In-Town vs. The Suburbs
A Lifestyle Choice Facing Every Newcomer
By Larry Anderson
Residents of in-town neighborhoods love the convenience and proximityto everything, while hearty suburbanites are happy to brave long commutes as the price they pay for more square footage, a big yard, and lots of fresh air. It’s like the story of the City Mouse and the Country Mouse. The familiar tale illustrates a contrast of lifestyles that is as familiar today as ever. Fortunately, newcomers can choose among great in-town neighborhoods and also the very best suburbia has to offer. But how to choose? To provide food for thought, we asked advocates for both options to weigh in with their strongest arguments.
The Benefits of In-Town Living
“The best feature of living in-town is the accessibility to people, places and things that are within walking distance,” says E. Camille Chillis, who lives in a Midtown high-rise and is co-chair of the Midtown Neighbors’ Association Community Engagement Committee. She describes her in-town neighbors as eclectic, seasoned, innovative, professional and environmentally conscious.
Nearby to Midtown are the historic district, green spaces, a park, eateries, lounges, schools, theaters, gardens, shops and museums. Midtown residents are close to such attractions as the Fox Theatre, Piedmont Park, the Atlanta Botanical Gardens and the High Museum of Art.
There are more in-town choices today than ever. Revitalization of Atlanta’s in-town neighborhoods is bringing new development and more people to some of the most underutilized areas of the city. The Atlanta BeltLine, a former railway corridor around Atlanta under development in stages as a multi-use trail, cradles the southern and eastern borders of the Grant Park area. Revitalization around the BeltLine will include developments that creatively cluster together homes, condos, apartments, businesses, retail, and restaurants. As a result, the Grant Park area is currently a hot real estate market.
“Homes that go on the market are typically sold in just a matter of days,” says Lauren Rocereta, president of the Grant Park Neighborhood Association. “This is an amazing time to live in-town since Atlanta is seeing so much revitalization.” Rocereta describes her close-knit community as an “edgy, fun” neighborhood that includes a national and local historic district, and is home to Zoo Atlanta and the historical Oakland Cemetery.
Neighbors joined together in the mid-1960s to fight encroaching commercialism in Atlanta’s Ansley Park community and adopted a neighborhood plan to discourage houses from being chopped into boarding houses and commercial buildings being added. Ansley Park also resisted “white flight” in the 1960s and 1970s by adopting a neighborhood resolution that welcomes all people, regardless of race, color, or creed. An attractive in-town neighborhood today is the result of the effort.
Ansley Park was originally designed in 1904 as the first “car-friendly” neighborhood in Atlanta. “The winding streets, welcoming sidewalks, and four parks within our neighborhood make this a perfect place to relax and to raise a family,” says Kevin Grady, President, Ansley Park Civic Association. Grady and his wife have lived in Ansley Park for more than 30 years and raised their sons here. “We love the convenience of the neighborhood,” says Grady. “It’s easy to get anywhere in the city, either by car or MARTA.”
Ansley Park is near to the Atlanta Botanical Garden, Piedmont Park, Midtown businesses and restaurants. Promoting a social atmosphere, the Ansley Park Civic Association sponsors regular dining groups, Christmas caroling, Easter egg hunts, and outings to local restaurants.
The Appeal of Living in the Suburbs
Advocates of suburban living are just as passionate about their neighborhoods. Julianne Rivera has lived in the Towne Lake community in Cherokee County (about 30 miles northwest of downtown) for 20 years. She and her husband raised their children here and now have grandchildren who love to come visit. She cites the appeal of close proximity to anything you need.
“You’re near downtown Woodstock, but not amid all the hubbub,” says Rivera. Her family enjoys the amenities of the Towne Lake Hills subdivision, including three pools (with a kiddie pool and a large water slide), tennis facilities, golf, a clubhouse with a restaurant and a large playground. Nearby there are good walking trails, and it’s easy to get on and off I-575. “I feel like we’re in the foothills, but close enough to go into the city,” she says.
