Great Places in America — Atlanta
Great Neighborhood — 2013
A 100-acre area within a 0.5 mile radius of Old Courthouse Square.
The completion of MARTA station renovations in 2007 marked a milestone in downtown's long-term redevelopment strategy. The station — which connects Decatur to Atlanta and lies beneath Old Courthouse Square, the neighborhood's living room — had been an aesthetic concern since it opened in 1979. During the past 25 years, the city secured more than $10 million to improve the station and enhance the surrounding streetscape. Today the station, which has some 4,500 daily passenger entries, blends seamlessly with other neighborhood buildings and includes a bus-to-rail transfer facility.
Development proposals, some calling for massive buildings around the then-new Decatur MARTA station, galvanized residents and eventually led to building height restrictions to preserve views of the Old Courthouse on the square and the downtown skyline. It is a respect for surroundings that continues to guide new development in the neighborhood. Rather than mandating a prescribed look, design guidelines focus on the traditional building line, cornice lines, and street-level activities that engage pedestrians in order to create the feel of an urban room.
The cornerstone for sustainable neighborhood redevelopment and MARTA station improvements was the 1982 Decatur Town Center Plan. More than a half dozen subsequent plans — streetscape, transportation, strategic — built upon this vision, ultimately returning downtown to the prominent role it played in the 1950s, before the rise of suburbanization. Finding ways to reconnect residents with the square was an early priority, one that successfully harnessed support for redevelopment efforts.
A 1995 streetscape plan put downtown on a road diet; lane widths were reduced and sidewalks widened. The pedestrian experience was further enhanced with more than 400 street trees, public art, and upgraded street furnishings. New public parking, located behind buildings, encouraged visitors to "park once" and then walk to where they need to go. The city added dedicated bicycle lanes throughout downtown and doubled the number of bike racks. Scooter parking and Zipcars were made available. A Go60Plus shuttle that transports older adults from nearby neighborhoods into downtown recently finished a pilot program.
Many older residents reside downtown. Sixty percent of those in multi-family buildings are empty nesters. Decatur continues to focus on residential development in the neighborhood, with an eye toward attracting younger residents and families. Downtown markets itself as a "mallternative" and "destination for foodies, fashionistas and fun-lovers." Downtown boasts more than 150 unique, locally owned service-oriented and retail businesses and restaurants, some critically acclaimed.
The Downtown Development Authority and Downtown Business Association partner with the city and residents to implement plans and create opportunities for physical, social, and economic growth. The Decatur Beach Party, Arts Festival, and Tour of Homes, as well as the Heritage Festival, Decatur Craft Beer Festival, and AJC Decatur Book Festival are supported by the city in partnership with local nonprofit groups.
- Decatur Town Center Plan (1982); result of a citizen-based advisory board; provides foundation for downtown redevelopment; encourages MARTA station renovation, smart growth, implementation
- Downtown Streetscape Master Plan (1995) results in wider sidewalks, public art, street trees, removal of unsightly MARTA elevator shaft and cover, new bus-to-rail transfer station on Church Street
- Decatur design standards (1999) set height limits to preserve view of downtown skyline; encourage development that relates to surrounding environment
- Community Transportation Plan (2007) includes health impact analysis, embraces complete streets
- Some 1,200 residents involved with Strategic Plan (2010); identifies need for better transitions between single-family and commercial properties, streamlined permit process, shared parking
- Decatur Downtown Development Authority implements plans; works with Downtown Business Association to promote downtown
Variety of Uses, Connectivity
- Neighborhood is mixed-use: 50 percent commercial, 25 percent institutional, 25 percent residential
- Old Courthouse Square is the neighborhood's living room, hosting summer concerts, winter bonfire and marshmallow roasts, concerts, and a year-long calendar of festivals and events
- Boutique retail and acclaimed restaurants among 150-plus locally owned downtown businesses
- Multi-modal transportation hub connecting to Atlanta, six miles to the east, via MARTA
- MARTA station (1979), situated beneath Old Courthouse Square, links Decatur to Atlanta
- Bus-to-Rail transfer facility (1995) connects MARTA rail riders to bus and free shuttles
- Design guidelines (1999) avoid prescribed look that would result in artificial history; focus is on relationship of proposed development to surroundings
- Building height limitations of 80 feet imposed (1999) to preserve view of Old Courthouse Square, downtown skyline; variances occasionally granted in exchange for additional affordable housing units
- Centrally located parking encourages visitors to leave cars and walk; all new parking is located behind or beneath new buildings
- Wide sidewalks and street-level retail welcome pedestrians
- Compact, walkable neighborhood encourages bicycles and scooters; easy access to MARTA rail and bus as well as shuttle buses; Zipcar availability
- Dedicated bike lanes with ample bike and scooter parking
- Solar-powered compactor trash receptacles being installed
- Lighting and holiday decorations transitioning to LED lights
- Synthetic soil used in Old Courthouse Square to reduce compaction
Constantly changing and evolving, downtown Decatur's character comes from the successful marriage of historic and contemporary buildings and uses. The emergence of downtown as a dynamic and prosperous neighborhood spans more than three decades and is a story of planning, commitment, patience, and investment.
