Smart Growth Skepticism in Metro Atlanta

From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution comes an example of how Smart Growth is “nearly always in the eye of the beholder.” At issue is whether a proposed development in a greenfield area served primarily by one heavily-trafficked highway really counts as “smart growth”:

In short, Dallas Highway is the poster child for all of metro Atlanta’s modern growth and development issues. If it is happening there, it’s likely to be happening — or under consideration — in Gwinnett, Forsyth, Cherokee, Henry or any other of the areas still developing. That’s why the upcoming decision on whether to allow the latest twist on Dallas Highway’s development — a $110 million project that would turn 112 acres into condos, homes, senior citizen housing, offices, shops and recreation — bears close examination. It sounds and looks mighty good; it even has a pleasant sounding name — “Whisper of the River.” But is it really what it claims to be? Is this truly the “live, work and play” community it is touted to be by the smart-growth folks? […] A cursory examination of the developer’s plans for Whisper of the River reveals commercial office space, retail shopping, green space, a health club, amphitheater, and an observatory; 650 residential units are also proposed, some of them designed exclusively for the elderly. Proponents of the project say it will have some of the same attributes of the newly-opened Atlantic Station development in Atlanta. But before we get too carried away with that now-popular comparison, it’s important to remember Atlantic Station was developed on an old foundry site, next to the confluence of two interstate highways and adjacent to other transportation corridors, including MARTA bus lines and rail service. Whisper of the River will be plopped down on 112 acres of pasture, trees and creeks, not far from other commercial and residential developments where the only transportation corridor is Dallas Highway. If indeed the people living there will be working in the commercial or retail space nearby — as is the theory — the plan might work. A quick show of hands: Who thinks that will happen? More likely, the homes will get built and perhaps some of the shopping and green space. The office development, however, is much more risky. A few real estate and insurance brokers may set up shop there, but it is unlikely that it will attract large, regional employers — the kind that would pay enough for their workers to afford homes in the development. So those new residents will need to get on Dallas Highway to get to work, and they’ll drive past the new and old versions of shopping centers, and they’ll creep along the two lanes through the battlefield and curse the Old Mariettans for refusing to widen Whitlock, and they’ll look for a way to bypass the square as they make their way to I-75 and I-285 or over to Roswell or Sandy Springs or Ga. 400 where they work. And in the afternoon they’ll make the same trip home on the same road. Live. Work. Play: Not quite. Live. Shop. Drive: More likely.

This proposal offers yet another example of the often conflicting goals at the heart of what is sold popularly as “smart growth.” For more on the inherent contradictions in smart growth, see this post.