Does This Subdivision Make Me Look Fat?

Your significant other probably has never asked you this question but it may be one of the the most appropriate questions one to ask when pondering poundage.  Way back in the mid-70s, the U.S. obesity rate was about 10%.  By 2007, that rate had increased to 33% with another 33% of the U.S. being clearly overweight.  In 1991, zero states had an adult obesity rate greater than 20%.  Over the next 16 years, America stuffed its collective pie hole to the point where Colorado was the sole state under 20% in 2007. As a nation, we have gained 5.5 billion pounds since the 1970’s.  That’s 27.5 of our largest aircraft carriers.  Now, consider the tag-along maladies associated with obesity such as diabetes, heart disease, increased risk of certain cancers and osteoarthritis and we really start to see the immensity of this problem.
 

So, is it the increased number of Big Gulps that is causing this or is it the increased amount of couch surfing?  That’s a tough question to answer but studies indicate that sloth may have more of an impact on obesity rates than gluttony.  A study performed in Britain looked at obesity rates between 1950 and 1990 and saw that even as gluttony peaked and declined over the years, obesity continued to climb and the data suggested a notable causal role of inactivity.  A study looking at Atlanta found that an increase in daily driving of just 5 minutes increased the likelihood of obesity by 3 percent.  Add another 30 minutes to your commute each way and you’re scale will start to cringe.

Our car dependent lifestyle is literally driving our increased inactivity.  I would wager that most of us drive by necessity not by choice.  Fortunately, that is something we can start to change.  The sprawl fighting organization Congress for the New Urbanism has made healthy places one of its focal points.  In 2010 they partnered with the CDC make health a focal point of their annual convention, which was appropriately held in Atlanta that year.  The CDC has a Healthy Places program that lays out the guidelines for building places that help improve help rather than hinder it.  

If you live in a subdivision where it is a challenge to incorporate walking or cycling into your daily chores, your ability to maintain a healthy lifestyle for you and your family is going to be diminished when compared to a highly walkable neighborhood.  The health benefits that come from being able to open the front door to a walk friendly environment where you can walk to the store, office and park are significant.

It turns out that walkable places that new urbanists and smart growth advocates strive to create are one of the best solutions to many of the health issues that our country faces.  We are getting better with places like Historic Roswell, Avalon, Alpharetta City Center and Milton Crabapple providing (or soon to be providing) moderately walkable lifestyles.  But there is still a lot of work to be done.  Let’s keep pushing for walkable town centers with a diversity of uses, connective paths between neighborhoods as well as parks that are our kids can safely walk to and steer clear of the sloth inducing, car oriented development of the past. 

 

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The State of the City.. Walkability Has a Bright Future

If you can take one thing away from the State of the City address that was delivered by Mayor Jere Wood earlier this month, it is that walkablity has a bright future in Roswell.  It's refreshing to know that we have city leadership that for the most part understands that a focus on creating a more pedestrian friendly environment is critical to building a sustainable city.

The mayor hits on Old Town Roswell's status as one of the 27 existing Walkable Urban Places (WalkUPs) in the metro Atlanta and discusses building on our existing good bones in what he is referring to as Old Town Roswell which many may know as Historic Roswell.  Here are some of my favorite quotes...

For the past 60 years, we knew how development occurred...  There are no farms left, there is very little vacant land.  So we're looking for a new pattern. That growth is going to occur primarily in the hwy 9 corridor from HBR s to the river which includes Canton St.

For the purposes of this talk, I'm going to call that area Old Town Roswell.  Because it really is pretty much the boundaries of the city in 1854.  That's where you are going to see the growh in the future occur.  It's going to occur by converting old strip centers and old apartments into a walkable village.  A walkable village is someplace that you can easily walk to every where you go every day without getting in a car.

To be walkable, a community must be compact.  The residential and commercial uses must be next to each other not spread out and segregated as we have seen in the past. So this isn't your typical subdivision.  This is what you think of when you think of a village.

To be walkable, a community must be connected.  That connection is through a grid of streets, alleys and sidewalks.  Fortunately, that is what we have in Old Town Roswell.  We're gonna add to that grid.  It's totally different than what you have seen in the past which is a subdivision with cul-de-sacs and shopping centers that are not connected to their neighbors.  We're seeing a new development pattern.  Again, this is in Old Town Roswell and I don't see it going beyond that at this point in time.

We're going to grow by compact development within Old Town Roswell.  

There are a number of other great points in the video which every Roswell resident should watch.

 

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The Top 10 Developments to Watch in 2014

I’m a sucker for lists but I don’t normally make them myself.  However, there is so much going on around here that it’s hard to keep track.  So, I’m putting together a list of the top 10 projects to watch in 2014.  In the past year, the stage has been set to make this year one of most transformative years ever in North Fulton.  These projects will increase walkability and overall livability in North Fulton.

10. Gwinnett Tech Expansion - Construction of the new Alpharetta Gwinnett Tech campus will be in full swing in 2014, keeping them on track for a Jan 2016 opening.  The depressing thing about the campus is that it appears to be a very 90’s and early 00’s suburban office park site design which shows 3 story’ish buildings surrounded by a sea of parking.  

image: Gwinnett Business Journal

9. North Fulton CID Blueprint 2.0 - The North Fulton CID released its vision for the next 7-10 years in Dec. and there are some projects that may gather momentum in 2013.  They focus on reducing traffic congestion, adapting to changing marketplace trends, and eliminating bureaucratic hurdles.

image: North Fulton CID

8. Roswell Downtown Development Authority - The DDA was relatively quiet in 2013 but expect Roswell to make some waves in the next year with plans for large scale projects in the heart of Roswell.  They launched their website (www.roswelldda.com) in 2013 and have posted several theoretical master plan images.  Their plans for a park or green at City Hall would be a big win if executed properly.

image: Roswell DDA

7. MARTA Rail - In late 2013, MARTA officially announced that it is looking to extend from North Springs station further north to Windward Parkway.  This was received with mixed emotions but many people recognize that more lanes on 400 is going to be costly if not impossible.  The current preferred alternative is to extend heavy rail and add five stations (Northridge, Holcomb Bridge, North Point, Haynes Bridge and Windward). Expect more news on potential funding sources and routes in 2014.

image: MARTA

6. More Roundabouts - In the past two years at least four roundabouts have been opened in North Fulton.  Readers are familiar with my thoughs on roundabouts and there is empirical evidence that they improve traffic flow, reduce crashes and increase safety.  More of them are coming to intersections near you.

