Like many suburban communities around the country, Druid Hills—a community near Atlanta, home to Emory University and other major institutions—discovered in the past two decades that prosperity was beginning to erode its cherished quality of life. Its overwhelmingly auto-oriented transportation system is clogged to the point that mobility is declining, traffic devalues historic neighborhoods, and walking conditions are some of the nation’s deadliest. Arteries lined with strip development have cut broad swaths through the community’s signature tree canopy, and left the community without true centers of identity or services. Stormwater dirtied and intensified by development threatens some of the most unique biological habitat in metro Atlanta. At the same time, the workforce needed to maintain and grow the community’s 40,000 jobs as an international center of innovation and economic growth is having trouble finding an acceptable set of housing, transportation, and lifestyle options there. A unique university-community partnership tackled these challenges by pursuing design guidelines for its primary corridor, Clifton Road. This spurred a process and plan that laid the groundwork for an enduring legacy of benefits for the larger community:
A cultural shift from a mid-20th-century automobile-centered suburb into a 21st-century walkable community appealing to the “Creative Class.” 1
A community-wide sense of commitment to environmental, cultural, and economic sustainability.
A vision shaped by preservation, restoration, change, and innovation alike.
This case study reveals how coupling broad-based community leadership with smart growth concepts can heal and improve suburban quality of life and environment with new housing, transportation, workplace, and amenity choices, offering positive lessons for communities facing similar challenges.