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A Walkable City: Atlanta Ranks No. 9 for Walkable Urbanism

David Smith • 7/10/2019
A decade or two ago, it may have seemed unfathomable for Atlanta to be considered a top 10 walkable U.S. city.

However, a decade of public-private partnerships, thoughtful development in both the CBD and suburbs, and shifts in where people live, work and play has markedly changed both the city’s perception and its reality.

The 2019 Foot Traffic Ahead report from the Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis (CRUEA) at the George Washington University School of Business, in partnership with Cushman & Wakefield, Smart Growth America/LOCUS and Yardi Matrix, has named Atlanta the No. 9 city for walkable urbanism. The report ranks the 30 largest metros in the United States, based on the percentage of office, retail and rental multifamily space in walkable urban places. The report found that in the 30 largest metros there are 761 “regionally significant” walkable urban places, or WalkUPs. Twenty-seven of those WalkUPs are located in the Atlanta metro area.

 

Atlanta has long been the poster child of suburban sprawl, along with other “newer,” Southern metros such as Dallas and Houston. Over the past decade Atlanta has experienced one of the fastest walkability turn arounds . Much of this change has been spurred by the substantial growth of WalkUPs around the BeltLine–which may be the most important trail and rail transit investment occurring in the country–and urbanizing suburbs in places like Central Perimeter, the Battery and Avalon in Alpharetta. The momentum both inside and outside the Perimeter should continue the growth of walkable urbanism for the foreseeable future.

 

Atlanta ranks in the “Upper-Middle Walkable Urbanism” group alongside seven other rapidly changing markets. The eight metro areas in this second level cover two broad categories: those that concentrate the vast majority of walkable urban development in the center cities (Pittsburgh, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Philadelphia) and those that are beginning to expand into urbanizing suburbs (Seattle, Atlanta and Portland). One-fourth of Atlanta’s total office, retail and rental multifamily space is in the 27 WalksUPs around the metro area. These WalkUPs account for a smaller share of retail and multifamily inventory, but contain a whopping 43% of the office square footage,  which is the same proportion as three gateway markets: Boston, Chicago and San Francisco.

 

Atlanta also ranks highly in terms of walkability growth. Between 2010 and 2018 Atlanta was the 12th fastest market in terms of walkable urban market share growth, according to the reports’ Market Share Shift Index (MSSI). The MSSI measures the walkable urban market share increase or decrease of net absorption of real estate for a given time period, compared to market share at the beginning of that time period (the base year). For this analysis, CRUEA measured market share increase from 2010 through 2018 against the base year 2010 occupancy (January 1, 2010), near the start of the current real estate cycle.

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