The Great Recession crippled but did not kill the "drive until you qualify" mindset in metro Atlanta, where home building is again going gangbusters in the exurbs. A front-page AJC story Monday titled "Housing rebound renews exurbs push" found that new home permits are skyrocketing across a six-county arc of Atlanta's exurban northern reaches. A couple of years ago, a daunting supply of 40,000 subdivided but vacant lots left places like Barrow, Cherokee, Forsyth and Jackson counties riddled with depressing PVC farms and weedy, busted dreams. That supply has already shrunk by 23 percent, the report found, with bidding wars becoming common among buyers steering clear of more crowded city settings and urbanizing (read: diversifying) suburbs. A regional director for Metrostudy chimed in for the AJC story: "Now that prices are heading back up, people will go back to doing what they used to do and just drive farther out … I don't see that trend reversing itself until we have another housing correction." And a Jackson County planning official added a gut-punch for idealistic Atlanta urbanists: "We, as humans, are always looking for the best deal. There is definitely still that sprawl mindset." In another recent article, a development-industry insider plays the role of prophet to see things a little differently.
Real estate attorney Seth Weissman pretends like it's 2020 in Atlanta for an op-ed piece in the Atlanta Business Chronicle. In retrospect from this hypothetical 2020, Weissman has some interesting observations. While single-family exurban homes are still being built, and people are driving ever farther to buy them, regional planners are discovering natural market limits to sprawl, and "popular cities like Sandy Springs, Roswell, Dunwoody, John's Creek and Milton (are) redeveloping existing land (as) the only way to build new housing."
Looking closer intown, the Weissman of 2020 observes that "the urban apartment boom of the early part of the decade slowed as there were only so many tenants who could or would pay rents north of $2 per square foot," he writes. "Eventually, many newer apartments were converted to condominiums since it was again cheaper to own rather than to rent and everyone wanted to own their slice of urban city life while they could still afford it." A new market for larger condos sprouted, he predicts, because baby boomers wouldn't settle for the 800 square-foot former apartments.