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Ryan Gravel: Atlanta needs ‘middle housing’ to brace for population boom

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Atlanta Beltline visionary says the city must prepare for the consequences of crowding—and housing is a top priority

An aerial view of the city of Atlanta. There are various buildings and skyscrapers.
Can we squeeze half a million more people in here?
Curbed Atlanta

Over the next two decades, the City of Atlanta’s population is expected to swell by at least half a million people, more than doubling the city’s current headcount.

Zooming out to a regional level, the U.S. Conference of Mayors has projected that metro Atlanta will leapfrog cities such as Philadelphia to become the country’s sixth most populous metro in the 2040s.

And while the most daunting part about such predictions might be imagining the extra wheels on the interstate before and after business hours, Atlanta could soon face many more problems that come with crowding, experts agree.

One of the biggest hurdles will be finding ways to house everyone.

Cue Atlanta Beltline visionary Ryan Gravel with an idea to help the city embrace the impending population boom: We need more “middle housing,” he posits in an essay penned for J. Rich Atlanta.

The backside of Oldfield at Grant Park townhomes overlooks a section of the Beltline’s future Southside Trail.
Curbed Atlanta

Middle housing, Gravel explained, describes “the middle ground between single-family houses and multi-story apartments that has been largely missing from American home-building for generations—certainly in places like Atlanta.”

Gravel said he’s currently “living a dream,” with an office-turned-loft home in Inman Park, near the Eastside Trail, and a car-free commute to his current office at Ponce City Market.

But when he and his family first moved to Atlanta, finding a place to live was no picnic, he said.

“When we looked at multifamily buildings or non-residential alternatives in the neighborhood, our options were seriously limited,” Gravel wrote. “Almost all the new, larger developments were designed for single people, roommates, and couples.”

Even when he stumbled across smaller, older apartments that seemed well-suited for young families, “... the units got snatched up very quickly,” he said.

Gravel thinks that if Atlanta welcomes more middle housing (i.e. “traditional townhomes, row-houses, and brownstones,” as well as smaller, unconventional apartments), its community will see dividends in both diversity and density.

We all benefit when we live with and among people of different ages, incomes, races, ethnicities, religious or cultural affiliations, economic or educational status, sexual orientations, gender identities, or political persuasions; people who work different types of jobs at different times of day; people with varied interests like hunting or quilting; night-owls and early birds; homebodies and jet-setters; wallflowers and showboats; and people with different attitudes, philosophies, or outlooks on life.

And when a whole bunch of people from different walks of life live in close proximity, Gravel continued, the community reaps rewards such as “better shopping, recreational, and cultural amenities.”

Additionally, more people means more money for transit projects and more “eyes on the street,” which will improve public safety, Gravel said.

So, he concluded, now’s the time to advocate for developments that offer middle housing options. Plus, fighting to curb minimum parking space requirements and encouraging public transit use could help the highways feel less cramped as people come pouring into town.

As for what the average Atlantan can do to brace for the imminent growth, said Gravel: “We can become YIMBYs (Yes-In-My-Back-Yard) for any reasonable effort that supports diversity and density in our neighborhoods.”

YIMBYs in ATL? A novel concept indeed.