Walkable Atlanta
June 26, 2010 2:17 PM   Subscribe

Walkable Atlanta: we are moving to Atlanta in a couple of weeks. My wife doesn't drive and I will be traveling quite a bit. I heard that Atlanta is where people on average drive the most mileage annually among all metro areas in the U.S, but is there any community where she can walk to shopping (grocery, clothing, other miscellany) and other necessity for human existence so she won't starve or bore to death while I am away.

It would be nice if the suggested neighborhood is close to where I work (Marietta), but it's not absolutely necessary. Also I consider walkable as 1) at max 10-min with brisk pace; 2) usually not the only pedestrian on the road (it just feels awkward and, more importantly, dangerous to be the only one walking while cars zooming by all the time).

A community with everything close by in Atlanta. Would that be even possible? Thank you in advance for any suggestion/advice!
posted by kingfish to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This is going to be tough. Atlanta is really a driving city. However, some good places to start might be Little Five Points or Virginia Highlands. They're both pretty funky and old, and may be pricy. Another place to check out, but that I know less about, is Atlantic Station, the new midtown development near the aquarium. If you can swing it, Decatur, which is not quite Atlanta proper, is also a fairly walkable area to live in. Good luck!
posted by Polyhymnia at 2:29 PM on June 26, 2010

I live in Cobb County, of which Marietta is the county seat. I can tell you that trying to live here without a car is just not doable. Mrs. Deadmessenger was also a nondriver when we moved here - she gave up on that after a year or two. Public transit is almost unusable here, and the vast majority of public streets don't have sidewalks. Pedestrians also tend to be viewed with some degree of suspicion here, especially if they're a minority.

You will probably have to live in an intown Atlanta neighborhood such as Virginia Highland or East Atlanta Village, and commute to Marietta. Even those neighborhoods will be on the very outside edge of walkability by your criteria. We lived car-free in Poncey-Highland, with me commuting to the Galleria area (not far from Marietta) for 4 months or so, but it was incredibly difficult - far more than it was worth.

Not to be completely negative about this, but you should take a hard look and assess whether your wife is willing to learn to drive, or whether you really want to move here. Atlanta is a car town, and that's not going to change in any meaningful timeframe.
posted by deadmessenger at 2:29 PM on June 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Walkscore map for Atlanta
posted by sleepingcbw at 2:30 PM on June 26, 2010

BTW, feel free to memail if you have any other neighborhood questions: I'd be happy to help however I can.
posted by deadmessenger at 2:31 PM on June 26, 2010

Seconding either Virginia Highlands or Decatur. Decatur is probably more affordable - you'll want to be as close to downtown Decatur as possible. Virginia Highlands is more central but Decatur has its own Marta station whereas Virginia Highlands doesn't.
posted by hazyjane at 2:31 PM on June 26, 2010

Second for Little Five Points here. It's the only place I found that has places within a reasonable walking distance. As a former ATLian, Atlanta is a car culture city. Having a car is not optional in most cases, as MARTA is useless, and I've been specifically asked by employers if I had a car before I got a job. Yes, owning a car can (and usually will) be a requirement for employment.

> Pedestrians also tend to be viewed with some degree of suspicion here, especially if they're a minority.

This is true in neighborhoods like Alpharetta, where I was warned by a friend that walking down the street could get you charged with vagrancy.
posted by triolus at 2:37 PM on June 26, 2010

Just one other note: the Decatur to Marietta commute is a serious, heavy-duty bitch - that's why I didn't recommend it.
posted by deadmessenger at 2:39 PM on June 26, 2010

I agree that a Decatur to Marietta commute would be miserable on a daily basis. You're going to want easy access to I-75 if you are commuting to Marietta. As sad as this is about Atlanta, you're probably going to best meet your requirements by being close to a shopping center or MARTA:

Atlantic Station - has an EPCOT or Truman Show approach to city living. It's a development that was built on the grounds of a former steel mill. It has all of the chain stores and restaurants you would find in any mall, plus a Publix.

Vinings - is a suburban community that is inside the perimeter, but outside the Atlanta city limits. If you live very close to Vinings Jubilee, you will have easy access to shops (Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, CVS) and restaurants. There is a Kroger within a mile walk on Paces Mill Road at US-41.

