Land Use and School Locations

from Land Matters, a publications of the Atlanta Regional Commission
There was a time in our nation’s history when a majority of children were able to walk or ride bikes to school.  Similarly, the school building was a fundamental civic landmark in the community. And while there are some older communities that still enable younger residents to walk to school, this is no longer the norm, as schools have increasingly been built on the outer edges of communities where land is less expensive.
Consequently, the distance students travel to school has increased greatly. In 1969, 87 percent of students lived within one mile of their schools. By 2001, this number shrank to just 21 percent. In Georgia, it has been estimated that only six percent of elementary students, 11 percent of middle school students, and six percent of high school students could reasonably be expected to walk to school.
This shift has come at a price, according to research recently developed for The Civic League for Regional Atlanta by Georgia State’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies. In “School Locational Decisions and Land Use: Addressing a Growing Problem,” researchers cite increased traffic congestion (along with higher school bus costs and increased air pollution) and increased childhood obesity as two significant unintended consequences of “school sprawl.”
The Civic League recommends that school boards and local governments change course by working collaboratively toward school siting decisions that:

  • Better match development and new school capacity;
  • Better align local comprehensive and school facility plans;
  • Better connect schools and adjacent neighborhoods; and
  • Facilitate the use of schools for other community purposes.

The paper also addresses obstacles to collaboration between local governments and school boards and suggests specific action steps for the Atlanta region.
“School Locational Decisions and Land Use” is available for download at www.civicleagueatlanta.org.

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