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Forget the City. Surban cities are the new places for Atlantans

Forget the City. Surban cities are the new places for Atlantans

July 8th, 2024

Forget the City. Surban cities are the new places for Atlantans

July 8th, 2024

A walk on the Beltline on a sunny spring day makes one thing very clear—given the chance, Atlantans like to walk. When restaurants and breweries along Atlanta’s new walkable main street are close to people’s homes and offices, they overflow with residents and workers as they enjoy the best that the city has to offer. It can feel like everybody wants to be out for a stroll.

But not everybody wants to live in the city. Many prefer the quiet neighborhoods and top-notch schools that are associated with suburban life. In fact, over the past three years, Atlanta has witnessed a notable migration from its established urban centers to suburban locales. But as people move out of the cities, the appeal of walkable urbanism sticks with them, bringing with it the emergence of charming, walkable towns beyond Atlanta's traditional boundaries.

The 2010s saw a remarkable revival of traditional cities, characterized by interconnected street grids and multimodal transportation. But nothing is more constant than change, and a new migration out of urban cores soon took hold with demographic shifts such as the rise of remote work, millennials aging into their child-rearing years, and a desire for spacious, safe suburban living driving the process.

Not your grandfather’s suburbs

Around 2015, the term ‘Surban’ was coined for these new exurban cities that offered a unique blend of suburban values and urban vibrancy, boasting walkable access to restaurants, retail and cultural amenities. The COVID-19 pandemic only accelerated the trend, prompting many city dwellers to reevaluate their life choices, accelerating the shift towards Surban living.

Surban communities resonate particularly well with millennials and empty nesters, attracting homebuyers who are seeking a balance between urban convenience and suburban tranquility. Emerging cities like Johns Creek are embracing this trend, investing in revitalized town centers to cater to evolving lifestyle preferences and foster vibrant community hubs.

The Providence Group, Atlanta’s premier homebuilder and developer who has set the new standard in residential living through masterfully planned communities saw this trend and have taken advantage of the surban lifestyle that many throughout Atlanta are looking for. For example, they have built walkable neighborhoods to the city center in Alpharetta, Cumming, Suwanee and now Johns Creek. “These are the kinds of places we strive to develop,” said Dusty Talbert of The Providence Group. “These Surban cities weave together the things we all want in our cities—community, walkability, safety, convenience, and access to great schools. They are the model for how people want to live today.”

In many ways, the Southeast has become an epicenter for the Surban trend. With Atlanta being a bigger market, there are more opportunities for Surban areas to develop and more areas where it has been successful.

“Thinking about some other recent developments in Atlanta and what comes to mind is the success real estate investors and developers have had related to the Beltline,” said Oliver Radvin, a consultant with John Burns Research and Consulting. “People want to do something similar in other areas of Atlanta.”

“We've seen similar activity in Charlotte. But there's just more nooks and crannies in Atlanta where we've seen this work in comparison to some other markets,” he added. “There's a kind of geography, where you can go a little further outside the Perimeter and there are these charming towns that folks have invested in and have turned out to be really successful.”

Building it from the ground up

Newer cities, such as Johns Creek, are embracing the trend. Although the Northern Fulton County offers the schools and the sense of safety that many desire, it doesn’t have the historic walkable core that neighbors like Roswell, Suwannee, and Alpharetta feature.

“We didn't have a place to call our own where we would say, “hey, where do we want to see people congregate, provide for that connectivity, provide for different amenities, public and private, that could come together and sort of create a new ecosystem,” Ben Song, Community Development Director for Johns Creek said. “Having the urban amenities or feature attractions within the suburban area. And so that's when we came out in 2018 with a comprehensive plan. Sometimes that area grows organically. Sometimes you have to strategically identify it, and in our case, I think it was a little bit more strategic than organic.”

Johns Creek is investing in a new town center, focused on a cultural center currently called Creekside Park. “It's going to be an amphitheater with a podium within the lake, surrounded by fifteen-foot walkways,” Song said. “We want to use that as a key ingredient for the development of this area.”

With that publicly funded project at its heart, the city has already landed some big developments to help build that core.

“We do have two exciting private developments coming up in the area,” Song said. “One is Boston Scientific, a life sciences company building a new 100,000 plus square-foot building for R&D, warehousing and office, and right next to them is Medley Johns Creek, a vibrant and exciting mixed-use development from the developers who helped create Avalon.”

Building a city’s downtown is not a process that happens overnight but rather through carefully planned and thoughtful development and zoning practices. Intentional placemaking and community engagement are core elements for future Surban success. And once established and proven, the process could be replicated by other towns and municipalities seeking to create something meaningful for their residents, businesses, and visitors.

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