April 17, 2019 Elizabeth Ward

Calling All Ideas For a Better Atlanta! Housing Choice Edition

Atlanta is changing demographically, but our housing stock isn’t keeping up.

Last Friday, the Atlanta City Studio asked us to present our ideas on housing choice at Design Over Donuts. Or, as Eric Kronberg preferred to call it, Design Over Missing Middle Pastries. Dad joke!

The conversation that ensued was passionate, and understandably so. We see concerns about change in our existing communities as legitimate. We also view passion as a legitimate emotion in these conversations, because we ourselves feel very passionately about it. We want the city that we live in and the neighborhoods where we work to be the best possible versions of themselves. This doesn’t just mean beautiful, this means equitable. And we firmly believe that it’s possible to have both in Atlanta. We are proud to live in a city that has a City Design Studio: that not only believes these conversations are important, but that has created a forum for them to take place.

That said, we have genuine concerns about housing affordability issues, so we have decided to explore ideas and possible solutions through design-based research. We don’t pretend that any of our ideas are end-all-be-all solutions, or that we have discovered any silver bullets. We love opportunities to throw our ideas against the wall and see what sticks, and refine what doesn’t. This is how we learn, and how we improve.

We also love opportunities to hear other people’s ideas. I don’t mean ideas about problems, though there is a time and place for that. I mean ideas about solutions. It’s all too easy to say that the city (or developer, or architect, or whoever) is not doing enough for you, but it’s a lot harder to come up with a better way to do things. If we want meaningful change in our communities, we need to think about what that looks like, and then begin a dialogue about how to achieve it. Meaningful change requires all of us in a community to engage, and to make an effort to understand the endless nuances and complexities that make a city a place worth living in.

In Atlanta, we know that change is coming. With 1.2 million people anticipated in the city in the next 20 years, not changing is not an option. But we can balance that change. We can balance it with affordability, ecology and our unique neighborhood character. But only if we all work together, and continue a productive dialogue about what change can and should look like. We can outline the problems of change all day, but let’s outline a path forward, too. That’s what we need.

In our minds, one of the easiest and least disruptive ways to foster housing choice in Atlanta is to create more flexible land use and zoning policies in our most transit-rich areas. When we say flexible, we mean allowing the things that were allowed when these neighborhoods were first built. ADUs, duplexes, small apartments, corner stores. Said simply, we want to re-legalize our existing walkable neighborhoods. While we think this idea is great in concept, we don’t think any ideas should be implemented in broad brushstrokes. Again, cities are complicated, and we don’t pretend to have all the answers. What we can say for ourselves is that we are diligently searching, asking questions, listening, observing, and that we are in constant pursuit of innovative and implementable ideas. We hope to continue to refine these ideas, and we welcome any and all feedback.

Link to our presentation below:

Design Over Donuts Housing Choice Presentation

Let's Make Our Cities Better Places