5. Roswell Unified Development Code - Roswell has been opening its doors to business over the past 18 months.  There have been several high priority corporate announcements in that timeframe.  That said, the zoning codes are confusing web of red tape and must be changed.  In 2014, expect passage of the new UDC and the accompanying Design Guidelines.  This will send a message to developers that Roswell is serious about redevelopment.  It will also enable a number of projects to finally take a step toward reality.  There are several notable projects that are simply waiting for UDC adoption before going to the city to begin the process.  


4. Canton Street & Downtown Alpharetta Infill - No fewer than five projects around Historic Roswell have been brought before the city in the last several months to add townhomes and residences around the Historic Roswell area.  There are 80+ total units proposed and a number of them are likely to be finished this year.  Add this to the 320 new apartments and the Historic Roswell area could be netting 500+ new residents in the next 12-18 months.  Alpharetta’s downtown is experiencing a similar trend albeit with more multi-acre lots available for development due to large site foreclosures following the real estate crash.  These developments will help drive local businesses in the downtown areas that thrive on pedestrian traffic.

3. Roswell City Walk Apartments - Or should I say, Down Goes Frazier!  The horribly designed 1960’s era Frazier Street Apartments were demolished in December making way for Lennar Miltifamily’s 320 unit luxury apartment complex in the heart of Roswell.  The construction will take much of the year but the first tenants are expect in late 2014.  When complete, this development will be a game changer and will serve as a catalyst for future projects. Grocery store anyone??

image: Lennar Multifamily

2. Alpharetta City Center - It would be hard to top this project given its hefty price tag ($31 million), laudable site plan and ambitious construction schedule.  In the next 12 mos, you will see the heart of the new Alpharetta change dramatically.  Already, there are some new streets in place, with a roundabout, and the new City Hall building is beginning to take shape.  The parking deck and library will follow not too far behind and the addition of park space and a pedestrian orientation will be impressive.  This, as previously mentioned, is helping spur adjacent development.

image: Urban Collage

1. Avalon - This project dwarfs all the others on this list.  It’s hard to downplay the significance of this behemoth.  Total economic impact could be over $1 billion when all is said and done.  The construction at the site over the past 2 months has been frenetic and leaves little doubt that North American Properties will hit their Q4’14 target for opening phase I.  This project is regionally significant and is being watched by the commercial real estate industry nationally.  The combination of live, work and play gives Avalon major mixed-use cred and makes it unlike almost any other development in the region.  The tenant list is impressive with top-notch national and local restaurants and retailers.  When Avalon opens its streets in late 2014, it will serve as a showcase for walkability and urbanism in a suburban environment.  It will be interesting to see how it impacts other popular destinations such as North Point Mall and Canton St.

image: North American Properties

That’s a lot to chew on and undoubtedly, something else will creep up in 2014.  There are even some regionally significant projects that you will want to keep an eye on; the Stadiums (Braves & Falcons), Atlanta Street Car, College Football Hall of Fame, National Center for Human Rights, and Buckhead Atlanta just to name a few.

Happy New Year and have a great 2014!

 

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Why I Hate Density

This is an enhanced cross-post from my montly column, Community Design Matters, in The Current.  There may be some editorial differences.

How many houses per acre are in your subdivision?  How many are allowed?  How does that make you feel?  Should you feel anything at all?  I say no and here’s why. 

The numbers tell you the density of a given place.  The numbers associated with density tell you absolutely nothing about that place other than how many people or separate dwellings are located there.  It is a hollow word that says nothing about the charm and lovability of a place.

It can tell you nothing about the value of the homes, quality of the schools, demographics of the residents, congestion of the roads or vibrancy of the neighborhood.  The number requires context.  The entry for Density in Dhiru Thadani’s encyclopedic Language of Cities and Towns begins with the following paragraph:

Density is the number of individuals or dwelling units per unit of area.  The making of vibrant, diverse, and exciting urbanism is directly related to the concentration of population and activity. Density ensures the greatest range of people, buildings, public spaces, facilities, services, and choices.  It promotes the easy exchange of ideas and goods and services..

If density ensures the greatest range of people, buildings, public spaces, facilities, services, and choices, why do people generally flip out when anything more than 2 units per acre is proposed in their neighborhood?  The word has a stigma and it does so by failing to capture context.  The NIMBY response to density has its roots in many misconceptions about density’s relationship to social ills that have been associated with it such as crime, traffic, poor schools, low property values. etc.  The thing is, correlation and causation can often be miles apart.  Other misguided reasons people give such as they don’t want to be packed in like sardines and they aren’t going to give up the American Dream.  Once again, density does a poor job describing an environment.  Take Vickery Village or Seaside as examples.  These are places where single family homes dominate the landscape but the design increases the density and comfort of the place incredibly well.

The real reason for the NIMBY reaction, in my opinion, is that builders have done it so wrong for so long that virtually every building associated with density in a suburban setting is absolutely god awful, reprehensible, cookie cutter design that should be punished by revocation of architectural licenses.  You don’t see the ills in places where density has been done right.

