Well-planned walkable neighborhoods: Insulation from the housing slump

Two Cities
Another tale of two cities: One is up, one is down.

We’ve noted with regularity for the last few months how rising gas prices were complicit in the housing crisis. (here and here, for example). With every escalation in the cost of fuel, new subdivisions and neighborhoods already in a struggling market face another hit as they become less and less attractive to buyers who are looking to purchase somewhere closer to jobs and daily needs.

Just south of Atlanta, Georgia a case study shows that it’s not only a short drive that residents are looking for. They want their immediate neighborhood to be more than houses on a cul-de-sac. They’re seeking out community, walkability, and the option to get things done each day without getting in the car several times over. As a result, small well-planned cities and neighborhoods are performing well in a tough market.

Unincorporated Conley and the city of Hapeville are both close to Atlanta’s bustling airport, close to interstates headed directly downtown, and in the southern half of the county (Fulton) that makes up most of the city of Atlanta. But one is thriving in the midst of the housing bust, and one is…well…busting.

According to a story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Hapeville area “enjoyed a banner year primarily because Hapeville’s traditional neighborhood development was so popular. Sales in that ZIP jumped 141 percent…” Meanwhile, Conley has half-finished subdivisions and plummeting new home sales.

So the AJC asked, “How could neighboring areas perform so differently?

Part of the answer is that in one locale government plays a big role managing growth, while in the other it does not. Hapeville residents say the city’s years of planning provided the foundation for strong home sales, even in a dismal market. “This wouldn’t have happened if we did not have our own city government,” said David Burt, who builds homes in Hapeville and lives there. …Conley, just outside I-285, lacks a town center. Residents on their way to shopping and work share roads with tractor-trailers serving many of the industrial businesses in the area. Developers and builders in the Conley area have more leeway than they do in a city like Hapeville. They are free to build one kind of house over and over and no retail or offices. That leaves Conley at a disadvantage because mixing housing types and residential and commercial development fortifies a neighborhood.

You could also say that people are showing a preference for places with a “there” there.

Hapeville is a place that has existing “bones:” A street grid, some parks, older homes, a town center, a mix of retail and housing, and a feeling that it’s not brand new. Truett Cathy invented his Chick-Fil-A sandwich at the Dwarf Grill on Central Avenue in the center of this small Atlanta suburb that grew around a streetcar line in the early 1900’s. Houses of different size and style were built on the same tree-lined, walkable streets. Retail and jobs were mixed in with housing, making for a lifestyle where cars were part of the equation, but not the only part.

Take a quick look at a closer view of the two areas, almost adjacent to one another:

Hapeville georgiaConley georgia

The numbers don’t lie:

Because more young families are settling in Hapeville, 99 new homes sold last year in 30354 compared to just 41 the year before, the Home Sales Report says. The data comes from deed information collected by the real estate research company SmartNumbers.

“Living close to the airport, close to Atlanta is a now a popular thing to do,” Mayor Alan Hallman said. “It’s really a paradigm shift in how people want to live.”