Ask your average Atlanta for the boundaries of “downtown” and you’ll get as many answers as we have Peachtree Streets. For our purposes, we’ll go with the area covered by the Atlanta Downtown Neighborhood Association. Downtown still carries a stigma as being more of a tourism, business, and government kind of place, but residences have been slowly integrating into the mix over the past decade. Living downtown means prime access to transit, major employment entities (government, professional, and education), and key events like concerts. The Fairlie-Poplar district forms the most coherent residential section in downtown, with its numerous condos converted from vintage office buildings. It’s probably the key spot in all of Atlanta for that classic “big city” feel, owing to its tight street grid, restaurant row, and the buzz of GSU students; because of this it’s become a popular filming location as of late. A number of new condo buildings have popped up in the vicinity of Centennial Olympic Park. Downtown still has a way to go: weekends tend to be quiet, a lot of spots close after 5pm, and there’s not a full fledged grocery in the immediate area. But with the possible redevelopment of the Gulch and the construction of Atlanta’s first streetcar line in 50 years, the story isn’t over yet.
You could say Midtown has the best mix when it comes to urban livability. It’s walkable, and residentially-dense, with a diverse population and a killer green centerpiece (Piedmont Park). The housing options range in Midtown from sleek glass towers to hundred year old Victorians nestled under old oak trees. Most of your daily needs are met in the neighborhood (workplaces, eateries, nightlife, grocery stores), although you’ll need to trek across the interstate to the Atlantic Station or up Peachtree to Buckhead for your retail fix.
Virginia Highland and Morningside/Lenox Park
Virginia Highland (or Va-Hi) has its origins in the 1910s as a streetcar suburb and derives its name from the intersection of Virginia and North Highland Avenues. Craftsman bungalows and Tudor Revival cottages on small lots make up the bulk of the housing stock, with vintage two and three story apartment buildings rounding out the mix. North Highland Avenue is a fun strip of boutiques, restaurants and bars that can get packed on a beautiful day, but the side streets tend to retain a tranquil quality year round.
Morningside/Lenox Park postdates the development of Virginia Highland by a decade or so, but features its own commercial node on North Highland Avenue and displays similar architecture. Morningside and Lenox Park tend to be said in the same breath due to their adjaceny.
Inman Park was Atlanta’s first streetcar suburb, with development initiated in the 1890s. Because of its posh status at that time you’ll find some truly impressive Queen Anne Victorians and Neoclassical Revival residences among more humble houses of that area. Springvale Park and its idyllic goose pond form a picturesque scene, while the leg of Freedom Park is the result of successful neighborhood resistance to a planned freeway. Well-planned mixed-use development has given new life to this end of North Highland Avenue and gives residents even more reason to hit the pavement. Nearby counterculture mecca Little Five Points is a neighborhood destination that promises plenty of entertaining people watching and, uh, unique businesses. The Inman Park Festival is considered by many to be the city’s best. And Inman Park is the current possessor of the Curbed Cup, awarded for being voted Atlanta's best neighborhood.
Candler Park is separated from Inman Park by Little Five Points, and the off beat character of the commercial district bleeds into both neighborhoods. Candler Park’s namesake contains a pool and golf course, and independent business are clustered on McLendon and Dekalb Avenues. The housing stock consists of modest early twentieth century homes, some quirkier than others.The Lake Claire community ups the earth child quotient with its community land trust, site of drum circles, saunas, and Big Lou the Emu.
Some call Ansley Park’s disorienting street pattern a curse, while others find it charming. It’s a reflection of the neighborhood’s origins as a prestigious suburb at the dawn of the automobile age, and a joy ride spent gawking at Ansley’s gorgeous residences is still a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Homes are a kaleidoscope
of styles, from the various revivals of the 1910s and ‘20s to a sampling of glassy modernism. A mini-network of pocket parks puts greenspace within easy reach, and Piedmont Park is at the eastern border. Besides its visual allure, Ansley’s greatest asset is its location just behind the bustle of Midtown’s Peachtree Street, which gives residents superb urban convenience while maintaining a bit of suburban comfort.