Downtown Decatur named Top 10 neighborhood

MARTA plaza in Downtown Decatur (Courtesy of the City of Decatur)

MARTA plaza in Downtown Decatur (Courtesy of the City of Decatur)

The American Planning Association (APA) has announced the designation of Downtown Decatur as one of 10 Great Neighborhoods for 2013.

According to a media release from the city, APA singled out downtown Decatur for the neighborhood’s emphasis on sustainability, transportation alternatives and mixed uses; community engagement and long-term commitment to downtown revitalization; and measures to protect neighborhood character, such as building height limits so as to not compromise the downtown skyline.

“Our downtown neighborhood, built around a traditional courthouse square, is the heart and soul of Decatur and continues to evolve into a thriving, mixed-use center that is walkable, safe and inviting for people of all ages,” said Mayor Jim Baskett. “We are honored to be recognized by the American Planning Association as a Great American Neighborhood,” he added.

“Downtown Decatur is a longtime proponent of sustainable practices considering the first trolley line to operate between Decatur and Atlanta dates back to the 1840s,” said APA Chief Executive Officer Paul Farmer, FAICP. “Through its plans and revitalization efforts, downtown Decatur is managing change so the neighborhood is attractive to people of all ages, from new professionals to families with children to retirees,” he added.

Guiding downtown Decatur’s redevelopment was the 1982 Decatur Town Center Plan, which came out of a citizen-based advisory board. Among the plan’s recommendations: renovating the MARTA station and implementing various smart growth measures including adding more downtown housing and making the area more pedestrian friendly.

To improve the MARTA station and enhance the surrounding streetscape, the city made improvements valued at more than $10 million during the past 25 years. The station – which connects Decatur to Atlanta and lies beneath Old Courthouse Square, the neighborhood’s living room – had been an aesthetic concern since opening in 1979.

To enhance downtown for pedestrians, lane widths for downtown streets were reduced; sidewalks were widened; more than 400 street trees were planted; and public art and upgraded street furnishings were added. Also, new public parking located behind buildings encouraged visitors to “park once” and then walk where they need to go. The city also added dedicated bicycle lanes throughout downtown, doubled the number of bike racks, and made Zipcars and scooter parking available.

The nine other APA 2013 Great Neighborhoods are: Historic Licking Riverside Neighborhood, Covington, KY; West Freemason, Norfolk, VA; Downtown Norwich, Norwich, CT; Williamson-Marquette Neighborhood, Madison, WI; Chinatown, San Francisco, CA; Downtown Mason City, Mason City, IA; Kenwood, Minneapolis, MN; Central Street Neighborhood, Evanston, IL; Beaufort Historic District, Beaufort, SC.