Some conservatives oppose these communities, saying they are designed to ultimately replace the automobile with mass transit and bicycles while encouraging high-density housing in urban centers.
But George Washington University’s business school, which will conduct the study, defines walkable communities as “places where everyday needs, including working, can be met by walking, transit or biking.”
The study’s methods, under the direction of professor Christopher B. Leinberger, debuted in the Washington, D.C., region and coined the phrase “WalkUPs,” or walkable urban places that have sidewalks, trails and other pedestrian amenities.
The study revealed a potential economic development engine, according to Jim Durrett, the Buckhead CID executive director, who made the request at the Town Center CID meeting Tuesday.
Durrett is making the rounds, trying to get financial backing from fellow metro Atlanta community improvement districts. He believes that walkability helps increase property values and leads to smarter growth.
“The degrees of walkability related to the value of the real estate and the rents they would get, both commercial and residential — it discovered a very clear connection between the two,” Durrett said.
He said that with the Atlanta Regional Commission recently engaged as a research partner with GWU and Georgia Tech, the cost of the study plunged by almost half, from $190,000 to $110,000.
“My hope is we could get the majority of the established CIDs to put something into this so the CIDs could get something out of it,” Durrett said. “It could be our gift to the metro Atlanta region, a road map of how we go forward to create more of these walkable places.”
Gift or curse?
Whether the donation would be a gift or a curse is debatable, according to the concept’s naysayers.
Georgia Tea Party chair J.D. Van Brink said he does not mind the idea so much as its execution.
“If other people want to live in a community with high-rise buildings, God bless them. But when we talk about people forcing anyone to do anything, my radar goes up,” he said. “It’s all a matter of self- government and individual liberty.”
Bill Hudson, treasurer for the Transportation Leadership Coalition, called the concept “insane.”
“It’s a huge waste of money,” he said. “I don’t have any problem with a bike lane, but you don’t need a 6-foot wide bike path. The county said you’re getting it whether you want it or not. It’s the arrogance.”
Hudson said the authorities have an agenda for wanting people out of their cars.
“The effort and the major focus are to get people to move into the urban settings and out of the suburbs,” he said. “They want to limit mobility because they can control people better.”
Making the rounds
So far, Durrett said, the Buckhead, Cumberland and North Fulton CIDs have committed $25,000 each, while Midtown pledged $12,500 and Downtown will contribute $7,500.
“That puts us $15,000 shy of making the budget,” Durrett said. “I’m here to ask you to consider becoming part of the funding group to do this.”
He said the participating CIDs will get something in return: “good information” to pinpoint where to create or enhance existing WalkUPs, and major companies looking at Atlanta as a place to relocate.
Town Center Area CID chair Mason Zimmerman agreed, suggesting they split the $15,000 with the Perimeter CIDs.
“Our walkability score here is important to families and employers,” he said. “It’s important that we participate.”