Virtually all of the world’s top tourist destinations are highly dense areas where people live, work, learn and play in very close proximity.  With the exception of landscapes, people don’t take pictures and send postcards of places that don’t have some minimum amount of density.  You don’t get excited when you receive a postcard of Martin’s Landing, even the well photoshopped ones.  People like to see and visit highly beautiful, dense urban areas.  Think of Paris, Rome, Santorini, Prague, Seaside, Savannah or Charleston.  

So, people like density but they don’t like to admit it to themselves.  This is partially because in many cases, developers have put the cart before the horse.  Density does not create a successful place (unless you have hundreds of millions of dollars).  Chuck Marohn of StrongTowns recently stated,

..density is an expected byproduct of a successful place, not the implement by which we create one.

Maybe this is why Historic Roswell has the most examples of density done right in the northern suburbs.  The Bricks, Founders Mill and Canton St Walk/Providence are all excellent and complement the success of the neighborhood.   Unfortunately, there aren’t more.  Take away these three, and you have literally hundreds of poorly planned, improperly located and shoddily constructed condos, townhouse and apartments sprinkled all over the city.  We must do better and cities MUST stop allowing condos, townhouse and apartments to be built where they don’t belong.  They belong in the centers of our villages and towns and not anywhere someone can make a buck.

More importantly however, people need to understand that density isn’t the issue.  Design and location the things that should concern you. 

Community Design Matters Especially if you want "Density Done Right."

This video is a fun exercise to see if you can guess the density.  You will quickly learn that the number isn't the issue.  

2013 Outlook - What Will the New Year Bring for Roswell?

Here's a look into our crystal ball at what will happen in Roswell and around the metro area in 2013.  Up front, is a recap some of the bigger changes we've seen in and around the Historic District in 2012.  It's shaping up to be an interesting year in many ways.  Check out our recap, thoughts and predictions in each of the areas below:

2012 Recap - Keep up the Good Work Roswell!

Last year was another great year in and around Roswell.  Here are some of the more notable stories.

  • Groveway Hybrid Form-Based Code - The city passed the hybrid form-based code which was a huge move in the right direction for human-scaled development.
  • DPZ Master Plan - A MP for Historic Roswell was completed by the innovative and influential firm DPZ.  This MP wasn’t adopted officially by the city.  However, the ideas generated from the plan, in classic Andres Duany form, have generated momentum to change where there was none before.
  • TSPLOST Fails - The hopes for easy money and quick upgrades to infrastructure faded as the TSPLOST referendum went down in flames in July. Roswell lost out on a complete renovation of Holcomb Bridge/400 ($46M) and full funding of the Historic Gateway Project ($21M).
  • GM Jobs - General Motors is opening a software development campus in the old UPS Innoplex building off Mansell and will bring about 1,000 jobs. (not real 2012 news but it’s already announced)
  • Roswell NEXT - A new organization aimed at energizing young professionals, entrepreneurs and visionaries in Roswell was founded.  (Shameless Plug, I am a on the board of Roswell NEXT)
  • Historic Square Upgrades - Some nice additions were made this year by completing the sidewalk network in and around the square and also putting up traffic light masts that match others around HR at 120/9 intersection.
  • Code Studio Selected for UDC - This was a fantastic selection for our Unified Development Code.  New Urbanist firm, all about walkability and contextual development.  (translation.. they care about how things look and function)
  • Info Kiosks - We finally got some content added to them and they look great.
  • Little Alley Steak - The guys behind Salt Factory and INC opened their third concept and it’s fantastic. One request though guys, dress up the bathrooms.
  • Pure Taqueria - The Alpharetta based chain has opened a spectacular new location just north of the Historic District.  
  • Alive After 5 Canton St Closure - The world did not end! This was a needed change for the popular event.
  • Food Trucks - We approved a food truck ordinance and now they are regulars at Alive After 5.  Awesome addition.
  • Alive at the Square - The Alive After 5 party migrated south this year and was very successful at the Historic Square.  This spot allows for a little more space and is really good for families.
  • Pedicabs Approved - In a move that I’m not sure was necessary, a hypothetical business would be able to run pedicabs in the Historic District.  Eventually, this will be cool.
  • Bond Referendum Passed - This was a mixed bag but overall was good for walkability.
  • Fire Engine Red on Canton Street - In a controversial move, the new tenant of the former Pastis location, Mac McGee, painted the entire facade fire engine red.  I love it. Now can we get rid of those ugly black awnings with the block lettering?  Just a horrible look for Canton St.

A couple items from around the region:

  • Beltline Eastside Trail - Opened in Oct and is AMAZING! We need to model the Roswell Loop after it.
  • New Falcons Stadium - Completely unnecessary.  Go Falcons though!
  • Ponce City Market - Going to revolutionize in-town living.
  • Avalon Site Plan Approved - Alpharetta eating our Lunch.
  • Alpharetta City Center Plan Approved and Funded- Alpharetta eating our Lunch part 2.
  • Sandy Springs City Center Plan Approved - This is a very nice master plan done by new urbanist firm Goody-Clancy.

Roswell 2013 

Food

Food Access - One of the biggest obstacles to making the Historic District a vibrant living spot is the lack of a walkable or bikable grocery store.  Last year, we thought there might be an announcement sometime in 2012 about a small(er) grocery store going in somewhere near the HD.  We did get something but it wasn’t exactly what we were expecting.  It came in the form of a request to demolish the property at 1056 Alpharetta Street.  The owners are looking to build a small gourmet grocery store called Baba’s Gourmet.  We don’t have any additional info aside from what is in the notes from the HPC request.  The new building will be a welcome addition and will improve the streetscape along that stretch.

insert photo Babas Gourmet Roswell Rendering

Restaurants - We have several exciting restaurants opening up around HR in the near future.  MacMcgee Irish Pub will be opening in the freshly painted former Pasti’s location on Canton St.  Soccer fans rejoice!  Borocco is building out space in the Chaplin’s shopping center.  I’m hoping this one is successful to add a little life to my immediate neighborhood.  On the other side of the square, the owners of McCray’s Tavern (Smyrna & Lawrenceville) are opening a restaurant in the old Relish/Pico spot.  I’m a little unsure of the name since the HPC modifications request is under McCray’s Tavern but the liquor license was applied for as The Mill.  Either way, that spot will be solid with the right concept.  Osteria Mattone is the new venture on Canton Street from the guys behind Table & Main which in my opinion is the best restaurant north of Buckhead.  I have a bold prediction that Oteria Mattone will jump into at least one of the top of Atlanta lists in 2013.  Just seeing the pics on twitter (@oteriamattone) from their food scouting trip in Italy is making me hungry.  

