In Atlanta, Suburbs Continue to Evolve to Meet Market Demand

Sarah Funderburk Weston, Director of PR/ Partner at SPR

Sarah Funderburk Weston, Director of PR/ Partner at SPR

In sprawling metro areas such as Atlanta, the very notion of a “suburb” is in flux. No longer is the delineation between urban and suburban housing types and community attributes crystal clear as certain types of suburbs are evolving to include higher densities, walkability, and other urban characteristics. This idea was among several discussed at a recent panel and forum held by ULI Atlanta on new suburban paradigms identified in Housing in the Evolving American Suburb, a report produced by the ULI Center for Housing and RCLCO.  

Whether developing in traditionally “suburban” areas or in densifying in-town neighborhoods, Atlanta’s renters and buyers are both looking for increased walkability, amenities and smarter buildings and that may come in the form of single-family detached homes, mid- to high-rise multifamily development, or perhaps somewhere in the middle, the panel said.

The panelists included Stockton Williams, executive director of the Terwilliger Center, Adam Ducker, managing director, RCLCO, and local developers and experts who are witnessing the changes in suburban development in Atlanta first-hand.

The panel asked attendees to look past the typical “city vs. suburbs” debate and into the unique challenges and opportunities of the suburbs.

Ducker described a new, housing-focused classification system that was developed for the Terwilliger report. The system is based on census tract-level data, proximity to a city center, and categories across the urban-suburban spectrum: high-density urban, urban, low-density urban, high-density suburban, suburban, and low-density suburban. Within the three suburban categories, the report puts forth five typologies to categorize suburban development: “established high-end,” “stable middle-income,” “economically challenged,” “greenfield lifestyle,” and “greenfield value.”

In the Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell metropolitan statistical area (MSA), 87 of the population lives in areas classified as suburban with one-quarter living in “greenfield value suburbs.” Under this new framework, traditional Atlanta suburbs, such as Perimeter Center, will likely become classified as urban in the next few years.

Ducker shared a key finding about the Atlanta MSA; Atlanta is a very suburban city, yet it is urbanizing similarly to a 24-hour gateway city and differently than other parts of the Sunbelt.

While the suburbs are still driving employment and population growth in the Atlanta market, the share of population growth and jobs in the urban core has increased significantly. The dominant housing type in suburban developments is still overwhelmingly single-family homes, where residents strive for bigger homes and lots.

Findings revealed that Atlanta’s discrepancy between suburban home values and urban home values were much wider than other Sunbelt metros, which supports the idea that Atlanta is more like a gateway city where residents are willing to pay a premium to live in or near downtown. Another key finding showed that Atlanta suburbs are more ethnically diverse than the suburbs of the 50 largest metros in general, and particularly those in the Sunbelt. Not only are Atlanta’s suburbs home to a large percentage of minorities, but they are also home to the majority of Atlanta’s millennials.

New and innovative developments, such as projects along the Atlanta Beltline and in Midtown, continue to attract residents to Atlanta’s expanding urban core. Close-in neighborhoods are experiencing development and population growth, drawing in newcomers. Despite all the development activity along the urban fringe, suburban areas have also grown increasingly urbanized. Developments such as Avalon and the soon-to-be-opened Battery at SunTrust Park represent strong examples of “drive-to” urbanism. These destinations have elements of urban downtown cores and are densifying with infill residential development.

Moving forward, consumers will continue to age and want to buy homes to suit their changing needs. Today’s new products consist of large and single-family or small, urban and multifamily, with few in-between products currently being built.

Ducker spoke of the “missing middle,” where young families are priced out of housing product, empty nesters want to downsize, and low- and middle-income renters cannot afford the products. As homes are being made available, they need to be filled by younger families, many of which are still renting, which raises the question of how quickly will renters be ready to upgrade into homeowners.

Following the review of the findings from Adam Ducker, managing director of RCLCO, the panel of Atlanta experts spoke local trends.  Panelists discussed zoning changes in Atlanta, the escalating costs of development, rising home prices in both the urban core and the suburbs, and the idea that consumers want similar product types irrespective of the location.

Michael Blair, managing director of development with Pollack Shores, shared that his firm had seen an increase in suburban development and that density has been pushed by public officials and leaders more so than in previous years. “Renting by choice is driving programming for your multifamily developments,” he said. He went on to mention the same quality of features and amenities were being demanded for both suburban and urban developments.

Said Scott Jones, partner with Site Solutions: “We’re seeing that safety, outdoor space that is programmable and a focus on activities is what our clients are wanting more and more, no matter where the project is.”

