The Buckhead Reporter offers this look at the North Buckhead neighborhood as part of a series of articles on where residents live.
More than 100,000 drivers on Ga. 400 pass through one of Atlanta’s biggest neighborhoods every day.
The North Buckhead Civic Association formed in 1972 to keep the Georgia Department of Transportation from building the toll road. North Buckhead Civic Association President Gordon Certain has learned to cope with the defeat of losing the battle over the highway that looms over the community like a conqueror’s statue.
When Ga. 400 opened in 1993, he wasn’t sure what would happen.
“I was really afraid of the noise,” Certain said.
That didn’t deter the neighborhood’s growth, however. “They built houses that went for $2 million that back right up to the thing.”
Today, more than 8,000 people call North Buckhead home. Roswell Road Northeast and Peachtree Dunwoody Road Northeast form the neighborhood’s western and eastern borders. Its southernmost boundary is the intersection of Peachtree Road Northeast and Piedmont Road Northeast, and the neighborhood extends north just shy of Windsor Parkway Northeast. Ga. 400 runs north to south through it.
Certain’s near-encyclopedic knowledge of the community makes him North Buckhead’s best tour guide.
His neighborhood group adopted a strategy of reclaiming whatever parts of the place they could and making it their own.
Case in point: Certain stood beneath Ga. 400 where it crosses Mountain Way Northeast, his car parked next to its tall, rectangular beams. Using a three-dimensional diagram he had hand-crafted and infused with a meticulous level of detail, he traced the outline of a park proposed for the space.
The seats of an amphitheater could go on the angled concrete wall buttressing the rumbling road above, he said. On the other side of Mountain Way, Certain could see people enjoying Little Nancy Creek. Nancy Creek and Little Nancy Creek both run through North Buckhead.
Acreage underneath a highway might not sound like the ideal place for a park, but Certain has adapted to Atlanta’s urban sprawl by transforming obstacles into opportunities.
“It’s all whatever we want to make of it,” Certain said.
Another example: Blue Heron Nature Preserve on Roswell Road, along Nancy Creek, was founded in 2000, another North Buckhead Neighborhood Association initiative. Blue Heron began with 7 acres along Nancy Creek and over the years the park has expanded to 25 acres, including a community garden.
Blue Heron Nature Preserve Executive Director Nancy Jones said the preserve is an important sanctuary for the community. Jones previously lived in North Buckhead before moving closer to Buckhead Village.
“You don’t have the walkability in North Buckhead, but you do have the beautiful landscape,” Jones said. “We’re hoping to have more walkability in Buckhead with upcoming trails and other connectors… You get a little bit of the environment, but you also are really close in town to so many things.”
A proposed trail that would run along Ga. 400 could also join the neighborhood’s short list of park spaces.
The neighborhood’s residences are a mixture of high rises, rebuilds, low-cost condos and townhomes. Certain showed off a little-known site near Wieuca Overlook that’s become a small green space containing the remnants of a mill. The gear works protrude from the wall. The people zooming by on Wieuca Road likely don’t notice it, Certain said.
Traffic continues to be the neighborhood’s largest problem, he said.
“The whole traffic grid of this area was unplanned,” Gordon said, noting that many of the same routes from 1927 are still the main routes today.
Waldtraut “Walda” Lavroff, who serves on the Civic Association Board, said the lack of planning has hurt the neighborhood. “The traffic lights are not coordinated, and every time we try to do something about that, there’s no money available to do that,” Lavroff said. “The streets are in awful condition, and we have potholes to beat the band everywhere, and that is challenging.”
Like Certain, Lavroff lived in the neighborhood when residents fought Ga. 400. “We lost that fight and we’re still suffering some of the consequences,” she said.
The neighborhood is zoned for Sarah Smith Elementary School. The school is among the things residents recognize as neighborhood assets.
Lavroff said she likes being close to businesses while also being able to enjoy patches of green space.
Certain said the neighborhood benefits from convenience, friendly residents and a low crime rate.
“We probably have a more varied neighborhood than any neighborhood in the city,” Certain said.