Developer Joel Hurt conceived Inman Park in the late 1880s as a rural oasis connected to Downtown Atlanta by streetcar. Hurt formed the East Atlanta Land Company to acquire the property and the Atlanta and Edgewood Street Railway Company to build the streetcar. James Forsyth Johnson, an Atlanta landscape architect, designed Inman Park with curvilinear streets, a large centrally located park and several smaller parks at intersecting streets – clearly following the garden suburb format established earlier in Olmsted’s Riverside, Illinois.
This initial design featured large lots for grand houses for Atlanta’s wealthy. Coca Cola founders Ernest Woodruff and Asa Candler were among the early residents. By the turn of the century, early residents were leaving for newer and more prestigious neighborhoods, especially Druid Hills and Ansley Park. Deed restrictions lapsed in 1910. The result was the subdivision of large lots into smaller lots. Often one large lot was subdivided into four smaller ones, which were auctioned to small builders who built traditional house types or adapted pattern book houses.
Inman Park expanded with additional subdivisions from 1910 to the 1920s, creating a dense network of lots, blocks and streets. At the same time, the first apartment buildings were built, side by side with single-family houses. Small-scale commercial development began, first with corner stores, especially along the city’s expanding streetcar network, followed by Little Five Points, the commercial heart of the area. The neighborhood began a long period of decline, changing from Hurt’s rural oasis, to a working class district; many of the large early houses became boarding houses, following a blanket rezoning in 1954.
Inman Park was then targeted for the construction of a limited-access Stone Mountain Tollway leading to Atlanta’s eastern suburbs. Only after land had been acquired for the highway and houses demolished, Governor Jimmy Carter halted the highway project, creating opportunities for a generation of “urban pioneers” to occupy the neighborhood allowing for a long battle between neighborhood activists. A compromise was finally reached in the 1980s, brokered by former President Carter, allowing the cleared right-of-way to become Freedom Park, Freedom Parkway, and the Carter Presidential Library.
Inman Park has continued to prosper since its revival in the 1970s. Most of the 300 houses have been rehabilitated. Infill construction on vacant lots, nearly all single-family houses in styles compatible with the original ones, is essentially complete. Most apartment buildings have been rehabilitated or converted to condominiums. New development on the formerly industrial edge of the neighborhood added a mixture of single-family, apartments, condominiums, restaurants, and retail spaces.
Inman Park offers many lessons for neighborhood design. First, it is possible to mix single-family and multifamily buildings side by side with little or no economic impact and with real contributions to social diversity and security. Second, a mixture of lot sizes – side by side not just street by street – is possible and creates a diversity of house types and family types. Third, a neighborhood can be designed to allow connecting streets to produce an effective pattern of connectivity while maintaining a unique identity. And, finally, crises – economic downturns, re-zoning, proposed highways – can be the ingredients for creating a real community. Visit the Inman Park Neighborhood Association website here.