Planning a Lifelong Community

Mableton, Georgia

The Mableton Master Plan and Smart Code envision the historic community’s future as a walkable town center for people of all ages.

Identifying the Issue:
How prepared are communities across America to tap the vast potential of the oncoming wave of older adults—a cohort known to be, on the whole, healthier and better educated than any before? In February 2009, the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) hosted a Livable Communities Charrette (a meeting in which all stakeholders in a project attempt to resolve conflicts and map solutions) to help answer this question. During the charrette, expert participants developed principle and design guidelines to guide local governments in revising their codes and development policies to meet the needs, preferences and changing lifestyles of their residents as the population grows older.

Building on Guidelines:
Building upon this work, ARC helped to host another charrette in June 2010 in the unincorporated community of Mableton, in Cobb County, Georgia. The eight-day forum and visioning session brought together local residents, Cobb County officials, and national experts to look at historic Mableton’s future as a walkable town center for people of all ages. The charrette centered on design, with goals of addressing: substantial improvements in the heart of Mableton; how to incorporate the arts, transportation and additional community services into the area; transportation design; locations and usability of new resources such as a newly constructed Mableton Elementary School; and how Mableton will grow in decades to come.

Assessing Concerns and Advantages:
From the charrette, the following issues rose to the surface:

  1. Lack of neighborhood cohesiveness: development oriented to through-traffic made it difficult to tell where one neighborhood ended and the other began.
  2. Lack of interesting public spaces: Residents reported that without programmed or active public spaces between destinations, like entertainment and dining venues, there was little opportunity to participate in the street life of the town.
  3. Most residents are auto dependent, making it difficult for residents who can or do not want to drive regularly.
At the same time, the charrette helped participants focus on Mableton’s existing strengths, including the fact that its “historic bones” that originally promoted walkability, like connected streets, are still intact. Its location only 12 miles west of downtown Atlanta and nine miles south of Marietta also positions a future well-planned Mableton to be able to harness the market once the economy picks up.

Creating a Master Plan for a Lifetime Community:
Mableton’s Master Plan for a town center for all ages focused on two main objectives.

Objective: Promote walkability, safety and public gathering space.
The Illustrative Master Plan features a variety of options for pedestrians, including sidewalks along major arteries, some cross block passages, as well as a robust greenway system. These connections encourage walking for both transportation and recreation and will provide connectivity to the Silver Comet Rail Trail, a significant resource in the region. Corresponding plans for implementation include:
  • Convert Floyd Road, a major thoroughfare that bisects two planning areas (the Barnes site and the Mable site), from an unwalkable and poorly defined five-lane arterial, to a beautifully landscaped and pedestrian-friendly boulevard that includes a regional PATH Foundation bike route.
  • Integrate two major planning areas, the Barnes site and the Mable site, to form a single, cohesive pedestrian shed.
  • Recognize the Mable site, with its collection of post office, library, arts center, amphitheater and other civic functions, as the new town center for the Mableton area.
  • Establish walking loops and install wayfinding signage.
Objective: Integrate older residents in all aspects of the community.
  • Develop the Barnes Site, a 23.5 acre parcel, to integrate some Lifelong Communities facilities into Mableton. Lifelong Community Assets recommended for this area include home care service offices, daily needs retail, and a range of supportive and mixed-income housing opportunities.
  • Combine investments in the Barnes Site with upzoning incentives (the practice of giving developers the opportunity to build bigger projects than normally allowed if they include affordable housing in their project) to catalyze reciprocal private investment on the both sides of Floyd Road.
  • Build senior housing that is integrated throughout the community. Mableton’s plan intends to do away with an isolated model of senior housing development by building a neighborhood center with housing and activities appropriate for young and old alike and available to those living inside the development as well as surrounding neighbors. The development anticipates that a small array of neighborhood retailers will provide some of the services that are typically incorporated into more traditional continuing care retirement communities. For all other services, provider(s) can be recruited to manage the needs of older adults throughout the surrounding community. In addition, wireless technological innovations will allow in-home monitoring of seniors in varying degrees.
  • Locate a small assisted living apartment facility in the heart of the neighborhood so that residents for whom in-home care delivery is no longer appropriate can transition nearby. According to Mableton’s plan the housing facility would ideally provide medical offices, rehab facilities or perhaps adult day care services for the whole surrounding community and not just its own residents.
Activating the Master Plan with a Smart Code:
Once the Master Plan was in place, it was up to the Mableton Smart Code to help the town in realizing its vision. The SmartCode is a form-based code, based upon concepts of building livable, welcoming communities, with standards guiding how streets look, how commercial and residential properties as well as public and private realms interact, and how neighborhoods should incorporate a range of building and housing types along with green space to create walkable neighborhoods. The new code also helps Mableton meet lifelong community standards by introducing visitability requirements for single-family residences. Visitability is a movement to change home construction practices so that virtually all new homes — not merely those custom-built for occupants who currently have disabilities — offer a few specific features making the home easier for mobility-impaired people to live in and visit. According to the Mableton code, single family homes must be built so that:
  • One zero-step entrance shall be provided at the front, side, or rear of the principal building;
  • All doors on the main floor of the principal building shall provide a minimum of 32 inches of clear passage space;
  • One accessible full bathroom providing wheeled mobility shall be provided on the main floor of the principal building. Blocking for grab bars shall be provided at a minimum; and
  • One bedroom or room easily adaptable to a bedroom shall be provided on the main floor of the principal building.
Kathryn Lawler
Atlanta Regional Commission

Mary Blumberg
Atlanta Regional Commission

USAging Fact: Learn about your peers’ work—and how it can fit into your agency’s goals! The AIA Awards recognizes successful and innovative programs that USAging members have developed to serve older adults. Get inspiration from our 2023 winners!