These Streets Were Made for Walking: Metro Atlanta’s Pedestrian-Friendly Communities
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| Winter 2024

These Streets Were Made for Walking

Metro Atlanta’s Pedestrian-Friendly Communities

By Anna Bentley

While searching for your new home in metro Atlanta, you might be

looking for a community that puts you within walking distance of great dining, shopping and maybe even your job. Well, you’re in luck! All across the metro area, more and more people are embracing the idea of pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods.

These areas are defined by such factors as higher-density development; a mix of residential, retail and office spaces; wider, landscaped sidewalks; and an increased focus on safer conditions for pedestrians. And though this may seem like a relatively recent it’s anything but.

“They used to be the norm everywhere when they were based around downtowns, town centers,” says Lauren Blaszyk, manager for the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC)’s Livable Centers Initiative (LCI) program. “And then once people started getting into their cars and started driving, that all changed, I think. People seemed more interested in driving around where they needed to go, and development followed that trend. But now, in the last 20 to 25 years, the focus has been more on walkability and how we can get people out of their cars, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is health.”

The ARC is an organization that promotes and funds livable centers throughout metro Atlanta, and the LCI program provides grants to encourage cities to redevelop their downtown areas into more walkable communities to improve air quality and residents’ lifestyles by getting them out of their cars. Since its inception in 1999 as part of a plan to help the metro area comply with federal air quality standards, the ARC has awarded grants to 130 LCI communities in 11 counties.

Blaszyk said some of the cities that have recently become more walkable communities are Alpharetta, Duluth, Jonesboro, McDonough, Riverdale, Stockbridge, Suwanee and Woodstock. From revitalized downtown centers to smart new development, here are just a few of Atlanta’s pedestrian-friendly communities.

Historic Downtowns, Reimagined

One of the region’s first communities to revamp its downtown area was Smyrna, a booming city about 30 minutes northwest of Atlanta. While some cities devoted resources to revitalizing their existing historic areas, Smyrna took another route by building a town center completely from scratch. The Market Village, with its mixed-use development of restaurants, shops and townhomes, as well as a nearby community center, public library and parks, created a cultural focal point for the community in the early 2000s. Now, the Market Village hosts festivals, concerts and other events throughout the year.

The city has continued to make commitments to walkability. Medians throughout the city’s main roads help slow traffic and encourage foot traffic, and a mixed-use development with single-family homes, luxury apartments and retail and dining space is located less than a mile from the Market Village.

Inside the Perimeter, just east of Atlanta, the city of Decatur is known for its vibrant downtown, strong community and smart growth. Downtown Decatur is home to some of the city’s most lauded restaurants, including the Brick Store Pub, Iberian Pig, No. 246 and Leon’s Full Service. It’s also home to farmers markets, pop-up markets, concerts and festivals celebrating books, wine, craft beer and bluegrass, to name a few. Best of all, it’s all within walking distance of the Decatur MARTA station, allowing for easy, car-free access to some of Atlanta’s top attractions and entertainment destinations.

Just west of Decatur is one of the city’s oldest—and most distinctive—neighborhoods. Filled with Victorian estates and bungalows dating back to the early 1900s, Inman Park is most known for its historic architecture and eclectic community, bolstered by the annual Inman Park Spring Festival and Tour of Homes, which turned 51 this year.

Started as a way to showcase the neighborhood’s charm and historic homes after it became “somewhat abandoned” by residents’ flight to the suburbs as the remaining ones fought plans to build a road through the community, it’s become hugely popular, says Cristy Lenz, president of the Inman Park Neighborhood Association. Today, the April event draws about 40,000 people on each of its two weekend days.

Inman Park’s “focus on preservation” and strong infrastructure make it stand out, Lenz says, adding, “We look at this community as Atlanta’s first suburb” which has since evolved.

Inman Park’s modern redevelopments (Krog Street Market, Inman Quarter and Inman Park Village, to name a few) and close proximity to the Atlanta BeltLine, a 22-mile network of multiuse trails and parks, give homeowners easy, walkable access to nearly limitless dining, shopping and entertainment options. Being on the BeltLine, the neighborhood has come full circle from its early days when it was on Atlanta’s old streetcar line.

Walkable Developments

Atlantic Station, one of the city’s largest live-work-play developments, combines office space, several blocks of dining and shopping options and an 18-screen theater with high-rise apartments, lofts, condominiums and townhomes. Its location, just off of Interstate 85 in Midtown Atlanta, makes it convenient to all the action of the city. Atlantic Station also hosts events throughout the year, from music festivals and tennis tournaments to haunted attractions and performances by Cirque du Soleil.

In the heart of Atlantic Station’s residential area is a large park complete with a lake, pedestrian bridge and benches for enjoying Atlanta’s sunny summers and (mostly) mild winters. Plus, a free shuttle transports residents and visitors to top neighborhood spots and the Arts Center MARTA station.

Thirty miles southwest of Atlanta sits a different kind of pedestrian-friendly neighborhood. Serenbe, founded in 2004, is a master-planned community based on the arts, nature and wellness.

Its intentional, thoughtful design promotes community and walkability in clever ways. Communal mailboxes create opportunities for conversation with neighbors, and wooded trails throughout neighborhoods offer a shorter path to city centers than along paved streets.

The community’s three culturally themed neighborhoods are designed like English villages, with restaurants, cafes and boutique shops located in the center of the neighborhood and homes radiating outward. It currently has over 1,000 residents in about 400 homes, with plans to have up to 1,200 homes—single-family homes, garden estates, condominiums, apartments and lofts—on its 1,000 acres, as well as plenty of greenspace. As part of its development plan, 70 percent of Serenbe’s land must remain untouched.

At Serenbe, as with developments and cities throughout Georgia, it’s more about embracing smart ideas from the past than creating an entirely new way of life.

“What we’re doing really is taking from the past … and recreating it in a neighborhood that inevitably develops community,” says Monica Olsen, vice president of marketing and communications for Serenbe.

No matter what part of Atlanta you decide to call home, odds are you’ll find a community that offers the opportunity to live, work, shop, dine and play in one convenient, walkable neighborhood.

 

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