Posts Tagged ‘georgia’

Is it Game Over for Atlanta? I Think Not!

July 2, 2010

There was an interesting article that came out of the New Geography website recently. In his article titled “Is it Game Over for Atlanta?” author Aaron Renn questions the Atlanta Region’s staying power.

Atlanta was only recently one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country, but has experienced a major population slowdown in the past couple years of the recession. Renn’s article points to trends that have contributed to this slowdown, such as a battered housing market and an unemployment rate above the national average of 9.7%. 

But according to Renn’s article (and most of you would probably agree), the metro area’s biggest Achilles heel is found in its infrastructure woes. Apart from the fact that the region is currently restricted from using what has been its principal water source supply, which is a huge issue in and of itself, the region has failed to adequately fund and invest in its transportation network for years. The region’s population has grown by over 1 million people in the past eight years alone, but the amount of funding for both MARTA and GDOT is currently less than it was in 2000. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that this equals serious problems for the existing transportation infrastructure and those residents trying to utilize it. (more…)

If it takes a village to raise a child, how many villages does it take to raise a region?

June 15, 2010

By Dan Reuter

Chris Leinberger was in Atlanta on May 24th to present a report completed by the Brookings Institute, Robert Charles Lesser (RCL) Co., HDR and Bleakly and Associates to document the economic potential and possible financing options associated with passenger rail from Atlanta to Macon.  Chris Leinberger worked as the President of RCL and ran its Atlanta office for 15 years.  In 1999, Chris famously described the Atlanta region as the “fastest growing human settlement in history”. 

The May 2010 passenger rail economic study provides an excellent overview of the potential to support passenger rail operations and provide new economic benefits to middle Georgia but it also could create unique development opportunities in many small towns and communities along the line.  Chris Leinberger has a related article in the June 2010 Atlantic Monthly on the history and potential of neighborhoods supported by rail transit.  See the following link: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/06/here-comes-the-neighborhood/8093

Chris Leinberger and Brookings Institute also produced a report in 2007 that compared the Atlanta region to the 29 largest metro areas in the U.S. in terms of the number of transit enabled, walkable urban locations.  The report ranked Atlanta 14th with a whopping total of four (4) walkable urban places: Midtown, Atlantic Station, Decatur and Buckhead.  (more…)

The Second Generation of Georgia Planning

August 3, 2009

When the Georgia Planning Act was adopted in 1989, few local governments in Georgia had a comprehensive plan. Thus, much of the state began to undertake a thoughtful consideration of community needs and the future for the first time in the early 1990s. By mid-decade most local governments in Georgia had completed a comprehensive plan.

Georgia DCA planning rules only require a full plan update every 10 years. So, beginning around 2003, many local governments began the required update of their initial comprehensive plan. During the 10 years that passed from the adoption of the Georgia Planning Act to the early part of this decade, planning changed significantly across the U.S.

The concepts of Smart Growth, New Urbanism and linking land use and transportation strategies gained widespread acceptance. National organizations, federal, state and local governments began to accept that the prior decades of investment and development decisions were not sustainable. The private sector began to respond to a growing number of home buyers and renters who wanted living standards unique from a suburban home and commute. Mixed-use development became economically feasible in many areas. In the late 1990s, Post Riverside and the City of Smyrna began capturing planners, elected officials and the private sector’s attention.

During the past five years, most city and county governments in metro Atlanta have updated plans to the “second generation” of Georgia comprehensive plans. This is an important milestone. This second generation of planning has brought vast and significant positive changes to local development policy. Many counties, like Gwinnett, have produced plans that are truly cutting edge linking housing and transportation investments. These new local government plans have considered growth scenarios, fiscal impacts and rural land protection. Many cities, including Decatur and Atlanta, have undertaken planning to build livable neighborhoods with a diversity of housing, shopping and travel choices.

During the past two decades frenzied population and economic growth, largely a result of national migration trends, dominated metro Atlanta planning. Planners spent most of their time and effort processing rezoning applications, subdivision plats and site plans. And there continues to be major stumbling blocks that could undermine our planning and progress in Georgia. Georgia does not enforce rules to make local comprehensive plans consistent with zoning and development regulations. Therefore, zoning rules will not change automatically to enact the second generation of comprehensive plans. It will take years of ordinance revisions, rezoning changes, overlay codes and other actions to change the primary rules that implement our comprehensive plans.

