Editor’s Note: Finding home

Being close to commercial development ≠ walkability
Betsy Riley
Betsy Riley

Photograph by Patrick Heagney

My neighborhood has a walkability score of zero. At least, this is how we’re evaluated by Walk Score, a rating service that asserts “walkable neighborhoods are one of the simplest and best solutions for the environment, our health, and our economy.” Now, I don’t disagree with its premise. I just disagree with the currently accepted definition of walkable. Why is walkability measured mostly by proximity to commercial development?

It seems ironic that an organization which purports to defend the environment would penalize people for living in greenspace. Though our neighborhood is less than a 30-minute drive from downtown, it is tucked along the edge of a national forest. Sure, I can’t walk to a bar. But I can (and often do) walk to the river. Does it really matter that the closest park is five miles away if children can explore creeks, woods, and fields in their own backyards?

One time, I was editing a story by an East Atlanta writer, who described his frequent fishing trips to the Palisades at the Chattahoochee River. He noted how surreal it was to observe I-75 commuters so near this pristine, natural retreat—adding that, no doubt, the suburbanites were all scurrying home to their television sets. Of course, I promptly deleted his remark, noting that he was the one driving across town to go fishing. My son just carries his waders down the hill.

Where you choose to live is about personal priorities. In this issue, we profile eight neighborhoods with great potential for growth. All of them are pedestrian friendly and relatively affordable—considering prices are never really reasonable in areas like Buckhead or Druid Hills. Although you’ve probably heard of Cascade or Lawrenceville, places like Pine Hills and Scottdale are lesser known. Two of our hot spots are outside the Perimeter, though the rest are benefiting from Atlanta’s urban renaissance.

In the past, we chose “best neighborhoods” by crunching data. We would gather variables like housing prices, school test results, crime statistics, and commute times and come up with a formula to pick the top scorers. But the more metro-area communities I’ve gotten to know, the less I like that approach. There is really no right or wrong place to live. You can’t put a number on the rich history of Collier Heights or Cabbagetown. How do you rate the charm of Avondale Estates or Whittier Mill Village? And which neighborhood is friendlier—Lake Claire or Peachtree Hills? There’s just not an app for finding home. But maybe I’m just defensive because I live in a “car-dependent” neighborhood.

This article originally appeared in our February 2018 issue.