Metro Atlanta has a reputation for car-based sprawl. But, according to a recent national report, the region has more walkable urban centers than many of our peers, and those centers may be key to the region’s future economic success. That is, if the social and equity implications of success can be managed.
The 2019 Foot Traffic Ahead report, published by Smart Growth America and the Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis at the George Washington University School of Business, ranks the top 30 metros based on centers with high levels of office, retail, and multi-family rental square feet. Metro Atlanta cracks into the top ten for walkable urban centers amongst the nation’s 30 largest metro areas.
Here are five things you need to know about the report:
The Atlanta region has a total of 27 ‘WalkUPs’
The report uses Walkable Urban Places – or WalkUPs – as one measure of walkable urbanism. Regionally-significant areas qualify as WalkUPs if they have more than 1.4 million square feet of office space or 340,000 square feet of retail space, and a Walk Score of 70 or greater at the most walkable intersection.
Metro Atlanta has 27 WalkUPs that include regional economic centers such as Downtown Atlanta and Perimeter Center, areas around the Atlanta BeltLine, and urbanizing suburbs such as the Avalon area in Alpharetta.
Byron Rushing, ARC’s Bicycling and Walking Program Manager, said that as the region continues to develop, existing walkable communities will grow, and new walkable communities will be spread around the metro area.
“Right now, all 27 WalkUPs are located in three counties – Fulton, Cobb, and Dekalb,” said Rushing. “New walkable communities spread around more of the region will contribute to an equitable and prosperous metro area.”
Metro Atlanta ranks No. 9 for walkable urban centers, just behind Seattle
The report ranks the 30 largest metro areas based on walkable real estate and its implications for social equity and the economy. Metro Atlanta’s WalkUPs helped the region land at nine on the list, just behind metro Seattle. Topping the 2019 list was New York City, followed by Denver. The report credits Denver’s ranking to its investments in rail transit and transit-oriented development.
Among Sunbelt regions, metro Atlanta is first on the list
Most of the top spots on the list are occupied by older metro areas in the northeast and west coast. But Atlanta leads metros in the southern U.S. The only other city in the south that even cracks the top 20 is Charlotte, which ranks right behind Atlanta at number 10.
Here is how the sunbelt metros stack up:
# of WalkUPs
Metro Atlanta is rated “Level 2” in walkable urbanism, sharing the designation with seven other cities, including Pittsburgh, Seattle, Charlotte, and Philadelphia.
Atlanta is middle-of-the-road in terms of equity
While the region is doing well in WalkUP ranking, there is room for improvement on social equity. Using this study’s metrics, Atlanta ranks 13th – pretty much in the middle. Social equity is based on housing and transportation costs, as well as a balance of rental and for-sale housing. WalkUPs provide greater access to job opportunities, services, and transportation, pricing low-income households out of these areas could make inequity worse. To be equitable, the benefits of mixed-use, walkable communities and mass transit must be available throughout the region.
Metro Atlanta WalkUPs are located near highly-educated workforces
The three metro Atlanta counties in this report boast 46% of their workforce as college graduates. Metro Atlanta’s broader regional average is close to 37%, which is similar to the averages for the other 30 metro areas included in this report.
The report is careful to note that there is a positive association between educational attainment and walkability and economic activity, though not necessarily causation. But both together indicate the benefits of both building walkable centers as well as improving educational attainment for residents throughout our metro region.
There’s more to do
Metro Atlanta has room to keep climbing the rankings in walkable urbanism, social equity, and general quality-of-life metrics. Regional initiatives for center-oriented growth as well as walking, bicycling, and transit can help us move higher on the list.
Work like the Livable Centers Initiative and MARTA’s transit-oriented development projects improve the places we live and work while helping residents live close to their jobs or connect to more opportunities. Projects such as the Atlanta BeltLine and other regional trails can continue to improve transportation and mobility for the region. The region’s walking and bicycling plan – “Walk. Bike. Thrive!” – is built around the opportunity to create more walkable communities across the metro region.
To find more about the study and its conclusions, read the full report.
What’s Next ATL, produced by the Atlanta Regional Commission, is a community resource that explores how metro Atlanta is growing and changing, and how the region is addressing its most pressing challenges.