Day 5: Housing & Urban Design – Building for Our Future
By Jessica Lenze
For Day 5 of the CFL Program, the class met at The Stacks in Cabbage Town, which was an appropriate venue for the topic of the day: Housing & Urban Design. John Moores of Gensler and Rachel Tobin of Jackson Spalding organized an exciting line-up of events including presentations, panels, and tours. There were several major themes that we encountered throughout most of the day: the importance of mass transit, city leadership, New Urbanism and the migration back to the City, gentrification, and the BeltLine.
The day began with a powerful presentation from Ellen Dunham-Jones. She passionately explained a major transition that occurred after the First World War (~1926). The main focus of planning a city transformed from physical design to regulation. Prior to the war, cities were designed using master street plans and grids, which promoted connectivity. Following the war, cities were modeled using regulation and zoning maps, which emphasized separation of uses. This type of regulation became the model for the suburbs. Additionally, there was an affordability issue, and people had the perception that they could “drive until they qualify.” In reality, traffic and congestion have become so onerous they have caused transportation costs to exceed housing savings. Ellen explained this suburbanization of society had numerous unintended consequences. People became automobile dependent, carbon emissions increased, water and energy efficiencies worsened, segregation of income levels became more apparent, etc. After 30 years of the move to the suburbs, there has been a change in attitude regarding living in the city, and ironically, some of the same reasons people left for the suburbs are the same reasons they are coming back. Gen Y and Millennials are part of a New Urbanism movement and are moving back to the city. These generations value culture, diversity, walkability, community, and especially, alternative transportation. In fact, transportation is so important to this group that Ellen concludes, “Great transit is poised to eclipse great schools as a prime factor determining real estate values. Communities that provide both will be big winners.”
After the enlightening presentation from Ellen, Derrick Holland with Trinity Group led a discussion in regards to the “Immersion Activity” that the class participated in January. The Immersion Activities consisted of interactive tours in several different housing categories including: Affordable Housing, Student Housing, Senior Housing, and Market-Rate. In each of the categories, there were both urban and suburban examples, which led to some dynamic dialogues between the groups.
Before our tour of The Stacks, Tom Aderhold of Aderhold Properties gave the class some insights about his experiences in the urban housing market and the history of Cotton Mill Lofts and The Stacks. Tom has been in the adaptive reuse business since 1994. In 1996, his company took on this project, which consisted of 12.5 acres of dilapidated industrial product. The redevelopment had its fair share of difficulties including a major fire and the tornado of 2008, which slowed the project by a year and cost ~$34M in repairs. Despite these devastating setbacks, Tom and his team persevered and now offer an incredibly unique living experience. During the tour of the property, the class witnessed how they had been able to maintain the historic fabric of the building. Some of the most interesting facets included 22’ ceilings and stairways that led to nowhere.
After touring the project and having lunch, the next speaker was Bruce Gunter with Chattahoochee Enterprises, which is John Wieland’s new urban venture. Wieland, once known for his suburban neighborhood development, has shifted his focus to urban infill. The company’s new theme, “urban, walkable, refined” is very appropriate for their next townhome project on Memorial Drive. The in-town Memorial Drive corridor has become a major focus for walkable redevelopments, including several slated by Paces Properties. Bruce noted that the urban development shift to areas like Memorial and other communities in East Atlanta has spurred gentrification, which has both positive and negative impacts. The gentrification of these communities has caused rents to increase and, in some cases, has forced some of the original community to leave because they cannot afford to stay – a conversation ensued about how to preserve the diversity and protect those who cannot keep up with the rental increases such as teachers, artists, and policemen among others.
Our next segment was a panel discussion regarding “Creating Authenticity and Community.” Our esteemed panelists included Markham Smith (Smith Dalia Architects), Chris Appleton (WonderRoot), Amanda Rhein (MARTA), and Mark Riley (Urban Realty Partners). The panelists agree that we are in the process of rebuilding our city right now. This rebuilding is being spurred by the BeltLine, demographic shifts, transit-oriented development, and a great influx back into the city. In order for the city to transform and grow in the best way possible, we must find leaders throughout the community to step up. Both the public and private sectors need to bind together to address and overcome issues, such as the lack of affordable housing, resident displacement, the preservation of culture, and support for the arts. One major topic of discussion was Underground Atlanta. Underground should be the most desirable TOD since the central MARTA stop. How do we unlock so much potential and turn it into the catalyst that it could be? Underground has serious biases to overcome, and it will take leadership from the city and a grand vision to bring about an overwhelming change in attitude. This final dialogue regarding the need for public and private leadership was the perfect segue for our next speaker, Glen Jackson of Jackson-Spalding.
Glen, one of the founders of Jackson-Spalding, shared his background story and gave us his best leadership advice. Like most entrepreneurs, Glen left a comfortable corporate job and took the risk to start his own business. Despite challenging times at the beginning, the company maintained its integrity and has developed into one of the most respected communications firms. Glen emphasized the importance of “character success.” He also defined the difference between “leaders who attract followers versus leaders who attract leaders. The former focuses on other’s weaknesses; the latter focuses on other’s strengths. The former spends time with others; the latter invests time with others. The former experiences some success; the latter experiences incredible success.” We should all hope and strive to be the leader who attracts leaders.
Our final segment on the BeltLine was an appropriate way to end our Housing & Urban Design theme. Paul Morris with Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. believes it “has fundamentally changed the landscape and culture of the city. It has a tangible and immediate impact on every area it touches.” In addition to the path, The Atlanta BeltLine is planning 40% more parks, over 15,000 acres – which is an incredible task in an existing city. He specifically mentioned a new park near Bellwood Quarry on the Westside, which will have a huge impact in those neighborhoods. The BeltLine has created unprecedented mobility and connectivity throughout the city and continues to spur development and redevelop
The day concluded with a Happy Hour at Milltown Tavern in Cabbagetown, graciously sponsored by Gensler.
A special thanks to our Day Chairs, Rachel Tobin & John Moores
Thank you to our Day Sponsor:
Jessica Lenze works on acquisitions and equity placement for Century Lenze (“CL”). She is a member of the Center for Leadership Class of 2015.