Two recent, disparate articles about Atlanta's general future and the city's most rapidly changing neighborhood provide bountiful food-for-thought for any ATL booster, hater, lover, curmudgeon, ambassador, etc. The first is a rally cry masquerading as an op-ed in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution by Becky Katz, recently hired as Atlanta's first chief bicycle officer. It begins with this scrumptious assertion: "Ten years ago, the notion of a chief bicycle officer for the city of Atlanta would have been laughingly dismissed as useless in the city known for urban sprawl and traffic." The second, titled, "Are things moving too quickly in the Old Fourth Ward?" is a thorough probe by the Atlanta Business Chronicle into the state of revitalization versus gentrification in a neighborhood whose population has essentially doubled in roughly the last decade to 14,500 — and is expected to double again by 2035. We've gathered a few delectable highlights after the jump.
Katz, the bike czar, credits Mayor Kasim Reed's "bold statement" in his first year in office — that Atlanta could be transformed into one of America's Top 10 most sustainable cities — with spurring substantial change and a general attitude improvement. She argues, "Of all the opportunities for moving Atlanta farther and faster into a sustainable, more livable city, none is more misunderstood than bike lanes." Her stated goal is to double Atlanta's "bike-facility mileage, create a connected, safe bike network; roll out a bike share system and double bike commutes — not just to support people on bikes, but to improve mobility for people who drive, bike, walk or take transit."
Projects like the Beltline's Eastside and Westside trails, Historic Fourth Ward Park and Ponce City Market "announce clearly that we are in the middle of a paradigm shift in Atlanta," writes Katz. "It's a shift away from car-centric development and sprawl that prioritizes moving people and goods, and a shift toward development that connects people and neighborhoods, one that encourages living in and experiencing Atlanta in a new way."
"The battle for the streets is not a zero-sum game. Safe, designated spaces for bike commuters and pedestrians actually reduce congestion for all users of the road. The belief that solely adding car lanes will alleviate congestion is simply wrong."
"When the seven-lane (Ponce De Leon Avenue) was converted to five lanes with dedicated turn lanes and bike lanes, the throughput increased for drivers and we've seen a 25 percent decrease in overall crashes."
"Growth in our city is inevitable. Successfully managing that growth requires Atlanta to embrace density and create transportation options beyond the lone driver in a car. When we do this, we become a better city to live in, not just drive through."
Meanwhile, in the Old Fourth Ward, the ABC article also cites the Beltline, PCM and its adjacent city park as being drivers of hundreds of millions of dollars in investment since the Great Recession. One company estimates about 1,200 new O4W apartments have come online since 2012, with about 1,000 more in the pipeline.
Longtime O4W proponent Kit Sutherland observes:
"The transition has been really dramatic. Now the population has increased so much, and people moving in have a fairly high income. The new apartments attract money and folks with fit lifestyles."
An official with RPG Holdings, developers of the planned office tower up the street from PCM, divulge that the project's "525 North" moniker refers to its address — and "one of the worst crack houses in the city's past." (After a zoning setback spurred by angry neighbors, that project hopes to break ground in the spring, the ABC reports).
Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall chimes in with counterpoint skepticism: "I'm not happy that we have seen the price points of land and housing go through the roof. Affordability needs to be part of the equation." He also mourned for the pending loss of O4W landmarks like The Masquerade, adding, "I like the development but I don't like allowing the market to control everything. Once you lose certain uses, you can never get them back."
This interesting O4W tidbit came from an Atlanta Police Department official:
"The crimes we see going up with large amounts of people (moving in) are mostly larceny and theft … Violent crime is still trending way down in that area… homicides used to be monthly, shootings were daily, and that's not the case now."
For dessert, have a bite of this, courtesy of the same RPG Holdings official:
"(The O4W is) still really diverse … You have all these apartments with these young millennials paying very high rents and have one of the largest concentration of Section 8 housing in the Southeast. From the age perspective, from an economic, racial, sexual orientation perspective — whatever you can think of, we've got it here."
· First take from Atlanta's chief bicycle officer [myAJC]
· Are things moving too quickly in the Old Fourth Ward? [ABC; subscriber]