This is a rendering of the new Chick-fil-A going into Vine City. The property, about one and a half acres, is big enough to fit 10 or 15 urban commercial buildings into. Instead, the vast majority of this development is parking and a drive thru. About 25-33% of the land is restaurant, and it’s oriented toward parked cars rather than the street.
In fact, 10 or 15 buildings used to be here ten years ago, before they were demolished. Here’s an aerial photo of what they looked like on this same property that will house a single restaurant and its parking lot:
It’s incredible to think about the value of sidewalk-adjacent property we lose with these dedicated parking lots that surround businesses like this new Chick-fil-A. While we should absolutely celebrate the 70+ jobs (according to the Atlanta Business Chronicle) that will be brought into the community through this new restaurant, it’s also worth asking: how many more jobs could we have created if we’d used this land in a more efficient way? Looking at this old aerial photo, I think we can get a good idea of the amount of jobs that could be housed on this land.
Parking and car-centric design are hurting the urban fabric of Atlanta’s neighborhoods, and also their economic prosperity. How many more jobs could be created if maximized the proximity of this property to MARTA? If we built less (or gasp, no parking) and if the Westside Future Fund, City of Atlanta, and allied businesses were able to put 15 businesses on this property? How many more services could be provided to neighbors?
Using egregious amounts of space for car storage (and, in the case of the drive thru, movement) undermines the potential prosperity of our city and our neighborhoods. And in an area that’s short on jobs and access to goods and services, that’s shameful.
How do we do this kind of development better?
For a look at how this could have been designed at least marginally better, look at the Vine City location of KFC nearby.
There is a lot of parking beside the KFC, but you can eat (ha!) into it with future development over it, without needing to replace the restaurant building itself — essentially making the development flexible for reuse of the parking portion. Meanwhile this Chick-fil-A design locks in the asphalt in front of the building, long-term.
Let’s re-think parking for the good of our neighborhoods. Chick-fil-A could easily have oriented the building towards the street, allowing it to fit in with the surrounding district in a way that’s more walkable and that allows for a greater concentration of services and jobs. The fact that it doesn’t simply adds to the existing problem: the Wal-Mart (previously Publix) next door also followed a suburban style development with the large parking lot out front. Vine City deserves better.
EDIT: on our ThreadATL Facebook page, a commenter asked a great question about this post:
“Chuck Shultz: Are there any examples of free standing chick fil a restaurants that are pedestrian friendly? Akers Mill shopping center isn’t. Glenwood Park barely might be.”
In fact, a Chick-fil-A restaurant in Pasadena, CA is praised for being in a walkable format in this article: “Drive-Throughs & Walkable Communities: Can they Coexist.” Check out that link for some good photos of what the restaurant looks like.
Note: Darin Givens is the poster, but this writeup is very much a collaborative ThreadATL effort.