Building a 21st century city means ditching late 20th century street plans in favor of the era before World War II.
That’s because 21st century cities demand density, and mixed uses. The idea of fixed use zoning – offices, stores, homes separate – needs to go away. The most bike-able parts of Atlanta are on the east side, where Atlanta, Decatur, and Avondale Estates all had established street plans before Pearl Harbor. Outside that, roads are a half-mile apart, everyone is on a cul-de-sac, and you need a car to go anywhere.
Decatur can be a model, if area parking decks are organized so streets like Clairmont and Ponce de Leon can become car-free. What’s left are rows of four story blocks with homes or offices upstairs, restaurants and retail on the ground floor. This leaves room for small parks, which the nearby MARTA station delivers. It’s the best planned urban space in the Atlanta region.
DeKalb County had a chance to replicate this a few miles to the east, at the Kensington MARTA station. Instead, what’s going up are Stalinist rectangular blocks surrounded by street-level parking. It’s a 21st century Pruitt-Igoe that will, by 2035, have the highest crime rate in the region.
There’s an alternative just two miles away. It’s a Publix but it’s also a 290-unit apartment community. The apartments are aligned with a parking deck. Thus, the developer could build 7 stories with sticks instead of the usual 4. The residents take up none of the retail center’s parking. Imagine the park you could put at the center if there were a deck under the supermarket, as Publix did on the Beltline and in Summerhill.
What DeKalb has chosen to do, instead, is build cul-de-sac housing and townhouses north of the station, with Stalinist garbage apartments south of it, and nothing but concrete in the middle. It’s an environmental disaster. It will become an economic and political one down the line.