“There is a camaraderie that’s tremendous,” she says. “I know of at least eight families who moved out of state and then moved back into Towne Lake Hills because it has a family feel to it. There are tremendous friends, great for all ages. We choose to stay because the people have created our home—the neighbors, they’re not just neighbors, they’re family.”
As a college town with local theatre and concerts and plenty going on, Gainesville (50 or so miles to the Northeast of Atlanta) is the right suburban lifestyle choice for Christi Lazear, a retired flight attendant and former art teacher. She and her husband live in Cresswind at Lake Lanier, an “active adult community.” The social life inside the community appeals to Lazear, including a clubhouse, tennis, a theatre group, a kayaking group and a travel club. “It’s like a camp for grownups,” she says. The Gainesville area has anything she wants, says Lazear. It’s close to the mountains and to Athens (“where I have a kid”). “It’s the best of both worlds,” she says. “You can get into Atlanta, but the local theatre is very good, too.”
Suburban growth has changed the face of many communities around Atlanta. Prime examples are Suwanee and Gwinnett County. Amber Wickham, a resident of Suwanee and seventh grade language arts teacher, has lived in Gwinnett her whole life, and her family has been around for six generations. “To say we have seen the area change is an understatement,” she says. “Thirty years ago, this area would be unrecognizable to today’s average Suwanee resident.” That evolution is one factor in making Suwanee (about 30 miles north on I-85) the right place for Wickham. She says the area now has cultural and civic events that rival those of Atlanta, and “the hometown feel you get from a small town.”
When Suwanee’s population boomed, leaders intentionally reserved green space for parks to be used by children and families, says Wickham. Sims Lake Park, for one, is great for taking a leisurely stroll, while dogs love running and playing at the dog park at Settles Bridge Park.
Something to Love for Any Lifestyle
Although the options of an in-town community or a suburb might seem a straightforward choice, the distinction is not always so clear. An example is the Smyrna community, which has characteristics of both an in-town and a suburban community.
Smyrna offers culture, value and proximity to downtown, but is geographically—slightly—outside the perimeter. “We are historically considered a suburban community, but with the addition of the Braves stadium and companion development, our feel, very soon, will be a vital mix of both suburban and in-town,” says Jennifer L. Bennett, Smyrna’s Community Relations Director.
The Cobb Galleria Centre and the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre are adjacent to Smyrna’s city limits. The walkable community also welcomes events and happenings such as summer concerts in downtown and the popular Smyrna Food Truck Tuesday series showcasing the city’s quality of life. There are tons of residential living choices, from lofts and luxury rentals to porch-to-sidewalk craftsman homes and heavily forested large-lot neighborhoods. “The sense of community is strong and satisfying,” says Bennett.
Whether seeking to live in-town or in suburbia (or some combination of the two), Atlanta has abundant choices for newcomers, whatever their preferences.
The Downside of In-Town Living
Newcomers may worry about in-town problems of traffic and crime, but residents of these areas say the challenges can be managed.
Lauren Rocereta of the Grant Park Neighborhood Association says her community, like most in-town neighborhoods, suffers from some level of crime. However, Grant Park has been transforming for the past 30 years or so and has a well-established Grant Park Security Patrol, funded by neighbors and local businesses, consisting of off-duty Atlanta Police Department officers who monitor 911, respond quickly when patrolling, and have full arrest rights. “Crime continues to decrease, and it certainly hasn’t kept some of the best people in the state from moving to Grant Park,” says Rocereta.
A problem for Midtown residents is limited access to street parking, a problem they mitigate by paying for annual or monthly parking spaces, says Midtown resident E. Camille Chillis.
Parking can be a challenge for residents of Ansley Park, too, says Kevin Grady. Major events being held at Piedmont Park have a big downside for Ansley Park, as event attendees tend to park in the neighborhood and cause traffic issues. Busy events at Piedmont Park that can bring on parking headaches include the July 4th 10K run, the Dogwood Festival, and Music Midtown. “That’s a small price to pay for the convenience and beauty of the neighborhood,” says Grady