I was interviewed on Georgia Public Radio’s On Second Thought radio show about The Dos And Don’ts of Mixed-Use Developments. The segment was about John’s Creek,
an affluent suburb in northeast Atlanta. It’s fairly small — only about 80,000 people live there — but it has big dreams.
The city wants to transform some of its 728-acre office park into a town center with homes, shops and offices. John’s Creek mayor Michael Bodker calls the redevelopment project “The District,” referring to an area that would become the city’s downtown sector. Bodker believes this project will broaden the city’s tax base.
“John’s Creek does not have a healthy and sustainable tax digest,” Bodker said in his most recent State of the City address. “Homeowners are disproportionately supporting the load by covering 81 percent of the tax digest versus 19 percent for commercial.” Without doing something to change the current model, he says, there will be less money for public services like road repairs.
The segment was quite short, so it did not get to what I thought was the key issue — the appropriate role of mass transit in the design of urban centers. It appears that the mayor’s plan does not contemplate linking this new urban center to Atlanta-area mass transit. That seems like the kiss of death for what is supposed to be a walkable town center.
To be an attractive walkable environment, you need a critical mass of walkers. Mass transit brings walkers. Some walk by preference and some by necessity: young people without cars; senior citizens who have grown less comfortable driving; and people who might want to have a few drinks and enjoy the nightlife planned for The District. Moreover, many retail and service jobs pay relatively low wages, so many workers rely on public transportation to get to work. John’s Creek should take a fresh look at the principles of Transit-Oriented Design and New Urbanism before finalizing its plan.
On Second Thought’s website also discusses some of my other thoughts on planning such a big project.