Building Up while Building Out: Residential Infill and Smart Growth Development in Metro Atlanta
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Infill development and smart growth have been among the most popular topics in planning over the last decade. From environmentalists to real estate developers, people across disciplines have been touting the benefits of infill and smart growth. Although specific definitions vary, in general, infill is development that occurs in already heavily urbanized areas, whereas smart growth is a broader land use principle that promotes alternative patterns to sprawling suburban development. Because infill is often a tool and an objective of smart growth policies, the two concepts are commonly presented and analyzed concurrently (Listokin et al. 2006; Landis et al. 2006). For example, Haughey (2001) claims that infill development “tends to be higher density, reuses existing properties, increases property taxes, efficiently uses public resources if infrastructure is already in place, and is less destructive to natural environment than suburban development” (4). These features align with many of the common characteristics of smart growth, which is currently defined as “building urban, suburban and rural communities with housing and transportation choices near jobs, shops and schools” (Smart Growth America 2011). Although many examples of infill development do share smart growth characteristics, these characteristics are not necessarily a prerequisite for, or a feature of, infill development. Unlike older metro areas in the Northeast and Midwest that have the existing infrastructure to support smart growth infill development, in a newer city like Atlanta, a limited amount of existing areas have smart growth characteristics, such as connected road networks, small lots, and mixed land uses. Consequently, the infill development that occurs in Atlanta does not achieve many of Huaghey’s shared smart growth benefits. Based on this hypothesis of non-smart growth infill, this paper seeks to answer the following question: did metro Atlanta’s residential infill development built during the boom between 2000 and 2005/09 occur in areas that have smart growth characteristics? Based on this research question, this paper is broken into five parts. The first two parts provide brief literature reviews of residential infill and residential smart growth. The residential infill development section provides a definitional overview of infill and a synopsis of the different approaches infill studies have taken, while the smart growth characteristics section provides an overview of the different definitions of smart growth. Based on the findings of the infill literature review, the third section creates four different scenarios for defining infill boundaries in the 10 county metro Atlanta region. These scenarios include using the Census defined 1990 Urban Area, incorporated areas with a housing unit density greater than two per acre, incorporated areas with a median year of structure built before 1975, and the City of Atlanta boundary. For each of the infill scenarios, the characteristics of the tracts in 2000 and the characteristics of development from 2000 to 2005/09 are profiled. The fourth section then explores smart growth in Atlanta through the development of a smart growth index. Based on academic and practitioner smart growth literature, twelve variables were selected and then profiled in the paper. An aggregated smart growth index is then created with profiles of the year 2000 characteristics of high, medium, and low smart growth areas and the development that occurred during the 2000s. The fifth section then explores the smart growth characteristics of each infill scenario by overlaying the smart growth index and infill boundaries to determine if the infill development in Atlanta during the 2000s occurred in medium or high smart growth areas.