We reportedly have two of our home grown restaurants, Salt and Nine, making the jump up to Alpharetta with second locations.  Salt will be in the old KFC location on Main St and Nine will be in the former Bistro 52 location behind Mitties Cafe on 9.  Honestly, I don’t like either of the locations.  I think Salt will be successful due to the name recognition and the food quality.  The success in Roswell has partly been due to fact that they have an Incredible location in the most walkable part of our city.  We believe, Nine will miss the mark.  The food quality is suspect and that location doesn’t have the foot traffic that is required to sustain a restaurant serving marginal food.  

Locally Grown Food - Will 2013 be the year that we get a real community garden in the Historic District... maybe at Barrington Hall?

Farmer’s Market - The Saturday farmer’s market at City Hall formerly known as the Riverside Farmer’s Market did well in 2012 and we think the same will hold true in 2013.  Although, the fact that it is in a parking lot is a huge turnoff.  If they could somehow find a way to move it to one of the parking lots right along Canton Street, the visibility would be huge and potentially bring even more vendors.  The only other suggestion I have would be to move it to the circle in front of the steps at city hall.  Most people who shop at farmers markets are inherently interested in sustainability and it is counter-intuitive for those people to feel great about shopping in a parking lot.  Just saying..

Mobility

Sidewalks - We are slowly but surely connecting missing teeth in our sidewalk network.  We will connect Diesel to Canton St with a sidewalk along the north side of Norcross Street early this year.  Not that anyone really walks there but the gap in front of the self serve car wash on the west side of Hwy 9 just south of Holcomb Bridge will get a sidewalk either this year or next.

Historic Gateway ProjectOption 3a will be approved and the people at Creekview Village condos will go berzerk because they will lose their tennis court...  The anti-roundabout camp will come out in full force and there will be a prolonged battle to get this redevelopment project going.  The truth is, this design has the potential to be truly transformational for the HD.  However, one thing that is a MUST is on street parking.  We'll probably know this year whether GDOT will allow that.  If they don't, everyone should oppose this option as it won't work.

Building a Network - Work will continue on the plans for the Oxbo Rd realignment and Elm Street Connection to Oxbo.  However, no actual work will start for another couple of years.  We are very excited about this initiative.  Additional talk will occur about the Oak St extension through Waller Park to connect with Grimes Bridge.

Bridge over 400 - We will see some designs at some point in 2013.

Planning & Development

Historic Gateway Master Plan - The DPZ plan that was completed in 2012 will serve as a guide for other projects, see below, that will come out in 2013.  The DPZ plan will not be followed completely rather, it is serving as inspiration that was not there before.  

Unified Development Code - We have a top notch firm in Code Studio helping us put together our new UDC.  We think the public will get its first glimpse of a ‘finished’ product toward the end of the year.  This will revolutionize development in Roswell.  There will be several meetings that the public can attend throughout the year.

Downtown Development Authority - The DDA will finally bring a big project to the table.  Maybe something around Canton Street and Highway 9.  

Boutique Hotel - It is becoming more and more obvious as Historic Roswell becomes a more popular destination that we are severely lacking in quality lodging options.  Is 2013 finally the year that a big hotel group takes note and steps in to build the boutique hotel concept?  We think that’s still a few years off.  However, a more likely scenario is a B&B opening in the Canton St area.  

Civic & Community

Alive After 5 - The expansion to the Square was a big hit in 2012.  Especially for those with smaller children.  This year, the proximity to McCray’s tavern will make the Alive at the Square piece even more fun.  The Food Truck addition made a big deal and enabled people to go to the event and eat there rather than having to leave early due to restaurant overcrowding.  This event is a cornerstone for years to come. 

RoswellNEXT - This newly formed civic group will host 12 events for members and the public in 2013.  We think it will be a huge success and the Town Hall | Roswell events will prove to be innovative and informative.  By the way, they are having a fundraiser on Jan 31st.  For more information go to their website (www.roswellnext.org) or their Facebook page.

Charlie Brown Part Deux or Trois?- Nothing will happen that is large scale on the old Charlie Brown parcel on the southeast corner of 400 and HBR.  We will continue to hear of plans to bring MARTA to exit 7 and beyond but nothing beyond dreams will materialize.

Parks

Riverside Park Area - We thought this would move faster but we believe in 2013, plans will be finalized for two projects.. the extension of the riverside trail will be approved despite NIMBY andEnvironmental Concerns.  The design plans for the bike/pedestrian bridge over the Chattahoochee River will be finalized and approved. 

Roswell Area Park Rebranding - An effort will be initiated to rename Roswell Area Park.  What in the world is an “Area” park anyway?  

Ace Sand Company - Something will happen with the property currently occupied by Ace Sand Company.  This has huge development potential and could be a great addition to our park system.

Retail

A Little Movement - We don’t need ANY more thrift shops.  I think we’ve reached saturation in that market.  There will be some strip center renovations finishing up in 2013 and we might see some announcements for more in the midtown area.  I’m thinking we will hear something about the Southern Skillet shopping center.  That’s purely a hunch but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.     