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Little-known Black history fact: Mother of community development

We know that there are no shortage of Black women who have played a significant role in history and in shaping America. Some familiar names that come to mind are Rosa Parks who is often referred to as the “mother of the freedom movement” with her role in igniting a national bus boycott and Shirley Chisholm — the “mother of politics,” as she was the first Black congresswoman elected to office in 1968. But here’s a name that may not ring a bell although her place in history is equally noteworthy – Dorothy Richardson, known by some as the “mother of community development.” Continue reading

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A Look Back at Fulcrum Award Winners: Raising Consciousness, Tipping the Balance

Amber McFarland, Project Manager, Southface

Amber McFarland, Project Manager, Southface

By Amber McFarland

Last year, in preparation for our annual Greenprints Conference, the leadership team at Southface considered a provocative notion: what if a simple awards program could transform the market and shape the conversation? Through creative thinking and collaboration, we created such a program and debuted the Fulcrum Awards in March. With a call for “Raising Consciousness, Tipping the Balance,” the Fulcrum Awards was designed to recognize people, programs, buildings, movements, organizations and more that demonstrate excellence in pursing Southface’s vision: a regenerative economy, responsible resources use and social equity through a healthy built environment for all.

Before and after of Iberville Offsites by Kronberg Wall Architects

Before and after of Iberville Offsites by Kronberg Wall Architects

Jurors for the inaugural program helped co-create the process for evaluating these ambitious projects. The 2016 jurors were: Jane Hayse, retired Director of Center for Livable Communities, Atlanta Regional Commission; Tim Keane, Commissioner of Planning and Community Development, City of Atlanta; Nathaniel Smith, Founder and Chief Equity Officer/CEO, Partnership for Southern Equity; Flor Velarde, Compliance Officer, Invest Atlanta; and Shane Totten, Director, Commercial Sustainability Services, Southface. As we approach the call for nominations for the second annual Fulcrum Awards program, we checked in with our winners from last year.

Stanton Oaks before and after by Woda Group and Parallel Housing, Inc

Stanton Oaks before and after by Woda Group and Parallel Housing, Inc

Stanton Oaks by Woda Group and Parallel Housing, Inc

Stanton Oaks by Woda Group and Parallel Housing, Inc

Stanton Oaks, an affordable housing development in the Atlanta neighborhood of Peoplestown, was developed by Woda Group and Parallel Housing, Inc. This project excelled in its community engagement processes and ongoing attention to tenant feedback. Investment and ownership that residents had in the early stages of the redevelopment process prompted Nathaniel Smith to remark, “The project shows opportunity to leverage the wisdom and voices of the community. For me, it increased a level of civic engagement and created a relationship between tenants and law enforcement, [and showed that] the built environment really can have the power to bring people together.” Prior to beginning this project, the developers of Stanton Oaks faced the monumental task of relocating tenants temporarily. Woda Group and Parallel Housing, Inc. worked to ensure that all tenants were looked after, that temporary accommodations were suitable for children and even arranged transportation to school. This commitment to their tenants speaks volumes to the level of detail and care taken during the award-winning, LEED for Homes Gold certified project.

Sustainable Water WaterHub® at Emory University

Sustainable Water WaterHub® at Emory University

The Sustainable Water WaterHub® at Emory University is a water treatment facility that demonstrates the power of public private partnerships. The jury was thoroughly impressed with the project’s dramatic and creative efforts to reclaim and reuse what would otherwise be wasted water. The jury noted the community-wide benefit of the project’s contribution to resilience and resource conservation in an area that has historically been plagued by water issues. Tim Keane said, “The dramatic efforts to reduce water consumption just in themselves are an investment in social equity.” As the first ever WaterHub to be built in the United States, Emory University took a bold step forward to serve as a model for water stewardship. With its ability to provide a redundant, reliable source of water and reduce overall campus water demand, the WaterHub became the centerpiece of Emory University’s district-scale water sustainability strategy. Since its commissioning in the spring of 2015, the WaterHub has enabled the University to reclaim nearly 100 million gallons of campus wastewater for beneficial reuse (as of 12/12/2016). Recognized for its innovation and impact, the WaterHub is now a 14-time award winner from various sustainability, water treatment, planning and engineering organizations.  

Kronberg Wall Architects facilitated Iberville Offsites, a revitalization effort for 46 historic and affordable housing units in the neighborhoods of Treme, Seventh Ward and Central City in New Orleans, LA. The jury unanimously felt that the planning and execution of the project were in line with the four criteria and particularly praised the care taken to avoid community displacement. Additionally, the project demonstrates exemplary capacity to revitalize communities through adaptive reuse—both in the amount of energy the buildings save and in the preservation of cultural history and its significance. Completing the project was an accomplishment in itself. This was Kronberg Wall Architects’ third project of this general type, but the first one where every house was historic and under the purview of the National Park Service. Working through the coordination of each individual house with its own set of requirements took a significant amount of time and coordination in order to balance preservation requirements with strict energy efficiency mandates. The impact to the New Orleans neighborhoods is immense. Blighted units are now energy efficient affordable homes for local residents. Kronberg Wall Architects is already working on a fourth project similar to the award winning Stanton Oaks.  

