Study: Urban density next to highways exposes more people to air pollution. Kinda “duh” but very important to recognize. This is bad news for all those apartments located next to interstate highway interchanges in Atlanta (and there are a LOT), but good news for apartments springing up around the Beltline and for the MARTA transit-oriented development plans – it looks like putting density near public-transit routes and bike lanes is better for your health.
“Transit makeover of Atlanta” - USA Today piece is a good reminder that the Beltline & the new streetcar are part of long-range changes in city and it’s transportation. These are projects for a better tomorrow. Particularly with the streetcar, don’t think about it as offering immediate changes in a better urban environment – it’s an important incremental step toward a better transit network and built environment for the future.
Photo of a vacant lot in Sweet Auburn, formerly public housing projects and currently weeds and wild flowers, by me
The three-mile circle of Atlanta's young-and-educated boom
A couple of months ago, a report from City Observatory titled “The Young and Restless at the Nation’s Cities” got a lot of press, and rightfully so. It’s a very interesting and well-written piece that details a study of young, educated people in US metropolitan areas and their migration to “close-in neighborhoods.”
It found that, between 2000 and 2012, the entire multi-county Atlanta region saw a decrease in the percentage of adults in the 25-34 age range who have 4-year degrees (a demographic the report calls the “young and restless”). This alone was big news because it showed a reversal of an earlier trend during the 1990’s that saw an increase in the region from that group.
But the most fascinating part was this: inside the close-in neighborhoods of Atlanta, which is defined as radius of “three miles of the center of the central business district” of the metro, there was actually huge boost in the percentage of young, educated adults from 2000 to 2012 – an increase of 38.7%.
That’s impressive. And it’s the kind of statistic that city boosters (spoiler alert: turns out I’m one!) love to get a hold of for the purpose of touting successes. But with the great power of good stats comes great responsibility. I’ve come across a few instances online and in print where this stat has been used in a questionable way.
Questionable use of the report
I don’t mean to pick on the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, but I want to demonstrate how this info from the report was used in ways that are not entirely accurate in a couple of recent pieces, suggesting that this three-mile radius projects much further than it actually does (and I want to make clear that both of these pieces are, otherwise, quite good and well worth reading):
1. In the editorial “Why millennials — and others — choose Buckhead,” (behind paywall), the writer stretches the three-mile radius out to such a degree that it encompasses Buckhead in north Atlanta, several miles from Downtown, claiming that this is part of the area that has seen a swell in young and educated adults.
2. The news report “Worldpay move part of intown tech migration” (also behind a paywall), the three-mile radius is described as projecting out from “the urban core” of Atlanta, which implies a really large area to me.
Getting the facts straight
To get the story straight, I contacted City Observatory and they kindly sent me a map, below, of the exact radius in question. As is described in the report, it encompasses three miles of the center of the central business district (and regardless of trends that have seen office hotspots grow elsewhere, Downtown is still the largest of the city’s commercial districts).
Within this area you can find several great intown neighborhoods such as West End, Adair Park, Atlantic Station, Midtown, Old Fourth Ward, Grant Park, Glenwood Park and more, including my own Downtown neighborhood. These are the places that have seen that 38.7%. increase in young, educated adults.
It obviously doesn’t include Buckhead to the north (though certainly that area has plenty to crow about otherwise) and it is only a section of what I would call the “urban core.”
Stretching out that boundary beyond where the report puts it is not only incorrect, it undermines the success made by these neighborhoods in the city center.
Today, 20 percent of the population is older than sixty-five; by 2060, every third person will have reached that age. The effect of the aging population on the urban environment and on social services is one of the most significant global challenges and opportunities of the next fifty years.