Pedestrians crossing crossing Hammond Drive near Peachtree-Dunwoody Road. Photo provided by Perimeter Community Improvement Districts.
Pedestrians crossing crossing Hammond Drive near Peachtree-Dunwoody Road. Photo provided by Perimeter Community Improvement Districts.

A study says “Walkable Urban Places” in the Atlanta region offer a harbinger of things to come across the country as urban sprawl ends and more pedestrian-friendly communities emerge.

The report, authored by Chris Leinberger of the George Washington University School of Business, says that walkable places, which he called “WalkUPs,” will drive tomorrow’s national real estate industry and the economy, turning what was once a niche market into the predominant market.

The report demonstrates that WalkUPs significantly impact economic growth and development in the Atlanta region and across the nation.

“During the second half of the 20th Century, the dominant development model was the familiar drivable suburban approach, and few places have done it better than metro Atlanta,” said Leinberger.

“However, the pendulum is swinging back toward building walkable urbanism, the dominant pattern prior to the Great Depression. According to this latest study, metro Atlanta is on the leading edge of this new urban development trend.”

The Central Perimeter area was named one of the regionally significant established WalkUPs and one of four “platinum” areas in an economic success ranking of those communities.

Yvonne Williams, president and CEO of the Perimeter Community Improvement Districts, said increasing pedestrian access has been a major goal of the self-taxing business district.

“The Perimeter Community Improvement Districts have led the transformation of Perimeter from a suburban car-dependent area to a livable, walkable community, which is paying off with significant economic returns,” Williams said.

“As a result of the past 13 years of work by the Perimeter CIDs, Perimeter is at the forefront of a game-changing structural shift that is underway in metro Atlanta real estate.”

The PCIDs first project was adding miles of sidewalks and pedestrian crosswalks, according to the organization.

“We continue to emphasize the importance of pedestrian connectivity in all of our projects,” Williams said.

The study identifies Sandy Springs and Buckhead as “Drivable Suburban Commercial Redevelopment.”

“Drivable Suburban Commercial Redevelopment WalkUPs are similar in real estate mix and form to Suburban Town Centers, albeit with somewhat more office space,” the study says.

“And whereas Suburban Town Centers are often oriented around a central node, Drivable Suburban Commercial Redevelopment WalkUPs are more linear. Developed around a major auto corridor, they also integrate walkable infrastructure into the rights of way.”

Buckhead Coaliton President and former Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell said the study is a reminder that “real estate is a constantly changing phenomena.” He predicted the former urban sprawl mega-centers will adjust to keep up with the newest trends happening in Atlanta.

“I think the one word ‘convenience’ remains the driving force as to how real estate develops in the future, short range or long range,” Massell said. “We see that with automobile congestion, fuel cost, parking problems and so forth, as they increase, the conveniences of what they’re calling ‘walkup’ arrangements take their place.”

Sandy Springs Mayor Eva Galambos said nothing in the report was news to her.

“The George Washington University study reiterates that of past studies regarding New Urbanism which say that millennials want walkable communities:  areas where they can live, work and hang out, getting from place to place via foot, bike or public transit,” Galambos said. “The study is nothing different from what planners have been telling us for the past 10 years.”

The report says Metro Atlanta’s walkable urban places are attracting an increasing share of new development and have seen a rise in rent premiums over drivable suburban areas.

The report notes that from 1992-2000, roughly 13 percent of real estate investment in the region went into current and emerging WalkUPs. From 2001-2008, that number doubled to 26 percent. Since 2009, metro Atlanta’s share of development in WalkUPs more than doubled again, reaching 60 percent in 2013.

“We are pleased to see thriving, walkable urban places emerging throughout metro Atlanta,” said Tad Leithead, chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission. “It’s evident that the market favors the kind of development that offers real mobility choices and opportunity for new community vitality. Greater walkability, housing and retail options are keys to our future economic growth.”

Brookhaven was identified in the report as an emerging WalkUP.

“Making Brookhaven more pedestrian-friendly is one of the city’s goals,” said City Manager Marie L. Garrett. “Walking and bicycle options will be included in the city’s transportation study.

“We also have committed to making Brookhaven more walkable by including funds in this year’s budget to expand and improve sidewalks in the city. We hope these improvements will continue to make Brookhaven a more pedestrian-friendly city.

–Collin Kelley contributed to this report.