Great Neighborhood — 2011
Boundaries are the Beverly Road and Spring-Buford Connector to the north, Piedmont Avenue and the railroad to east, Peachtree Circle NE to the west, and 15th Street NE and Lafayette Drive to the south.
Originally designed for the horse and carriage, today the wide streets are used by motorists as cut-thrus. A 2011 streetscape program will improve pedestrian safety, add tree cover, and facilitate traffic flow.
Ansley Park has only one non-residential building — a church — within its borders, but the neighborhood is only a short walk from numerous institutions, districts, and amenities. MARTA bus and rail serve the neighborhood, and an AMTRAK station is nearby. When the Atlanta Beltline is complete, light rail and a 33-mile multi-use trail system will be accessible along part of the neighborhood's eastern edge.
A National Register Historic District, Ansley Park features an eclectic mix of architecture. Apartments, condominiums, and townhouses have made the neighborhood's density one of the highest in Atlanta. Public housing, initially resisted, has been welcomed in this higher-income, history-rich community.
Suburbia's rise fueled Ansley Park's decline after World War II. In the 1960s, young families seeking large, inexpensive homes were drawn to the area, though obtaining mortgage and repair loans was hard. A local bank, concerned about its mortgage portfolio, offered to partially fund a neighborhood restoration plan. That 1964 plan, which spurred revitalization, continues to shape Ansley Park.
After the 1964 Civil Rights Act made it illegal to deny anyone the right to rent, buy, or sell housing on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin, some Atlanta residents abandoned the city. Residents of Ansley Park adopted a statement welcoming all to their neighborhood.
- Primarily residential, neighborhood within easy walk to shopping, arts districts
- MARTA bus and rail serve Ansley Park at perimeter; Amtrak station nearby. Atlanta Beltline will connect residents to light rail and pedestrian and bicycle trails
- Extensive park system provides shade, reduces urban heat-island effect
- Beautification Foundation monitors water bodies, ensuring health of creeks, streams
- New streetscape project reduces impervious surface areas and stormwater runoff
Role of planning
- Original plan (1904) crafted by landscape designer Solon Z. Ruff based on principles employed in the Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., plan for New York City's Central Park
- Ansley Park Civic Association (APCA) hires Eric Hill Associates and Leon Eplan, AICP, to draft neighborhood plan (1964), which seeks to preserve and defend community character
- Throughout 1960s residents attend public hearings, waving copies of APCA plan, urging rejection of proposals undermining their vision; influence of 1964 APCA plan continues today
- APCA secures $3.3 million from government agencies for plan and implementation (2008-2011) of traffic calming initiatives. Improvements seeks to reduce vehicle speeds and required stops, increase safety, discourage cut-through traffic, improve pedestrian connectivity
- Fourteen-park linear greenway system makes up 30 percent of Ansley Park's footprint; many homes have gracious front yards, wooded backyards
- Parks are adorned with old-growth trees, hearty plants, colorful flowers; stone benches serve as contemplative stopping points; large stepping stones lead to unique creek bridges; tennis courts, children's playgrounds, baseball diamonds, and gazebo found in various parks
- Piedmont Park — 189 acres that is home to Atlanta Botanical Gardens, aquatic center, and dog park — sits on neighborhood's southeastern border; undergoing 53-acre expansion
- Private, 45-acre Ansley Golf Club is northeastern boundary; nine-hole course known for graceful curves and dips, and skyline views of Midtown Business District
- Curvilinear streets meander along gently rolling hills
- Mix of housing (grand to modest), setbacks and type (garage apartments, apartment and condo buildings, townhouses) add visual and economic diversity to neighborhood
- Added to National Register of Historic Places (1979); diverse architecture including Modern, Baroque, Craftsman, Tudor, Queen Anne, Italianate, Prairie School
- Granite found throughout neighborhood; original granite blocks, used for mounting horses, are situated along curbs. Ansley Park Beautification Foundation (1982) utilizes the igneous rock to create permanent markers at all entry ways; granite entrance is being crafted for Eubanks Park
- Formed as social club (1915), during 1950s Ansley Park Civic Association becomes an activist organization to improve neighborhood integrity, sense of community; APCA supports planning initiatives, administers weekly security patrols; plans annual tour of homes, July 4th parade, community yard sale
- Bucking prevailing attitudes, 15 Ansley Park residents craft statement (1968) welcoming all to reside there, regardless of race or color. Most residents sign and APCA board endorses
- Despite initial reservations, Ansley Park welcomes public housing (1974); neighborhood is model for successful integration of lower-income housing into affluent area
- Beautification Foundation is steward of parks, islands, and water features; has improved 95 percent of unusable space, clearing overgrowth, planting flowers, placing furnishings. Island sprinklers and playground equipment among successful fundraising ventures
Large expanses of lush green parks are the hallmark of this 107-year-old garden suburb, which reflects design principles espoused by Frederick Law Olmsted. The brainchild of attorney and real estate developer Edwin P. Ansley, the 275-acre neighborhood was designed so that no home is more than a 10-minute walk from one of 14 parks, five of which create a continuous link from northeast to southwest. Curvilinear streets with landscaped promenades are flanked by sidewalks, and the neighborhood offers striking skyline views of Atlanta's vibrant Midtown Business District.