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Reversing suburban flight, families move back downtown

Loft apartment
Loft apartment in downtown Atlanta  

This article is part of a companion series to "Sprawl America," a look at suburban growth airing nightly this week on CNN at 8 p.m. EST.

November 24, 1998
Web posted at: 11:21 p.m. EST (0421 GMT)

ATLANTA (CNN) -- Fed up with grueling commutes, more and more people are moving from the suburbs back into downtown areas, fueling a residential rebirth in cities like Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas and Denver.

"I was spending three hours a day in traffic, and it just got unbearable," said Atlanta resident Kathy Holland. That was when she lived in the suburbs, 20 miles out. Now her commute is just a 15-minute walk to work.

She and her husband became some of the city's first urban dwellers in 50 years when they moved downtown two years ago.

"We don't want to go back to the suburbs," said Holland. "In fact, we looked at some outlying areas a mile from here, and we said, 'That's too far out,' because then I'd have to get in my car and go to work and right now I don't have to."

In fact, she hasn't driven her car in over a month.

In Atlanta, prices for downtown lofts have doubled in the last three years. Old buildings are being converted into new living spaces, and many loft buildings have a waiting list for those looking to buy.

Atlanta's downtown now has a population of about a thousand residents, up from about fifty a decade ago.

Real estate professionals say downtown living may be an option for some, but there's one crucial drawback.

"Right now downtown living is probably not for the young married couple who have got children," said Lewis Glenn of Harry Norman Realtors. "I say that because of the proximity of schools to the downtown area," he said.

Goolsby family
The Goolsby family  

But not every family with children is headed for suburbia.

Tom and Jennifer Goolsby live in a downtown Atlanta loft with their 2-year-old daughter, Billie. They made their decision for several reasons.

"The very idea of spending 10 to 20 percent of my life in an automobile is mind-boggling," said Tom Goolsby.

He also thinks raising a toddler in an urban environment is perfectly acceptable and takes Billie to the park to mingle with street musicians.

"If the old adage is true -- it takes a village to raise a child -- then here we are in this huge village," Goolsby said. "All these cultures intermingle here -- the black culture, the white culture. Every one of those cultures has a great deal of respect for children, a great deal of respect for mothers."

Playing guitar
Tom Goolsby and daughter Billie in a nearby park  

The Goolsbys plan to send Billie to a new downtown school when she's old enough.

"Education is a major factor in the hesitation for families to come to downtown areas, because in downtown areas you really do not have a good public education system," said Jag Sheth of Emory University.

For now, the Goolsbys are happy having a downtown home with a park for a backyard, right across the street.

"I think we have most of what we want," said Tom Goolsby. "We have everything we need."

Correspondent Laurie Dhue contributed to this report.

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