Six-Year Report from the Downtown Atlanta Livability Front

Posted on September 1, 2016 by Darin Givens [ATL Urbanist]

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Walking up Broad Street in the morning.

Six years ago this month my wife and I signed a lease on a condo rental in Downtown Atlanta’s Fairlie-Poplar district. We moved in a few weeks afterward, with our little boy in tow.

It was a big decision to make, since Downtown wasn’t really the place that came to mind logically when pondering good places to live in the city with a family. As a neighborhood it was kind of an unknown to us. But we wanted to live in a place that had great pedestrian infrastructure, excellent transit access (for our car-light lives), decent proximity to a good school, walkable daily destinations including a park — and of course we had to be able to afford it.

Options we limited with that list, particularly on the affordability issue. We took the plunge with Downtown and after a couple of years, ended up committing even further by buying our condo and becoming homeowners here.

My wife and I have discussed it and decided that if we ever move, it’ll probably be because we’re moving to a new city. Other options  may open up in Atlanta over the coming years, but for now Downtown is the only neighborhood in the city that suits all of our particular needs and desires as a city-dwelling family.

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Woodruff Park

It’s a good place to live with a kid. We get to know neighbors, store owners, the people who work at the library down the street…and out son gets to play with kids who visit from all over at the ATL playscape in Woodruff Park.

It’s certainly not a “vibrant neighborhood” in the same way as others intown. We’ve got a real shortage of market-rate (by which I mean non-student) housing and it keeps the streets too quiet in between events and during breaks from classes at GSU — which also hurts the ability of local businesses to thrive, given that choppy foot traffic.

There are 400 apartments under construction on the north end of Downtown right now, northeast of Centennial Park. It’ll be interesting to see what effect those new residents will have when they move in. And The Office opened last year on the far northeast end of Downtown — converting an actual office to apartments — but the building is in an odd spot that’s fairly disconnected from the rest of the neighborhood and kind of interacts more with the Old Fourth Ward in its placement (though it’s a very cool adaptive reuse project nonetheless).

We need a lot more good urban fabric like apartments and retail to counteract all the events spaces and mostly all of the dead spaces like parking facilities and blank walls. Still too much of this:

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Parking decks and blank walls on Peachtree Center Avenue, alongside the new bicycle track. More residents could help maintain more neighborhood-focused retail, which would give visiting bicyclists a destination.

Downtown could definitely stand to even out its built environment mix by becoming a bit less touristy (and parking lot-y) and more neighborhood-like.

In that line of thinking, here’s a quote from Thread ATL’s principle #2:

Atlanta has spent quite a bit of time focusing on “world-class” attractions for visitors (or world-class offices), while not understanding the value of our vibrant neighborhoods. Atlanta’s neighborhoods are where the gold is. It’s where we connect to one another and feel a sense of belonging.

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How we spent the epic Atlanta Snow Jam of 2014. We lucked out. That’s an unidentified kid hurling a snowball at the rear end of a statue in Woodruff Park.

World class attractions are one thing a Downtown can have. It’s one way it can excel. But it’s not the only way — a mix is possible. Livability here is good. It could be better. We haven’t noticed any huge changes in the ability of the place to accommodate residents over six years. The new Walgreen’s is the most significant improvement. We’re still waiting for bold moves and hopeful that they’ll happen. Atlanta should be a city of 242 strong neighborhoods and that includes this one.