, the city of Decatur is known for its vibrant downtown, strong community and smart growth. Downtown Decatur is home to some of the city’s most lauded restaurants, including Cakes & Ale, the Iberian Pig, No. 246 and Leon’s Full Service. It’s also home to farmers markets, pop-up markets, concerts and festivals celebrating books, wine, craft beer and bluegrass, to name a few. Best of all, it’s all within walking distance of the Decatur MARTA station, allowing for easy, car-free access to some of Atlanta’s top attractions and entertainment destinations.
Just west from Decatur is one of the city’s oldest—and most distinctive—neighborhoods. Filled with Victorian estates and bungalows dating back to the early 1900s, Inman Park is most known for its historic architecture and eclectic community, bolstered by the annual Inman Park Spring Festival and Tour of Homes.
“The spirit of Inman Park is embodied in that crazy festival,” says Dennis Mobley, president of the Inman Park Neighborhood Association. It’s the largest volunteer-run festival in the Southeast, according to Mobley, and it’s brought hundreds to enjoy live music, handcrafted art and the neighborhood’s feisty personality every April for the past 43 years.
Inman Park’s modern redevelopments (Krog Street Market, Inman Quarter and Inman Park Village, to name a few) and close proximity to the Atlanta Beltline, a 22-mile network of multi-use trails and parks, give homeowners easy, walkable access to nearly limitless dining, shopping and entertainment options.
“Now, we’ve got a healthy mix of historic single-family homes with lots and lots of choices for dining and businesses and a whole bunch of new neighbors to visit,” says Mobley.
Atlantic Station, one of the city’s largest live-work-play developments, features office space, several blocks of dining and shopping options, an 18-screen stadium-seating theater, high-rise hotels, apartments, lofts, condominiums and townhomes. Its location, just off of 17th Street and Interstate 85 in Midtown Atlanta, makes it convenient to all the action of the city. Atlantic Station also hosts events throughout the year, from music festivals and tennis tournaments to haunted attractions and performances by Cirque du Soleil.
In the heart of Atlantic Station’s residential area is a large park complete with a lake, pedestrian bridge and benches for enjoying Atlanta’s sunny summers and (mostly) mild winters. Plus, a free shuttle transports residents and visitors to top neighborhood spots and the Arts Center MARTA station.
Thirty miles southwest of Atlanta sits a different kind of pedestrian-friendly neighborhood. Serenbe, founded in 2004, is a master-planned community based on the arts, nature and wellness.
Its intentional, thoughtful design promotes community and walkability in clever ways. Communal mailboxes create opportunities for conversation with neighbors, and wooded trails throughout neighborhoods offer a shorter path to city centers than along paved streets.
The community’s four culturally themed neighborhoods are designed like English villages, with restaurants, cafes and boutique shops located in the center of the neighborhood, and homes radiating outward. When finished, Serenbe will feature 1,200 homes—single-family homes, garden estates, condominiums, apartments and lofts—on its 1,000 acres, as well as plenty of green space. As part of its development plan, 70 percent of Serenbe’s land must remain untouched.
At Serenbe, as with developments and cities throughout Georgia, it’s more about embracing smart ideas from the past than creating an entirely new way of life.
“What we’re doing really is taking from the past … and recreating it in a neighborhood that inevitably develops community,” says Monica Olsen, director of communications for Serenbe.
No matter what part of Atlanta you decide to call home, odds are you’ll find a community that offers the opportunity to live, work, shop, dine and play in one convenient, walkable neighborhood.
How Walkable Is Atlanta?
A June 2014 study ranking the country’s 30 largest metro regions in terms of walkable areas placed Atlanta at No. 8.