Sustainability in Sprawlsville

I wrote in an earlier post about my prejudice toward Atlanta and sprawling metros, and of their unique position in the movement toward sustainability. Last night I got a chance to see, firsthand, some of what's going on in The A.

Atlanta is a city of some intersting contrasts. Downtown is, to steal a phrase from my group leader at the convention I'm attending, a hot piece of mess. Transition zones are almost universally the most awkward, unattractive places in their respective cities. Downtown is very disjointed; the area around the State Capitol does not connect well with the retail district of the UnderGround, which in turn does not transition well into the business district to the north or the area around the arena and CNN Center to the west. The aforementioned UnderGround is such a disaster that it's not even worth getting into...all I'll say is that almost everyone I saw (no exaggeration) had a look on their face that very clearly translated to "why did I come here?" Sandwiched in the middle of all these distrcts is a surprisingly lovely (considering the surroundings) historic area called Fairlie-Poplar where my friend and I talked to a street vendor about the policy prohibiting panhandling...more on that in a future post, when I've had time to do some research.

Midtown is a completely different story. I'm shocked to say this, but I actually have to admit that Midtown Atlanta is a walkable neighborhood. It's high-density and very high-energy, there is a very strong retail and restaurant scene, grocery stores, museums--everything within walking distance. Right across the freeway is the stunning, emerald campus of Georga Tech, which had a healthy mix of architectural styles and (not surprising for a school of its size) plenty of pedestrians. It was in and around Midtown/Tech that I saw Atlanta's true potential. Tech Square, a development that spans both sides of the freeway near the historic Biltmore, is a high-density mixed-use development that draws people across the freeway from the university to Midtown. The architecture is attractive (if not particularly groundbreaking) and has a great street presence with mixed retail. Just north of the campus is Atlantic Yard, a truly massive brownfield redevelopment with the highest-density lifestyle center I've ever seen. The architecture was a soupy sort of historicism that, if I'm being honest, made me throw up a little bit in my mouth. But the fact that development like this was going on a mile from downtown Atlanta did wonders for my perception of the capital of the South--which, historically, has set the example for the rest of the region.

I did some searching online after hearing a bit more about the Atlanta BeltLine while I was here, and a link to the project site is below. There's also a great article at WorldChanging today about the sustainability tide change in Los Angeles, the most notorious autopolis in the world. America's sprawlsvilles are really stepping it up, it seems...

The Atlanta BeltLine

Open House, Living Kit and the LA Earthquake: Notes from a Visit to Art Center Pasadena (WorldChanging)

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