It has its own Atlantic Station
Gazing up at the gleaming marble and glass of Suwanee’s LEED-certified city hall—just two years old and the first of its kind in Georgia—it takes only a moment of déjà vu to place the image in the proper context: Super Friends
. It looks just like the Hall of Justice from the old Hanna-Barbera cartoon. Appropriate, perhaps, for a neighborhood that resembles the comic book ideal of life beyond Metropolis.
Founded as a Shawnee Indian village, agricultural Suwanee grew up around the Southern Railroad depot. Now the city celebrates that bygone era’s winsome side in its “Old Town” downtown while embracing new urbanist planning with the Suwanee Town Center. Historic Old Town harbors old-fashioned nooks such as Pierce’s Corner, a 1910 grocery store, and is surrounded by streets of restored, farm-style homes. The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Main Street Program accredited Old Town for its commitment to improvements and maintaining business there. Built over the last nine years, the shiny, new, Disneyesque Town Center is only a short walk from Old Town via a new pedestrian railroad underpass. The mixed-use spot offers density without urban blight, bad schools, or serious crime issues. Like Atlantic Station before it, the Town Center fairly screams “live, work, play.” But the complex is smaller, more focused, and its shops—80 percent filled and thriving—have been more successful. Also, its condos have nearly sold out, and generally not to speculators.
But it’s the influx of a Benetton-ad-worthy cast that makes Suwanee special. Its population explosion over the last twenty years has been driven by the migration of upper-middle-class ethnic minorities—blacks, Latinos, and particularly Asians—looking for a place with good public schools and plentiful greenspace. Together, they’ve created a city that—ethnically and socioeconomically—more closely resembles images of suburban San Francisco than perceptions of suburban Atlanta.
It also seems resident satisfaction has never been higher. Money magazine ranked Suwanee in its “Best Places to Live” twice in the past five years. And in 2010’s National Citizen Survey, 95 percent of residents ranked Suwanee’s quality of life as “excellent” or “good.”
Photograph of Suwanee Town Center shops by Christopher T. Martin