Oceans, rivers, mountains, or deserts constrain land supply around many of the nation's larger metropolitan areas. Not so in Atlanta. Unlike cities where open lots are preciously numbered, Atlanta's geography offers seemingly endless acreage in every direction. The downside of 2,000-plus square miles of lot supply for tomorrow is nobody can get to work without bumper-to-bumper anguish today.
Enter the state of Georgia. It is considering three extreme solutions to help ease traffic congestion around Atlanta, moves that could open up housing development and make commuting to work easier.
The proposals are all on the table, but none have received final approval or, more important, money to make them happen. But they show the extent that the state is willing to go in finding a solution to a problem that has gone from bad to one of the worst sprawls in the country.
“What I've found in my experience is that when you make those kinds of highway projects, it just becomes a bigger parking lot. More development does follow; more people are living there, and it is worse than before,” says Michael Medick, vice president of architecture and planning for John Wieland Homes and Neighborhoods in Atlanta.
“We keep trying to find a silver bullet,” says David Goldberg, communications director for Smart Growth America. “Because of congestion and commute times, there is a lot of pressure for development closer in.”
DESTINATION EVERYWHERE For more than a decade, the region has struggled with the problem of growth along its metro corridors. In 1980, seven counties comprised the Atlanta metro area. Today, the metro area spans 28 counties in north Georgia. And despite the congestion, the population in the region is expected to grow by 2.3 million people by 2030, with jobs expected to increase by 1.7 million.
The Atlanta Regional Commission, a collection of government and business leaders, has been working to redirect growth to existing business centers at least in the inner metro region. However, halting development is not an options with 1.2 million acres ripe for development.
George Schulmyer, president of the Georgia division of Beazer Homes, says many home buyers are still willing to trade commuting time for affordable homes. At the same time, he says government agencies are encouraging new development in industrial sections of Atlanta that are closer to downtown.
“I believe there is a solution to mitigate the problem. It's not just one answer on one highway,” Schulmyer says. “It's encouraging growth along certain corridors. It's also leading back to areas already populated and allowing favorable zoning to encourage in-town or infill areas.”
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Atlanta, GA.