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Walkable Places, Attachment and Prosperity

I recently stumbled across a report dated September 2004 called “The Plan for a Walkable Atlanta,”* which was the end result of a task force first appointed by Mayor Shirley Franklin. Mayor Franklin charged the Walkable Atlanta Task Force with creating a vision for a walkable Atlanta, including policy recommendations, implementation strategies and measures.

The 2004 report envisions an Atlanta where “walking is a natural part of a vibrant community life that encourages active living and enhances the city’s appeal to residents, businesses and visitors.  The pedestrian infrastructure is seamlessly integrated into the transportation system, and the walking experience is inviting, enriching and safe.”

It’s almost 10 years later, and that vision is not yet a reality.  Are we making progress?  Yes.  Does it really matter to Atlanta? Yes, absolutely.  Consider the following.

My friend, Chris Leinberger, senior fellow at the Brookings Institute and research professor at George Washington University, did some excellent research in Washington, D.C., revealing the relationship between walkable urban places and how desirable, and therefore valuable, surrounding real estate becomes.  The research found a direct and very strong correlation, and Chris and other researchers are currently underway with examining this issue in the Atlanta region.

Jeff Speck, a nationally-recognized and respected city planner and author, recently authored an excellent book called Walkable City – How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time.

In the book, Speck poses three questions:

1.  What kind of city will help us thrive economically?
2.  What kind of city will keep our citizens not just safe, but healthy?
3.  What kind of city will be sustainable for generations to come?

“These three issues – wealth, health and sustainability – are, not coincidentally, the three principal arguments for making our cities more walkable,” writes Speck.

At a recent meeting in Detroit, I learned of a fascinating study funded by the Knight Foundation called “Soul of the Community,” which examined why people love – or become attached to – where they live, and ultimately why that matters to cities. The research confirms what many of us already know to be true: if people are attached to their communities, local economies thrive.  The report found that the principle drivers of attachment are availability of social offerings, aesthetics and openness of a place.  And guess what?  Walkability impacts all three of these drivers.

For these reasons and more we are working to make Buckhead an exemplary walkable urban place.  Please hold us to it.


*Full disclosure: ULI Atlanta funded the effort when I worked there.

P.S. On Tuesday, May 7, Carol Coletta will be the featured speaker at the Civic League for Regional Atlanta’s Movers, Shakers and Policymakers Briefing titled “Creative Placemaking: Investing in Art, Community, Vibrancy and Innovation.”  On Tuesday, Carol will be one day into her new position as vice president for community and national initiatives with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.  Previously, Carol directed ArtPlace, a major collaborative focused on creative placemaking across the United States, served as president/CEO of CEOs for Cities and was the host and producer of the nationally syndicated public radio show, Smart City.  This should be a very interesting and timely program for us in Atlanta, and I will definitely attend. If you’re there, send me a tweet @BuckheadCID.