Midtown - would provide easy access to MARTA and I-75. There are two malls on MARTA (Phipps & Lenox). Depending on where you live, you'd be in close proximity to a Publix and The Cheetah. Midtown aims to transform itself into a version of Chicago's Miracle Mile. There are plenty of restaurants, but most of the shopping is limited to boutiques and specialty stores. Midtown would also be good if you're traveling in and out of Hartsfield because MARTA serves the airport and Midtown station.
posted by Andy's Gross Wart at 3:47 PM on June 26, 2010

Not sure if you're planning to purchase a home or rent, but this Dunwoody apartment complex is situated in what's essentially a huge shopping center, with Target within walking distance, as well as many other shops and restaurants. You can easily get to Barnes & Noble and the local mall, Perimeter as well. It isn't Marietta, but I'd say it's probably more convenient than going into the city of Atlanta.
posted by litnerd at 4:54 PM on June 26, 2010

I live in Midtown. If you live in the area between the southern border of Piedmont Park and about 4th Street (western boundary probably Juniper or Pine, eastern Charles Allen), it's easy to walk to Trader Joe's and various restaurants. Note that the map will make it seem like Whole Foods and Kroger on Ponce are walkable, but that is by distance only; whether or not it is actually walkable for your wife will be heavily dependent on her comfort level with street prostitution and methamphetamine sales/addiction. (I live a few blocks from the intersection of Ponce and Monroe - I love my neighborhood but be aware that residential Midtown contains both affluence and poverty, all of which is visible along the Ponce corridor.)

That said, I'm not sure this is doable. Your profile doesn't say where you live now, but if you don't currently live in a part of the world with high heat/humidity, an attempt at walking-only life in greater Atlanta may be nothing like what you and she are envisioning.
posted by catlet at 6:13 PM on June 26, 2010

Little Five Points/Candler Park, for sure. I lived in Atlanta for a few months and underestimated how central driving was in most people's lives. I knew several people that lived in Little Five that either didn't drive or rarely drove. They biked a lot or walked everywhere and it was all good. As someone else said, Little Five was one of the only places that seemed truly accessible by foot.
posted by Rocket26 at 6:45 PM on June 26, 2010

I've lived essentially all my life in Atlanta, all over the place, from in-town to Alpharetta. Atlanta is, by and large, a car city, but it's not exclusively one. I wouldn't want to live here unable to drive, but you don't have to drive to get by.

I live in Decatur just off the city square, and I have (mostly) all you want...shopping, eating, drinking, entertainment, culture...within walking distance. Everything isn't 10 minutes, but it is a 20-30 minute walk. I park my car on Friday after work and don't much start it up until Monday.

For in-town neighborhoods, Midtown, 5-points, Virginia Highlands, Candler Park, East Atlanta Village, Emory are similar. Closer to Marietta, you can look at Vinings, but it's fairly expensive. There are lots of pockets of civilization in this city.

People who bought into unplanned, distant, suburban, cookie-cutter neighborhoods wanting the cheapest 4000 square foot house to compete with the Joneses think the whole town sucks, but that's bad life choices, not a bad city.

@Polyhymnia: Atlantic Station

Atlantic Station is nice to visit for a movie or shopping. You do *not* want to live there, so say the dozen or so folks I know who made that mistake.

@deadmessenger: the Decatur to Marietta commute is a serious, heavy-duty bitch

I commute every day from downtown Decatur to the I85/I285 area (just south of Marietta), and it has never taken more than 50 minutes (a *way* below average commute in Atlanta), generally much less (~30 minutes), unless there was a *major* accident. It is not, in fact, a "bitch", relatively speaking.

@triolus: This is true in neighborhoods like Alpharetta, where I was warned by a friend that walking down the street could get you charged with vagrancy.

Please. Lived there for a decade. You don't want to live in Alpharetta because it's a vast, suburban wasteland, not because of imagined racist authorities.
posted by kjs3 at 8:03 PM on June 26, 2010

Inman Park, Candler Park and Virginia Highlands are all the poster children for walkable neighborhoods.

But for proximity to Marietta, definitely check out Vinings. It's kind of an island, though, nowhere near the usual walkable intown neighborhoods.

A reverse commute from Midtown or South Buckhead (like Peachtree Hills) might be worth considering. In my limited experience you can zip up and down I-75 pretty quickly as long as you're not doing a regular commute like everyone else.

Commuting from Decatur to Marietta would suuuuuck. There's just way too much city to get across.

FYI, that Walkscore map site does not apparently factor in whether the neighborhoods are residential. It's very wrong in places. I'd just ignore that data.
posted by intermod at 10:09 PM on June 26, 2010

I commute every day from downtown Decatur to the I85/I285 area (just south of Marietta).

kjs3, the top end 85&285 (aka Spaghetti Junction) is clear on the other side of town from Marietta. It's not "just south", it's about 25-ish miles away.

I commuted from Poncey Highlands (Ford Factory, to be exact) to near 75&285 (which actually is just southeast of Marietta), and my average driving rush-hour commute was about 30 minutes. From Decatur, you could add another half hour+ to that, as Ponce (the main artery e-w through Decatur into Midtown) becomes an absolute parking lot at rush hour. That was over 10 years ago, though - it's almost certainly gotten worse in the interim.

Decatur's a great walkable area, but I stand by what I said: that commute would suck.