Employment

Large Employer Void - We didn’t expect any major announcements in 2012 but we got a huge one to begin 2013 with the news that GM was opening an IT center and hiring 1000+ high paying jobs at the former UPS Innoplex building off Mansell.  This isn’t the most New Urban location.  We would love to see an employer come into the Groveway area and infuse some jobs into the Historic District.  However, I think we are 18-24 months out from anything of that nature.  The RBA will continue to do great things

Small Business Incubator - We feel that the best opportunity for Roswell exists in cultivating smaller startups.  Alpharetta a lock on large corporate IT.  Dunwoody, Sandy Springs and Buckhead have a stranglehold on large and mid-size companies.  The opportunity here in Roswell is to leverage the strengths of our neighbors and work to create smaller businesses that are not as prevalent in the neighboring areas.  We have an atmosphere that is much more desirable to that demographic.  But, we need to nurture it.  A full fledged startup incubator in Roswell would work but it would need the support of the city and partner organizations.  I don’t see it happening in 2013 but it could.

Housing

Housing in the Historic District - There will be at least three projects announced in 2013 that will bring new housing stock to the historic district.  These will be in the form of single family homes, townhouse and even apartments.  

Development Revitalization - Several developments will get new life.  We are guessing that there may be some action on foreclosed Vickery Falls development just south of Chaplain's on South Atlanta Street due to the prime location and the added focus on cleaning up the area around the square.  This could push out into 2014.  

Goulding Estate for Sale - The $8.75M, 16 acre Goulding Estate didn’t move last year as expected.   However, when it does in 2013, the land will be subdivided into ridiculously expensive smaller lots.  We think the the original building will remain intact and potentially become another event facility or potentially a B&B.  The bigger question is whether they will figure out a way to connect the road to the road to the west and build out our network, more.    

Around the Metro Area

The Beltline - We predicted correctly that the eastside trail would be a huge hit and when it opened in Oct of last year, it was an instant success.  News about additional funding for the Beltline transit component will come out toward the end of the year with a public-private partnership being the finance tool of choice.

The Stadium - The stadium will be approved and ground breaking will occur in early 2014.

Ponce City Market - Additional shops will open up in Ponce City Market.  The unfortunate decision not to offer for sale units will not hurt the overall speed of the development and may actually increase it.  However, this will prove to be the ultimate saturation of the apartment boom in that area.

Avalon Alpharetta - Ground breaking will occur in January.  The parking deck will come down quickly and we will see actual structural development in 2013.  It won’t be ready for showtime until late 2014 though.

Alpharetta City Center - The new configuration of Haynes Bridge Rd from Old Milton to Academy St opened recently making way for the new library.  We will see work start on the Library and City Hall in 2013 and the new road grid and parking deck will begin to take shape.  We love this project.

Sandy Springs City Center - The plans have been approved and we will see a small bit of development start in 2013 but the bigger changes will start to become evident in the next 2-3 years.  

The Atlanta Streetcar - Love it or Hate it, construction will be almost complete by the end of the year and we will see streetcars rolling through downtown again in early 2014.  

The Multi-Modal Passenger Terminal (aka The Gulch) - We will see the final renderings will be approved this year and work will start in late 2014.

Old Malls Will Close - We think at least two malls in the metro area will close completely this year.  Crazy we know but retail is getting crushed by Amazon and aside from the half-dozen high quality malls around the region, the mall is dying. 

Well, that's it!  If you made it this far, you're a true NUR fan.  Thanks and have a great (rest of) 2013!

It Takes Time to Turn the Titanic...

I saw an interesting tweet a few days ago from Alpharetta city councilman Jimmy Gilvin that referenced some 2010 US census stats. He was basically pointing out that during that timeframe people flocked to suburban environments while urban places didn't fare as well. Here’s his tweet:

"From 2000 to 2010 the City of Atlanta added 3500 residents. Suburban Alpharetta added 22,600. Please spare me the urbanism talk."

First off, if you would like to follow Jimmy on Twitter his handle is @jimgilvin. He is often entertaining and I appreciate an elected official being active in social media. It is definitely a risk.

That being said, I had to take a look at his stats (which are correct) out of curiosity since my blog is primarily about New Urbanism.  The data from 2000 to 2010 pretty much shows that it was business as usual for the suburban experiment. This isn’t really much of a surprise. I wondered if anything had changed since those nubmers came out last year because everything that I’ve read recently points to a renewed interest in walkable urban environments as a preference over the drivable suburban environments that have dominated population growth over the last 40-50 years. 

Interest in walkable urban environments started to pick up around 2004-2005 and a lot of condos started to go up in the denser areas of the region, most notably in Midtown and Buckhead. But, there was also a lot of development that broke ground around our traditionally suburban city centers that could also be deemed walkable even if it wasn't as intense as what was going on in the urban cores. A lot of this development was crushed by the economic downturn and still hasn’t fully recovered.  All types of development suffered this fate whether it was walkable urban, drivable suburban, single-family, multi-family, single-use or mixed-use.  There was no single boggieman here.

We are starting to see some signs of recovery in all of the aforementioned areas.  My expectation is that over the next two to three years, we will start to see more walkable development pick up steam again as you see condos, townhomes and apartments start to go up around the region.  Most of this will occur in the centers of our suburban towns. I think this is ringing true in the more current stats. The latest population estimates as of July 2011 show a much different story.

In the period from April 2010 through July 2011, the City of Atlanta's population growth, 3%, exceeded much of the region as new buyers and renters started filling in much of the empty development that was left unoccupied after the real estate crash.  The Atlanta condo market is healthier than it has been in years. Many of the high profile condo buildings that were noticeably empty for years have hit the tipping point where 70% of their units have been sold.  This threshold makes financing much easier and will accellerate the sale of the remaining units.  Additionally, a significant amount of apartment capacity is going up intown.  What I'm saying here is that the trend is looking favorable for walkable urbanism.  Most drivable suburban areas are growing but at a slower clip.

