Cities of the Future

Cities of the Future

How the South Can Grow with Grace

Words by Ashley Locke
Illustration by Liz Anderson

The winds are changing. Los Angeles and New York City have been losing residents year after year, while cities such as Atlanta and Nashville are growing faster than ever before. The modern South is a place where people want to live.

There’s an appeal to southern cities—you get all the amenities you expect from an urban area but with a lower cost of living than you’d find on the coasts. Homes are more affordable, yards are common, and jobs are plentiful. The tech, healthcare, and movie industries are thriving. The South is also a cultural hub for artists, musicians, and creatives. Whatever you’re looking for, you can find it.

Though the South is welcoming transplants with open arms, a quickly growing population creates some challenges. Gentrification, rising costs, and increased traffic are concerns for every urban area, but there are solutions. With responsible growth, the South’s cities will only continue to grow their appeal. We chatted with a few industry experts about how we should think about the southern cities of the future.

Mark Deutschmann, Urban Land Institute Nashville District Council Chair

  • On Community: It’s important to build planned communities. You pull different pieces together to make the housing more attractive, like greenways and markets. Creating neighborhood commercial districts helps connect members of the community, and it provides people the things that are important to them—like grocery stores, shops, and restaurants—at a close range. 
  • On Zoning: Zoning and transit need to go hand in hand. It’s difficult to build a bunch of housing and go back and build transit stops later—if you’re creating density and affordability, you have to think about transit on the front end. Build in walkability and bikeability from the get-go. Cities should be the healthiest places for people to live, but you have to build in multimodal transportation to help make that happen. 
  • On Housing: Not everyone can afford a house right now, but there are creative affordable housing solutions. For example, Nesterly—it’s a platform that connects students or singles with seniors who want to age in place. The student or single gets a nice place to live for a low cost, and the senior gets in-home care and companionship. Allowing for zoning that permits for cottages to be built in your backyard can create the same dynamic. Several cultures have intergenerational housing, and it’s very beneficial for communities. 
  • On Sustainability: It should be a little more difficult to tear down houses. Too many projects involve tearing down an existing building and creating something completely new. In Vancouver, if you tear down a house over 75 years old, you have to reuse 80 percent of the materials. The rule slows down projects and uses less energy, which is better for the environment. 

Learn more from Mark by ordering his book, “One Mile Radius,” from Amazon or Barnes & Noble. 

Eric Jaffe, Sidewalk Labs Editorial Director

  • On Traffic: There’s no simple solution to solving traffic problems, or cities would have found it already. The most successful cities use a combination of technology, policy, and public investment to reduce traffic. These approaches include expanding public transportation, designing streets that are friendly to bicycles and pedestrians, implementing congestion pricing plans, and encouraging mixed-use development so homes, jobs, and shops can all be near each other and don’t require a car trip to reach.
  • On Going Green: Dense mixed-use development around public transportation is the best foundation for a greener city. Many cities are focusing on reducing the climate impact of transportation through things like encouraging more walking or cycling, expanding public transit, and providing incentives for electric vehicles.
  • On Housing: Dense cities are the best hope we have for reaching the ambitious climate goals needed to protect the planet. That’s because people in cities emit significantly less carbon per capita than people living in more remote settings. And, generally speaking, the denser the city, the lower the per capita emissions. So building more multi-family housing is critical for the environment. It also has benefits for affordability, job opportunity, local business vitality, social equity, and social cohesion.
  • On Gentrification: New development and economic growth is critical to the survival of cities, but it can’t come at the cost of displacing existing tenants or uprooting long-standing communities. Government has the leading role to play in terms of creating equitable zoning rules and providing sufficient amounts of affordable housing across the city. One way the private sector can support public objectives for inclusive growth is by using innovation to reduce the cost of construction, which creates value that cities can use to create more housing options for people of all incomes.

Learn more from Eric by visiting