Atlanta has a walkable street grid, we’re just not using it well
Downtown Atlanta is capable of great things with new development; are we creating a place for urban innovation?
Above is a before-and-after view of the same block of Pryor Street in Downtown Atlanta. This gigantic parking deck to the left replaced the magnificent Kimball House, and other decks were soon built all around, creating dead spaces on streets where a lively city used to be.
Instead of undoing that mistake, we’re possibly adding 2,000 more parking spaces next to this as part of the Underground Atlanta redevelopment plan.
We can and should reverse that course. Downtown is capable of being the place in Atlanta where we support and showcase the most pedestrian-oriented, transit-connected concepts in modern urban design. The street grid here is a big part of that potential.
Respect the power of the street grid
The essence of walkability can be seen in the above 1949 map of Underground Atlanta streets. Notice the “density” of intersections in this view.
According to a study published by the Journal of the American Planning Association, of all the built environment measurements, intersection density has the largest effect on walking. More than population density, distance to a store, or jobs within one mile. Intersection density also encourages transit use and reduces driving — which is significant since the Five Points MARTA station is beside this street grid (it is, in fact, the most heavily used transit station in the southeastern US).
Surely, the worst thing you could do to this uniquely walkable street grid and to its transit access is to put a lot of new car trips here to compete with pedestrians. Luckily there are examples of better designs out there we can look to.
The innovations that are possible
If Atlanta wants to be a “world class city” — an often repeated mantra here — we shouldn’t lag behind when it comes to forward-thinking urban design. Great things are possible with the reduction of parking for new developments near transit.
The 1611 West Division apartments in Chicago (pictured above) have been a big success, with no parking. In Seattle, only about half of new rentals near downtown or transit have a parking space. A similar percentage of new apartments in Portland have gone up without parking, and they’ve benefitted from it with (relatively) reasonable rent prices.
And in the sun belt, Miami is getting a 49 story apartment tower with no parking.
Not to say that there should be no parking for Underground. But understand that this is the kind of innovation that can take place in Downtown Atlanta with its walkable street grid, transit access and bike lanes. And with the sale of *city owned* property, we have a rare chance to really expect innovation from a developer. We’re blowing that chance with this proposal.
Let the mayor’s office and the Invest Atlanta board know that adding this parking to Underground Altanta is wrong. IA will reportedly make the final vote allowing the sale of Underground this Thursday. YES to redevelopment, NO to bad urban design that squanders our potential.