Metro Atlanta Water District’s Water Conservation Plan

Metro Atlanta Water District’s Water Conservation Plan

The Metro Atlanta Water District’s Water Conservation Plan aimed to integrate strategies for water supply and conservation, wastewater and stormwater into a holistic plan. In addition to the plan’s impact on water use, the jury felt its efforts to increase regional collaboration (comprised of 15 counties and 92 cities) around water quality and supply was worthy of praise. Since the initial adoption of the plans, total water use within the District has decreased by more than 10 percent while the population has increased by more than a million. That’s an incredible amount of water savings! When you look at it on a per capita basis, the decline is even more pronounced: a more than 30 percent decrease in per capita consumption! The Metro Atlanta Water District is working on the second update to the Water Supply and Water Conservation Management Plan. This update seeks to improve efficiencies in the commercial sector as well as take the next steps in residential education and outreach programs. The plan is due to be completed in June 2017.

Metro Atlanta Water District’s Water Conservation Plan 2

Metro Atlanta Water District’s Water Conservation Plan 2

The four winning projects of the inaugural Fulcrum Awards continue to have a rippling effect on their project teams and communities around them. Southface looks forward to the next group of inspiring projects that will demonstrate excellence in pursing Southface’s vision: a regenerative economy, responsible resources use and social equity through a healthy built environment for all.


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2016 – A Bright Year for Solar in Georgia

When Southface started building a database to track Georgia’s installed solar capacity in 2012, we were hunting for kilowatts (kWs). We sifted through hundreds of documents; no installation was too small. If we identified a 0.01 kW solar attic fan, we added it to our tally. We only had six solar projects that were one megawatt (MW) or more, none exceeded 2 MWs and the vast majority of the installations were on rooftops. We built a website to showcase this solar capacity data, and more, called It showed that by the end of 2012, Georgia had 23 MW of installed solar capacity. Continue reading

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The Urbanization of Atlanta’s Suburbs: Norcross, Duluth and Suwanee

Michael Rodgers

by Michael S. Rodgers

The Creative Development Council of the Urban Land Institute (Atlanta District) was formed in 2016 to bring together ULI members who are focused on entrepreneurial development so that they may share best practices and resources with the goal of elevating creative place-making and promoting high-quality infill development across the region.   Continue reading

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From Surviving to Thriving: Main Street Businesses

By Grace Fricks

Three ACE clients, from L to R: Nicole Wimpy of Jolie Day Spa, Aysha Cooper of SarahCare of Snelville and Ardina Pierre of Nature's Own Herb Shop spend time with ACE President and CEO Grace Fricks

Three ACE clients, from L to R: Nicole Wimpy of Jolie Day Spa & Salon, Aysha Cooper of SarahCare of Snelville and Ardina Pierre of Nature’s Own Herb Shop spend time with ACE President and CEO Grace Fricks

Main Street businesses play a vital role in creating economically sustainable communities, with established small businesses comprising 68 percent of all employer firms nationally. Not only do small businesses serve as primary sources of employment, goods and services, but they also keep profits local and feed community economies. Main Street entrepreneurs build lasting neighborhood connections that foster the communities where families successfully live, work, play and thrive. Continue reading

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‘Making a Difference’ towards a more sustainable future

By Andrea Pinabell, President, Southface, beginning 2017

As we officially enter the 2016 holiday season, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on this incredible year. I am humbled and excited to be joining Southface as its President in January; an organization with a 38-year legacy of excellence under Dennis’s leadership and vision. Southface is an amazing organization with a bright future, talented staff, committed board and excellent partners, but it also takes supportive communities to truly make a difference. Continue reading

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EarthCraft Awards Recognize the Best of the Built Environment

By Amber McFarland, Project Manager, Southface

The EarthCraft Awards returned this year with a fresh take on what makes an EarthCraft project great. Developed in 1999 by the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association (GAHBA) and Southface, EarthCraft is the Southeast’s standard for green building – pairing building science with regional know-how. EarthCraft promotes energy efficient, healthy, comfortable and durable new construction and renovation. The EarthCraft Awards program provides GAHBA and Southface a chance to recognize projects that exceed standard program requirements and shines a light on program partners who continue to make strides in advancing innovation in the green building industry. Continue reading

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Desire for homeownership remains high, student debt a barrier

This year we saw the national homeownership rate fall to its lowest level in five decades. In the second quarter of 2016, homeownership fell to 62.9% – a half-point decline over the previous year and previous quarter. Will the homeownership rate continue to decline? NeighborWorks America’s recent survey suggests a strong desire for homeownership – and some troubling barriers. Continue reading

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Igniting Change in the Region

Alex Trachtenberg

Alex Trachtenberg, Project Manager, Southface

By: Alex Trachtenberg, Project Manager, Southface

Policymakers, community advocates and private enterprise are poised to act at a critical juncture in Atlanta’s history. In the next few months, the city will make decisions that will dictate investment in projects that will change the face of the region for years to come. The opportunity to invest in expansion of MARTA; the momentum of the BeltLine project and urban revitalization efforts; increased activity and movement into the City’s dense core; projected population growth in both the city and regional population; and many other factors provide tremendous opportunity and tremendous challenge for the region. We face a choice to deepen divides between neighborhoods and people with further disinvestment in some communities or find a way to connect economic development strategies with all our community assets to enable Atlanta to become a truly world class region and city. Continue reading

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