I will make one other suggestion: You may want to look at the area immediately around Marietta Square. It's probably the only neighborhood that's even close to being walkable in all of Cobb County, and it's just gorgeous over there. Plenty of bars, shops, restaurants, and my favorite coffee shop anywhere.
posted by deadmessenger at 11:14 PM on June 26, 2010

I used commute from L5P (Little 5 Points) to Windy Hill Road, which is just south of Marietta proper. My morning commute, against traffic, took about 30 minutes going from Euclid to Moreland to Freedom Parkway to the Connector, and then up 75. My evening commute, coming back the same way, took about 50 minutes. Not great, but not as bad as when I was commuting from Conyers to Marietta - usually an hour and a half each way. L5P has changed some in the 5 years since I left - it seems a bit more gentrified, and that new shopping center down on Moreland looks nice. If your wife simply won't drive, then L5P might be a fair choice. If we were going to move back to intown Atlanta, L5P and Candler Park is where we'd love to live.

One thing to be careful of: make sure that where you're looking at for housing is really where you think it is. Years ago, I lived in the actual city of Decatur, off Ponce on Drexel. My friend also lived in Decatur - off Columbia Drive, south of I-20, and actually OTP (Outside the Perimeter). Same city name on the mailing address, but nowhere near the same location. But the ads for houses in her subdivision all said something like "...convenient Decatur location..." The same thing happens with Vinings or Alpharetta or where ever - if the name has some cachet, you'll see it used in areas nowhere near where you think it is.
posted by ralan at 8:02 AM on June 27, 2010

Downtown Decatur is wonderful, but the Boy and I both work in Midtown, so we live here too - just off Piedmont Park and 14th. It's close to the highway, and I take MARTA directly to the airport for all my business travel. And to Decatur, for that matter - but only if I intend to drink. It's a long trip otherwise.

Anyhow, Midtown's a nice place to be, and unlike Catlet's comment about living 10 blocks south, ours is a (reasonably) safe area to walk in. To paint with a broad brush, you can consider distance-to-Ponce (that's Ponce de Leon) a reasonable metric of street sketchiness here in Midtown.

To address your "only pedestrian" issue though - as a consequence of this city's total fear of population density, we just don't have as many pedestrians. We walked from Piedmont & 14th street to a bar off of Peachtree and 6th yesterday to watch the U.S. lose to Ghana, and probably passed half a dozen people on our side of the sidewalk. In the middle of the day. That's Atlanta for you.
posted by deludingmyself at 8:29 AM on June 27, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you all for the great information!!!
posted by kingfish at 8:43 AM on June 27, 2010

@deadmessenger: I meant I75/I285. Fat fingered it.

If you are using Ponce to get from Decatur to Marietta, well, sure it's going to take forever. That's why you don't do that. You take Dekalb ave to Edgewood to the connector. It takes less than 15 minutes. You put up with 3 miles of traffic on the connector until I75 splits off then it's 70mph all the way up (against traffic).

So, I stand as well. If you don't make dumb route choices, the commute, the one I make every work day, is fine.
posted by kjs3 at 1:18 PM on June 27, 2010

Welcome to our fair metropolitan area...

I've lived in Decatur and Duluth (while commuting to Chamblee and Marietta) and now reside in Suwanee where I commute to the other side of town. I actually chose where I live because I stumbled upon it while taking a fork in a trail on the Greenway... I literally wandered into a subdivision that's connected to the trail and decided I wanted to live there. That being said, not all suburbs of Atlanta are going to be inherently unwalkable. I have, at my disposal, an 8+ mile greenway trail. I can also walk to the town's main park, which is also the main entertainment/business district, and I do this quite often when the weather is nice. I could also walk to the local Wal-Mart (nearest grocery store), the county library and even the elementary school. I can even walk my dogs right to the veterinarian office or walk to a class at the county rec center. Suwanee can't be the only exception to the unwalkable suburb notion.

If you've not selected a place to live yet, please get an agent who can help you figure this out. (Asking this question is a good first step, too.) There's a lot of variation in the neighborhoods on the east side of town. I do know that in Smyrna there is a nice little development that incorporates residences with a restaurant district... but I can't remember the name of it, or where exactly it's located. But those types of developments were popping up here a few years ago, and even in the suburbs the live/work/play idea has really taken off.

Atlanta, as a whole, is very much a car city. As other posters have indicated, MARTA (the train) is not global; it's concentrated in DeKalb and Fulton counties. Cobb has a commuter bus service, as does Gwinnett; you can catch a ride from points north to downtown and midtown, but I hear these buses are always full (which is great, except if you can't get on).

I have always had excellent luck finding someone with whom to carpool, though. I shared rides with one of my co-workers for a couple of years when I was commuting from Duluth/Suwanee to Marietta. The Clean Air Campaign has a database of people looking to carpool, and you can even get financial incentives to carpool (or telework, if that is an option for you). Perhaps you can find a carpool buddy so that you can split the driving, and your wife can have use of the car for a couple days per week for essential errands like going to the doctor and so on.

Good luck. I hope that all of our information can help you!
posted by FergieBelle at 4:55 PM on June 27, 2010

« Older HOWTO: cylindrical map projection?   |   Yet another "what laptop should I buy?" question..... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.