In fact, the ONLY suburban market that exceeded the city of Atlanta's growth on a percentage basis between April 2010 and July 2011 was North Fulton.  The US Census estimates show that the city of Atlanta added 12,424 residents during that 15 month period.  This was the most of any city in the metro area.  There were only 7 cities with over 20k residents that exceeded that growth.  Five of them were in North Fulton (Alpharetta, Johns Creek, Milton, Roswell, Sandy Springs).  The other two were East Point and Union City.

If these trends continue, traditional suburbia may be in for a tough road ahead.  Here are some key points:

  1. North Fulton, specifically Alpharetta, is not your typical suburban environment. It is a Technology hub that functions as a job center. It has much more wealth than most of the other suburban areas on the region. Most suburbs do not have the same inherent benefits that North Fulton does.
  2. All of the cities in North Fulton have either approved, planned or built walkable urban environments
    1. Alpharetta – City Center, Avalon
    2. Roswell – Groveway, Historic Roswell Master Plan, Centennial Walk
    3. Johns Creek – Johns Creek Walk
    4. Milton – Crabapple Area
    5. Sandy Springs – New Town Center
  3. Boomer and Millennial demographics are pointing toward a very large demand for walkable urbanism over the next 10 to 15 years as boomers downsize and millennials buy homes.
  4. Much of this growth in walkable urbanism will be in areas that have been traditionally labled the suburbs.  Just look at where the most talked about areas are in your suburban city.  They aren't the newest golf, tennis or gated subdivision.  They are the city centers with lively environments of shops and restaurants.

The suburban experiment is almost over and it is even coming to an end here in North Fulton.  People want places where they don't have to rely 100% on their cars to live their lives.

 

 

NUR Weekly - TSPLOST, Parking, Restaurants, Blocks & Mixed-Use

I keep coming up with good ideas for this weekly digest so I had to add a section.  The last part is dedicated to fun stuff and may or may not relate to what we discuss on the NUR blog.  This week, Joan Durbin at the North Fulton Neighbor was on fire with several notable stories.

What’s Up in Roswell

Holcomb Bridge/GA 400 Improvements Tied to TSPLOST - North Fulton Neighbor

Here’s the gist from city council woman Betty Price:

Whether or not T-SPLOST passes, some interim improvements will be evident in the near future. With additional funding and guided by the recommendations of this study, whole-scale improvements can be made in the future that will revitalize this inadequate intersection, bringing with it a welcoming and functional entrance to Roswell from 400.  

Pay Parking May Come to Roswell Historic District - North Fulton Neighbor

My prediction...  People are going to hate this more than they hate looking for a space.  If you’re willing to walk 200 yards, there is NO parking problem.  Key Excerpt:

The locations are the lot next to Wells Fargo on the west side of Canton Street and a lot on the east side between Ga. Hwy 9 and Canton Street that used to be the old city fire department years ago. 

Roswell’s Red Light Cameras May be Relocated - North Fulton Neighbor

This is fairly controversial to some.  Here’s my 2 cents.  These cameras tend to reduce deadly ‘perpendicular’ or ’T-Bone’ crashes at intersections but increase rear-end collisions.  Generally, anything that causes people to pay more attention

Four Canton St Restaurants on Jezebel Magazine’s Top 100 Restaurants for 2012

This is a great sign that Canton Street is doing all the right things.  Little Alley Steak, Inc Street Food, Salt Factory and Table & Main made the list in that order.  You’ll have to check out the magazine to see where they weighed in.

4th Annual Trilogy Trolley Crawl Tix on Sale

 

Top 5 Articles of the Week

What is a Block? - Better Cities and Towns

The block is something that confuses most people.  This article takes a stab at defining it and does a pretty good job.  Here’s how they define one:

the definition of a block should be based on the legal structure of urbanism. Therefore, a block is legally defined as private property surrounded by public rights-of-way. By this definition, a block is one of the two fundamental units of urbanism (alongside the right-of-way) reflecting the two types of property (private and public, respectively).

The article also uses an example from up the road in Alpharetta to illustrate the absurdities of suburban ‘blocks.’  They managed to find one has a perimeter of 12 miles!  We need more connectivity and smaller blocks. 

Don’t get Mixed Up on Mixed-Use - PlaceShakers

Mixed-use is one of those terms like sustainability.  It is over used and often used out of context.  This article lays it out pretty well:

Today, the most common misunderstanding I find about mixed-use is that most people think it equates, on any street or in any context, to a shopfront with housing above.

In short, mixed-use makes for three-dimensional, pedestrian-oriented places that layer compatible land uses, public amenities, and utilities together at various scales and intensities. This variety of uses allows for people to live, work, play and shop in one place, which then becomes a destination for people from other neighborhoods. As defined by The Lexicon of the New Urbanism, mixed-use is multiple functions within the same building or the same general area through superimposition or within the same area through adjacency… from which many of the benefits are… pedestrian activity and traffic capture.

How to Get a Trader Joe’s - Smyrna is signing a petition - Smyrna Patch 

I’d love it if it were just this easy to get a grocery store where you want it.  I’m sure we could collect a lot of signatures to get one here in Historic Roswell.  This commenter said it best:

Ultimately Smyrna has to prove we have the demographics to ensure Trader Joe's can survive. It's not about where we want it and why. Will Trader Joe's consider Smyrna and why?

Cops Set Up Sting to Keep Pedestrians Safe - AJC

Read this article, you just might learn something that will keep you out of trouble when walking or driving.  Here’s a stat that I wanted to be sure got out there.

...four people are hit by cars each day in the metro Atlanta area. (Sally) Flocks said between 70 and 80 pedestrians are killed each year in the metro area and more than 20 percent within 100 feet of a transit stop.

