A study released today by Smart Growth America will do little to squash this city's reputation as "Sprawlanta" — and that's unfortunate. Given the actual city of Atlanta's strides toward walkability lately, the national coverage stings, especially when researchers point out that sprawl can actually kill you. (Alarm bells!) Smart Growth America researchers put Atlanta atop a dubious top five list that includes two other Southern cities, Nashville and Charlotte. They point out that sprawling cities have fewer economic opportunities, while inhabitants are less healthy and tend to live shorter lives than those in compact places like San Francisco and New York City. As CNN Money reiterates today, echoing the findings of last year's stinging report that put Atlanta last in upward economic mobility, sprawl makes rising up from poverty very difficult. That's despite findings that housing costs are higher in compact areas. All this comes after a more positive study suggested Atlanta might be learning from decades of reckless, uninhibited sprawl.
The study examined 221 metro areas across America with populations of at least 200,000. As CNN points out, researchers took into account four main factors in each city, and Atlanta appears to have flunked each metric:
· Density of houses and jobs;
· Mix of residential and commercial buildings;
· The concentration of development in downtown or other "activity" areas, like a waterfront;
· The "accessibility" of streets, including the length of blocks (the shorter the better, because it means more crosswalks); and the number of four-way intersections (the more the better because that equals greater street connectivity).
While the study's scope went far beyond Atlanta's city limits, thus muddling city data with that of truly sprawled-out 'burbs, it's unlikely that observers outside of Georgia will note the distinction. And that's too bad, especially on the heels of Christopher Leinberger's report last year showing most of metro Atlanta's development — 60 percent — has occurred in walkable urban places, or "WalkUPs", since 2008.
· America's most sprawling cities [CNN Money]
· The Day We Lost Atlanta [Politico]