Car-dependent sprawl is not a harmless option

Pedestrian-hostile suburbs aren’t balanced out by the presence of walkable urbanism elsewhere; they’re a problem that should be fixed.

Darin Givens
3 min readNov 27, 2022

In Johns Creek, GA you can live a stone’s throw from a grocery store that would require a whopping 1.1 mile trek if you wanted to walk to it instead of driving. This is the restrictive zoning that some people want, in order to “protect” single family homes from the scourge of walkable mixed-use urbanism.

A Publix grocery store in Johns Creek, north of Atlanta.

Yes, this is the suburbs. But I don’t accept the argument that it’s OK to allow this for the people who want it as an option, versus walkable urban design. Certainly not at the incredible scale that we’ve seen in the past few decades worth of sprawl in the Atlanta metro area and elsewhere.

Buildable land is a precious resource in the Atlanta region. We aren’t making more of it. In fact, to preserve unbuilt ecosystems, we need to stop sprawling into the dwindling forests of the Georgia Piedmont.

To improve health outcomes, we need to create less pollution and boost the safety of active transportation; sprawl is correlated with increased energy use and pollution. To improve equitable outcomes, we need neighborhoods near stores/jobs to be more walkable and more serviceable by transit. To improve services for the public, we need our land-use to capture as much value as possible (sprawl does the opposite).

Here’s the scene you would encounter on foot if you tried to get to the grocery store from the homes above. It’s an inhumane environment for pedestrians that demands access to a personal vehicle for navigating it, and for getting to daily necessities and jobs. Saying “if some people want inhumane spaces, we should support that desire with restrictive zoning laws” is ridiculous.

The pedestrian-hostile situation in front of the Johns Creek Publix

Car-centric sprawl is not a neutral, harmless “option” for living. It’s a thing that hinders progress on our health/climate/environmental goals. Local governments should not be providing it in mass quantities through restrictive zoning laws.

Many political conservatives complain about “nanny state” laws, but zoning laws which demand car-centric places while outlawing anything else are about as “nanny” as it gets. The government is enforcing automobile dependency through public laws — and the ‘public’ nature of it makes us all complicit in the harmful outcomes.



Darin Givens

ThreadATL co-founder: || Advocacy for good urbanism in Atlanta || atlurbanist -at-