Alpharetta Downtown Development Picks Up Speed - ABC

Keep moving forward Alpharetta!  This will be a big boost to walkability in North Fulton.  I thought this excerpt was noteworthy:

In the past decade, other suburban cities including Woodstock, Norcross and Suwanee have tried to reinvent their downtowns by launching major projects.  Those ideas reflect principles of New Urbanism, a countermovement to the development patterns in the 80s and 90s across metro Atlanta that to suburban sprawl. New Urbanism aims to create public spaces, such as a city center, where people can congregate in parks that are near shopping, restaurants and entertainment.

Unfortunately, Roswell didn’t get a mention in the article but we are doing great things and our historic district has arguably been more successful than any of the towns that were mentioned even though they pursued very high profile projects.

Fun Stuff

Church vs Beer Map - Guess Where Georgia Is

Beijing’s Olympic Ruins - Much worse than Atlanta’s Ruins

Top 10 Best & Worst Cities to Live - This ranking used a very interesting methodology.  Number one on the list, Hong Kong.  Last on the list, Tehran.  Best US City, Washington DC.  

What the World Would Look Like Covered in Lego - Simple and Fun.. I’d love to drive under this bridge..

City vs Suburb Growth

I thought this was a telling infographic from this article from the WSJ today.  It confirms a lot of what we already know to be true here at NUR.  That is that preferences are shifting to a more walkable lifestyle where amenities are closer in proximity and people are more likely to have chance encounters with their neighbors.  If Roswell is going to thrive in the coming decades, we need to increase the choices available for a walkable urban lifestyle.  

source: Wall Street Journal

hat tip to ATL Urbanist

2012 Outlook

I meant to put this together last month but unfortunately this part-time blogger just didn’t have enough time.  Anyway, it’s always interesting to take a look into the crystal ball and see where we will be in the future.  This year, we are going to take a stab at what will happen in Roswell and around the metro area in 2012 as well as recap some of the bigger changes we've seen in and around the Historic District.  It's shaping up to be an interesting year in many ways.  Check out our recap, thoughts and predictions in each of the areas below:

2011 Recap - Keep up the Good Work Roswell!

 

  • Midtown Streetscape - Initial work has been completed and is a great improvement.
  • Norcross|Grimes|Warsaw Roundabout - This has been a huge hit.
  • Oak Street Streetscape Improvements - This came together nicely.  The street no longer looks like an industrial dump.
  • Wayfinding and Road Signs - These have added even more character to the HD.
  • Info Kiosks - Well done, they still need to get the info on them but the kiosks and the maps look great.
  • Improved Bus Stops - These are a great improvement for the neighborhood.
  • Table & Main - A great addition to the Roswell Restaurant Scene.
  • Roswell Provisions - How can you not love this place? Nice addition to Canton St.
  • Roswell Tap - This was a good addition along hwy 9.  We miss suburbanite pizza but we'll take the tap.
  • Roswell Restaurant Week - The 1st annual event was a hit.
  • Renew Social Ventures - The rehab of their building has been well done and we appreciate what the organization is doing.

 

Roswell 2012 

Food

Food Access - One of the biggest obstacles to making the Historic District a vibrant living spot is the lack of a walkable or bikable grocery store.  We think there may be an announcement sometime in 2012 about a small(er) grocery store going in somewhere near the HD.  Unfortunately, it won’t be a Trader Joe’s or a locally owned market.  A Fresh Market would be good or even a Publix GreenWise Market.  However, it will most likely be a Walmart Neighborhood Market.  So, our HD might just be graced with the beautiful tan and green color scheme that WMNM's are trying to force feed their new suitors.  I'll stop griping now and dream about riding my bike to the grocery store.

Restaurants - No new restaurants will open in the old Pico/Relish spot, the old Red Building or in the Old NOLA building on the square side of the Historic District.  We do think there is and off chance that someone may try to open a cafe in the spot where Wedding Angels used to be.  There’s already a kids cupcake place (Gluten Free Cuties) going into one half of that space.  We think at least one restaurant on Canton Street will close but we’re not sure which.  Nine will continue to disappoint on the quality of foodTable & Main will keep moving up the list of top spots and may become another entrant to regional lists (Salt Factory #91 on Jezebel Magazine's top 100 & Greenwood's Atlanta Magazines top 50 have made some lists recently)

Locally Grown Food - A community garden will open in the Historic District... maybe at Barrington Hall?

Farmer’s Market - The saturday farmer’s market at city hall formerly known as the Riverside Farmer’s Market will stay put even though we think it would be a bigger draw if it moved to either the Canton Street Antique Market parking lot or to the square.  The city’s allowance of additional markets (i.e. Sweet Apple Village) will cannibalize business and potentially end the one at city hall.

Mobility

Historic Square Sidewalks - We will finally have completed sidewalks along the square and around Barrington Hall.  Or at least mostly completed sidewalks.  Construction is slated to start sometime this month.  Oh yeah.. we’ll get some nice new traffic light poles as well which will take some of the unsightly wires out of the air.

Historic Gateway Project - Option 3a will be approved and the people at Creekview Village condos will go berzerk because they will lose their tennis court...  The anti-roundabout camp will come out in full force and there will be a prolonged battle to get this redevelopment project going.  The truth is, this design has the potential to be truly transformational for the HD.  However, one thing that is a MUST is on street parking.  We'll probably know this year whether GDOT will allow that.  If they don't, everyone should oppose this option as it won't work.

Building a Network - Work will continue on the plans for the Oxbo Rd realignment and Elm Street Connection to Oxbo.  However, no actual work will start for another couple of years.  We are very excited about this initiative.

Planning

Historic Gateway Master Plan - DPZ, the world renowned team that designed Seaside, will completely rock the master plan for the historic district laying the groundwork for Roswell to become the best place to live in the northern burbs as well as a regional destination.  Some might say we are now but we don't have a grocery store and if we are to be a destination and at a minium we need a hotel to be a destination.  To get this all started, we just need to find the private investment.  Hmm.. Maybe the DDA can work on that.

