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Atlanta density article

Guest donaltopablo

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Guest donaltopablo

It obvious we haven't become Boston yet, so please don't misunderstand this. But it is interesting to know that density is on the rise in a lot of places in the inner metro.

Increases in population evident across metro map


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Atlanta, with its man-made canyon between the buildings of Peachtree Street, high-rise condos, apartments and shoulder-to-shoulder houses has to be the most densely settled community in the metro region, right?

Wrong. It doesn't compare with little Clarkston, a town that grew up around a former railroad stop east of Atlanta along Ponce de Leon Avenue.

Atlanta has 3,161 people per square mile, according to 2000 census figures compiled by the Atlanta Regional Commission. Clarkston packed 7,231 residents into its city limits, for an average of 6,856 per square mile. That is up from the 1990 average of 5,206.

Mayor Lee Swaney thinks his city can't add many more people. Most residential lots have been built upon; as much as half the population lives in apartments.

"We've about maxed out the property we've got in Clarkston," he said.

And that's why, as the metro area's growth continued to spread outward during the last 13 years, it also grew inward.

Fifty-three of 63 cities tracked by the Atlanta Regional Commission added people and density -- a few in triple-digit percentages -- over the decade.

It's all part of the evolution of the housing market in metro Atlanta, which is being driven by a variety of factors.

The demand for more housing in a city setting comes from homeowners who want to give up the half-acre lot and newcomers from other urban areas who are used to density, as well as young urban hipsters looking for townhouses, cluster homes or a downtown loft.

Federal grant money used

Many cities are spending millions in federal grants, doled out by the Atlanta Regional Commission's Liveable Centers Initiative, to refurbish their downtowns and encourage developers to add housing. Many of the municipalities are changing zoning codes to encourage development that mixes housing with small businesses, restaurants and services.

Cities inside I-285 like Decatur and Chamblee, finding themselves unable to grow out, are responding by growing upward with new high-rise living spaces. Others are tearing down older houses and replacing them with a half-dozen large cluster homes.

Urban areas, said Dan Reuter, chief of the land-use division of the Atlanta Regional Commission, "are not growing any more land."

Cities outside the Perimeter, such as Canton, Stone Mountain and Douglasville, are filling up the last of their empty lots or redeveloping underutilized ones.

Brian Bulthuis, city manager in fast-growing Acworth in Cobb County, which got $300,000 in LCI funds this year to help improve its central business district, said some growth is driven by homeowners who want a sense of living somewhere identifiable other than a suburb.

Seven years ago, his little downtown was looking run-down, with mostly empty storefronts. Now they are spruced up and filled with restaurants and small businesses. New neighborhoods have been built, and homeowners take advantage of the city's developing network of paths and sidewalks connecting downtown and a new green-space trail along Lake Acworth.

His city nearly doubled in density between 1990 and 2000 from a spread-out 982 people per square mile to 1,897.

Influx of immigrants

Some cities, like Chamblee and Clarkston in DeKalb County, have swelled with immigrants, who locate near family, others of their faith or nationality, and public transportation. Sometimes they want to take advantage of the businesses started by their countrymen that sell familiar goods and foods.

Swaney can point to the strip centers in Clarkston, which sport signs in Vietnamese and businesses owned by Kurds. Campaign signs staked in yards ask voters to support Abdul Akbar and Hien Nguyen.

Clarkston also has its first smart-growth development, Market Street Commons, where the developer is clustering 35 houses with a traditional bungalow look on small lots that make maximum use of space by sharing driveways leading to garages behind the homes.

City Councilman Abdul Akbar said some of the growth is spillover from Decatur, not far down Ponce de Leon toward Atlanta. Decatur is lively with shops, restaurants and night life, but home prices there have skyrocketed. Those who can't afford Decatur are looking to cheaper home prices in Clarkston.

Growth pressure is also changing the makeup of little towns far outside I-285, such as Suwanee in Gwinnett County. Its density increased 246 percent between 1990 and 2000.

Percentages can be a relative measuring stick, however, cautioned Marty Allen, the city's planning and community development director. In the 1980s, Suwanee was a rural town with houses scattered on large lots. The 1990s saw it change to a mix of modern subdivisions and some apartments.

Even with its huge percentage of growth, Suwanee still had only 889 people per square mile in 2000.

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Guest donaltopablo

It's feeling more and more like a true urban center. Midtown and Buckhead are great. I like the direction the city is heading.

Yeah, Midtown has really changed, I mean a lot in the last 5 years. It's been an amazing transformation. Plus, the development is now extended off of peachtree street, which is important for building a community instead of just a strip of condos.

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