Editor's note: Paul Monardo is licensed Architect with 30 years practice experience, and currently is the Atlanta Director of Architecture at an A/E firm which specializes in Public Sector projects locally, nationally, and internationally. He has lived in greater Atlanta for 23 years. He works at Pond & Company which is located on Jay Bird Alley in Peachtree Corners.
I was inspired to write this commentary recently, after having thought about walkability for more than 2 years now (mostly when walking to Starbucks or Subway for lunch, in my suburban office building neighborhood); inspired by a small New York Times article this Spring which focused on walkability, and “encouraging the building of more walkable places” (May 25, 2012; “Now Coveted: A Walkable, Convenient Place”, by Leinberger).
The article reinforced conventional wisdom of the "smart growth" movement, current mixed-use development trends, "live-work-play" concepts, and even significant new developments such as the Atlanta Beltline.
The article had numerous graphs in it, one of which was close to home and compared property values in Alpharetta to Grant Park, over the 16 year period 1996-2012.
Surprise! The article makes the point that values of places are higher, and rising, where walkability and mixed-uses exist, compared to single-use typical suburban zones of cities/developments.
My long-time take on this issue of Walkability, has been, and revolves around two simple thoughts, which are basic concepts people everywhere now want:
1. A place TO WALK, i.e. a sidewalk; and
2. A place TO WALK TO, i.e., places that make daily life better.
Our offices have several places close-by to go to for lunch or quick errands; or a coffee, or even a meeting outside of the office. We have places that address my point #2---places TO WALK TO.
This was not always the case in this stretch of Peachtree Corners. When I worked in the area more than 16 years ago, the corner bank was the only “place” I could walk to, and without a sidewalk! So, today I and our staff are fortunate that our building is ideally located in this evolving (improving) area of Atlanta.
The challenge, which is my first walkability requirement noted, is that we have no place TO WALK, i.e., no sidewalks; none on the property, nor adjacent to it, on the way to our local walkable destinations.
The building was developed prior to the era which now requires sidewalk improvements be built adjacent to property development, thereby enhancing, building and extending the Public Realm/Pedestrian Right of Way, i.e., the place TO WALK.
I am not alone as one who enjoys the 5 minute walk to Starbucks or Subway (when it’s not 95 degrees outside), have a 15-20 minute lunch break, and an easy 5 minute walk back to work. Lunch in 30 minutes- with some fresh air and a chance to stretch my legs a bit.
What's wrong with this picture? Almost nothing, save for the reality of having no place TO WALK- no sidewalks.
Currently, pedestrians are forced to either walk on the road, which is dangerous, or on the wide grass/weeds shoulder, which is problematic be it summer or winter.
A sidewalk is really the only solution here- definition of the public realm. How did we all forget or ignore this basic civic requirement, from the not-so-distant past?
As an Architect and planner, all projects we work on try to explore ways in which we can make this type of positive change for the neighborhoods, areas, and cities we create, work and live in.
Now on the heels of the close, but rejected, T-splost vote to “untie Atlanta,” where do we go as a city, as a culture, here in Atlanta, Georgia?
Roads and vehicular connectivity for goods and services are very important to a strong civilization- the Romans figured that one out 20 centuries ago, and this fact still holds true for us today; but, the most important key to reducing single occupant vehicle miles driven in metro Atlanta is to make it possible for people to accomplish and enjoy daily activities without getting in their car.
More, wider roads will not achieve this end; more options for people such as mass transit, light rail, mixed-use development, paths for bikers and hikers, and sidewalks for walkers, will help achieve this reduction.
To achieve this goal, there must be strong initiative from the private sector as well as government leadership. As the noted Leinberger article documents, the market is always right, and the market says values are rising when these basic human ends are met. So what’s the hold up? Just keep on Walkin’! We’ll get there, eventually, one sidewalk at a time.
Editor's note: The opinions expressed here are strictly those of the writer and do not necessary reflect those of Peachtree Corners Patch. If you have an opposing view to the one expressed here, send your opinion to the Patch editor. Please include your phone number so we may contact you.