Why will it take so long? At least two good reasons exist. First, local government attorneys, elected officials and planners in Georgia undervalue the substantial authority that they possess to guide growth. Almost 100 years of law in the U.S. and Georgia have provided authority for local governments to zone land and change rules to implement well-conceived growth strategies through a comprehensive plan. Local governments can uphold and enact many changes to improve our plan implementation. However, developers and attorneys spend many waking hours trying to undermine the reality of zoning law and the home rule authority of local governments in Georgia. Substantially more discussion and education is needed at all levels regarding the ability for local governments to implement plans.

Somewhere over the last decade many developers and builders became “speculators.” The market was flush with bank funding for new subdivisions and mortgages. But times have changed and the fallout from the recession and foreclosures could substantially alter future development patterns. Metro Atlanta currently has a record high inventory of available lots, and even with a 75-to-90 percent decline in building permits in metro counties, the inventory of lots still seems to be rising. Many developers are gambling that their projects will be ready when the market returns and local governments still appear willing to allow their communities to be the target for land speculation.

Eventually the market will soak up the current housing and demand will come back. But with aging baby boomers, fewer jobs and traffic congestion, there are many uncertainties about where demand will occur and for what housing products. Local governments must know three things: 1)what housing is currently built and available, 2) what housing will be needed and 3)what type of housing are current regulations going to allow.

Now is a good time for local governments in Georgia to show leadership and implement the second generation of comprehensive plans that we have produced. This includes seeking to truly understand and zone land to address community housing needs for seniors, young families and single professionals. And it means making the right public investments for transportation to maintain a strong Georgia economy for the long term.

The Other Use for Land

April 23, 2009

By Dan Reuter

For many years, economic development in Georgia has meant the conversion of land into new uses such as residential subdivisions, strip retail centers, industrial uses or possibly athletic fields. But there is another use of land in Georgia that many individuals and planners, particularly those in our cities forget – farms, agriculture, pastures or more often known as “food”. Food production in Georgia is big business and increasingly a sustainability and health issue.The urban/rural political divide in Georgia is often described as “two Georgias.” One way to start a bridge across the divide is the recognition and reestablishment of agriculture and farmers as the champions of “livability” in Georgia. Many things are needed in our modern lives including homes, transportation, safety and a job – but local food is one commodity that Georgians can value more and local governments can expand.

Food production, organic farming, farmers markets, Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) and community gardens are booming across the United States. Author Michael Pollan helped mainstream locally-grown food production in recent years through his writing, including the bestseller – “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals.” The connection between eating well and health has also been elevated in years through the efforts of the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta.

Industrial food production is a major user of oil to both produce and transport food an average of 1,500 miles between the farm where it was grown and its end user, as reported by the organization Sustainable Table. Georgia Organics reports that: “Modern farming uses more petroleum than any other single industry, consuming 12 percent of the country’s total energy supply.”

Many local governments provide little or no support for local farming or food production. Supporting farming and Georgia-grown food production is an environmental and economic “win/win” strategy. Georgia farms and rural communities can benefit tremendously if an additional percentage of the money spent by Georgians living in our cities, suburbs and regions was spent within our state to support local food production.

The Georgia Department of Agriculture, University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Georgia Organics and other organizations are available to support local governments and planners to better support Georgia grown food.

A coalition of organizations has produced a “Plan for Atlanta’s Sustainable Food Future,” http://www.atlantalocalfood.org. The document supports preservation of farmland as a major strategy for sustaining Georgia’s food needs in the future. The Atlanta Community Food Bank has also gotten involved in recent years to help communities feed themselves by supporting community gardens.

Support for Georgia farmers, organic and local food production, farmers markets and community gardens is a planning-related strategy whose time has arrived. In 1989, the State of Vermont (population 621,000) had 179 organic producers. Ten years later they had 543. By comparison Georgia (population 9.5 million) currently has more that 50 farms or 1,700 acres in organic production.

Local governments can facilitate local food production in many ways, including protection of land. Urban areas in Georgia can create a better relationship to rural areas of the state by understanding and valuing our interdependency for a growing economy and sustainable food production. Consumers, businesses and schools can also take steps to buy Georgia-grown produce and livestock. When the only value for vacant land is new development, we lose a potentially valuable and sustainable resource and land is reduced to only the location to put a footprint of a building or parking lot.


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