Form-Based Code - Roswell’s first form-based code will officially be approved for the Groveway Community.  This will be another huge event in ushering in a new age for Historic Roswell and it will hopefully become a trend in the Atlanta area.

Downtown Development Authority - Our prediction is that the DDA will focus too much on large empty shopping centers along Holcomb Bridge and the HD will be a smaller part of what the initial design for the DDA was before the opportunity zone was expanded.  

Tax Increment Financing - The newly formed DDA will start to talk about implementing TIF in the revitalization area but nothing official will happen.  We need to be very careful with this tool.

Civic & Community

Alive After 5 - Our premiere event will continue to thrive and there will be a strong push to close down Canton Street during the event.  We think it should be closed from Norcross St to the Hwy 9 intersection from 5-8pm.  There has been a push for this recently after a teen was hit by a car last year.

Parks

Riverside Park Area - Plans will be finalized for two projects.. the extension of the riverside trail will be approved despite NIMBY and Environmental Concerns.  The design plans for the bike/pedestrian bridge over the Chattahoochee River will be finalized and approved.  Some think this is a waste of money and there will probably be a little bit of a fight.  We love the idea but think the bridge design will be a disappointment to some.

Retail

Same ‘ole Same ‘ole - Other than the shops along Canton St continuing to do what they do, we don’t expect to see much going on in non-food related retail this year.  We’d love to see Roswell Bikes open up shop in the Historic District (where the old soccer store(s) used to be) but that’s just wishful thinking.  We’d also love to see something other than thrift shops open up...  

Employment

Large Employer Void - We don’t expect any major announcements here but we do expect the city to court a large employer to move operations to the historic district in conjunction with the Groveway neighborhood revitalization plan.  The mayor's recent annual state of the city speech to the Roswell Kiwanis was an indicator that the city is going to push economic development in 2012.  Additionally the formation of the Roswell Business Alliance last year and DDA will help but we won't see much movement this year.

Housing

Development Revitalization - Several developments will get new life.  We are guessing that there may be some action on foreclosed Vickery Falls development just south of Chaplain's on South Atlanta Street due to the prime location and the added focus on cleaning up the area around the square.  This could push out into 2013.  

Goulding Estate for Sale - The $8.75M, 16 acre Goulding Estate will not move this year.  However, when it does in 2013, the land will be subdivided into ridiculously expensive smaller lots.  We think the the original building will remain intact and potentially become another event facility (we don't need more though).

Charlie Brown Part Deux or Trois?- Someone will make a pitch for the old Charlie Brown parcel on the southeast corner of 400 and HBR.  Citizens on the east side of town will say it will ruin their lives by increasing congestion and bringing crime to Roswell in the form of nefarious transit riders.  

Around the Metro Area

Transit Bill - TSPLOST will pass (barely) and Cobb county will still have no idea how to get its collective act together.

Ponce City Market - Work will begin on Ponce City Market late in the year.  This will be a huge step in the continued revitalization of the Old 4th Ward.

Avalon (formerly known as Prospect Park) Alpharetta - The development that I like to call The Avenue Avalon will gain approval from the Alpharetta council with two dissenting votes even though the development would further tilt Alpharetta's target ratio of apartments in the city above the 85/15 ratio that is approved in the city's comp plan.  Stay tuned for the March 26 Alpharetta City Council meeting.  North American Properties will begin work later in the year.

The Beltline - The trail portion of the Beltline that connects Piedmont Park to the New 4th Ward Park will open up and will become an instant hit amongst locals and non-locals.  We will see a more formal timeline of transit implementation after the Transit Bill is passed this summer.

The Atlanta Streetcar - Love it or Hate it, construction will start this year!

Boondoggle Field at Art Blank Stadium - This true taxpayer ‘boondoggle’ will continue to be pushed even though no NFL stadium has EVER created a net positive economic impact.  Paying half a billion for something that will be used ~10x/year just isn’t a wise decision.  

The Multi-Modal Passenger Terminal (aka The Gulch) - We will see the initial vision of this project toward the end of the year.  Long range economic impact estimates were already released and the number look very positive

 

Well, that's it!  If you made it this far, you're a true NUR fan.  Thanks and have a great (rest of) 2012!


 

Steve Smith Setting a Good Example...

Steve Smith's home in Charlotte, NC listed for $2.9MAs many of my friends and readers know, my small family has been progressively downsizing our home for the past three years.  We started in 2007 with a 2,500 square foot home with a detached 2 car garage and a yard.  In 2008, we moved into an 1,800 square foot townhome with a 1 car garage and no yard.  Finally in 2010, we have settled on a 1,290 square foot condo with covered parking.  This suits our family perfectly right now and gives us the time to spend with each other rather than doing house chores that we don't find gratifying.  
This lifestyle doesn't fit everyone but it sure could fit a lot of people.  Almost everyone I talk to is jealous that I don't do yard work.  It frees up hours each week for me to focus on other things.  That's not the only thing that is significantly less time consuming.  We now have half the house to clean.  We have less than half the stuff to maintain and we're not sacrificing our quality of life at all.  
...we built this huge house and we just don't have any business living in it. It seemed like a great idea, and then we moved into this big house. Qe started cringing at all that space we had. For me, it was a little bit vain that I have this big house with this big yard. People saw my house was on sale and said it was me sending a message. Really the message I sent was to my kids: Dad made a mistake. This isn't how we are supposed to live. This isn't what I should be projecting. If we don't do this now (sell the house), what incentive do I give my kids to reach for? You make a lot of money and then you go blow it? I don't want to be a statistic. I want to be a good steward.
Wow!  If NFL'ers are starting to think this way then we may really be on the verge of a complete change in the way our society thinks about how and where we live.  Kudos to Steve Smith.