Urbanist, guest columnist, says condos are stunting Atlanta's urban growth. His solution? Apartments.
UPDATE (July 3) : Are Atlantan's ready to rent luxury high-rise apartments?
Home ownership, Middle America’s status symbol that ignorantly proclaims “I’ve made it in life,” has undermined Atlanta’s capability to grow into the global urban center that it has the potential to be.
The perverse conception that granite counter-tops, a finished basement, and a Lexus SUV is superior to social interaction, civil cohesion, and progress has taken the most important of all resources – human capital – and diluted it to the point where it’s social contribution is as effective as an education from Kennesaw State.
The urban interpretation of this, which Atlanta has taken to the extreme, is the speculative condo development that plagues what little Atlanta has of an urban core.
Don’t believe me? Chew on this: 3,800 condo units were added to Atlanta’s skyline between 2004 and 2008. From 2000 until 2010, the city added 3,529 people. The math is simple. Instead of developing urban apartments - dense structures, that house racially, socially, and economically diverse people - the city has allowed the irrationally exuberant development of multiple condo towers, many of which sit largely vacant.
Do many of these units become rentals? No. Sure, some, but many don’t due to a variety of issues -- pricing and condo board regulations amongst them. And worst of all, condos are segregated housing available to people within a narrow socioeconomic profile and discourage diversity.
So why hasn’t Atlanta created smart development that can bring people into the city core?
The answer is shared between weak politicians and an idle culture stepped in a regressive tradition. Inertia is the name of the game. We're taught that owning a home has merit and renting is for irresponsible louses. However, the progressive world bucked this thought process well over 100 years ago. New York City, Paris, London, Singapore – the cities in this world where things happen first, not last – all have a huge supply of apartments, which demand meets head on.
Sure, housing costs are high in these places, but millions who could afford to own outside of the city, choose to rent inside of the city. Also, these cities aren’t run by politicians who favor front page photo opportunities and cheap alliances over truly valuable development. If this weren’t true in Atlanta, Atlantic Station and The Gulch redevelopment plan never would have made it to the drawing board.
Can Atlanta make the appropriate change and put itself on the path towards successful, dense, diverse urban growth? -- Absolutely.
First, Atlanta needs to focus on the most important asset in any city – the people. The city can zone and promote development (urban apartments) that integrates these people into dense areas and provides the critical mass of population that creates the necessary demand for local business.
Second, Atlanta needs to use the plethora of vacuous space in prime areas to foster this development into a preexisting urban infrastructure. No city needs the amount of parking space that Atlanta has.
Third, the city needs to expand its relationships beyond the PR pirates (Daniel, Cousins, Forrest City, etc.) that pillage large swaths of land and build pretty towers that don’t serve the economic interests of the city and its people.