Nine souls braved the cold wind and the pollen (great combination, by the way) to observe downtown Smyrna. Political focus often gets caught up in larger policy debates, but life happens in front of you. The only way to truly understand your community and to see where it struggles is slow, intentional observation. Our walk started at the Smyrna Market Village fountain and we headed south to see what we would find. Following the Strong Towns approach, we wanted to answer some questions:

  • What makes this place unique?
  • Who is invisible here?
  • How much life is happening on the street?
  • What is working well here?
  • What can we do right now?

Pedestrian Safety

As the group proceeded south on Atlanta Road, we had to scurry across intersections, as drivers barreled through slip-lanes or tried to make the gap while left-turning. Even without crossing the street in this area, the Mountain-to-River trail can be a bit dangerous. Car speeds were high and the noise was pervasive.

We also saw how disconnected an historic neighborhood (Williams Park) is from Downtown, due to Atlanta Road. One participant recounted stories of the bar manager from Atkins Park driving across Atlanta road from downtown, just to reach Publix across the road. Other noted that many residents of Williams Park won’t walk to Downtown, due to the safety experience crossing Atlanta Road. We noted that simple fixes could include pedestrian islands, longer pedestrian phases, and slower speeds through this part of the corridor.

It was interesting to hear observations from others about some of the more pedestrian- hostile aspects of downtown Smyrna’s street design which validated what I have also felt as someone who spends a lot of time in the area.

Matt C.

At the intersection of Church and King Streets, we found a stop sign with two “balk-lines” (where the car should stop) both before and after the pedestrian crossing, creating a confusing scenario for pedestrians and drivers alike. There was even a slip lane, as if people need to speed down Church Street! This is an area for people, not cars. There should be no slip lanes here, and the hard right turn would keep cars at safer speeds.

Land Use

Walking north on King Street, we discussed the most prominent feature in Smyrna’s downtown: parking. Most people’s experience of the Smyrna Market Village is typically through the lens of their vehicle. Two stroads (Atlanta Road and Concord Road) separate downtown from the surrounding neighborhoods. A 5-minute walk from the center of downtown is vast parking lots. These parking lots also disrupt what could be a dense street grid. City leadership was visionary in creating a downtown, but it has failed to grow organically over the last two decades, with much of the land consumed by unproductive parking.

Two churches occupy the south side of downtown. We noted all the empty space walking up King Street, either from parking or greenspace in the area. While the athletic fields for the church are likely great, it’s probably not a good use of land so close to downtown. The area was relatively quiet, though. It had enough separation from the roads to make it a bit more calm. It’s a perfect place for housing, shops, and other activities.

First Baptist Church plans to sell their land to the city, allowing Smyrna to redevelop this parcel. This is a great opportunity for the city, and removing the excessive parking lots in this area! As A Better Cobb has shown in the figure above, Smyrna’s highest value areas are mixed-used developments. These properties are high value-per-acre properties, returning more property tax to the city, as opposed to single-family homes. As our analysis shows below, Smyrna’s downtown has few truly productive structures. Much of downtown is colored gray on this map – indicating untaxed land (parking, parks, government building, churches, etc.). Only the Market Village, Sync at Jonquil, and the Belmont development stand out. For the future prosperity of our city, our core needs to be more productive.

I loved the activity at Stout Brothers and restaurants at the Market Village, but could not help but notice how many parking spaces there are that were not being utilized. I think it would be an improvement if some of those spaces were converted into either housing or more spaces for retail.

Tyler H.

We did note some positive developments, that have not yet been built. The development on Atlanta Road at Ken’s Corner Grill will be a wonderful mixed-use building. On King Street, a new restaurant and office mixed use building will actually remove existing parking. This could improve the vitality and variety of Smyrna’s Downtown.

Multi-modal connections

On Atlanta Road, I pointed out the Western & Atlantic Railroad (owned by the state of Georgia). So much traffic goes between Atlanta and Marietta on roads, but this railroad winds through all of the core cities of Cobb. It could provide huge amounts of transportation capacity. We also noted how disconnected this is from Downtown, due to Atlanta Road, if commuter service were to be implemented. The old Atlanta-Marietta streetcar ran right through this area for several decades, so this area isn’t new to rail-transit.

Currently, the only transit connection that we found was a Route 25 stop with CobbLinc. This service runs hourly. If a transit rider needed access to the library or any other civic amenities, they would have to take a very inconvenient route, and the other nearest stops (not route 25) are nearly on a mile away. For myself, Route 25 crosses right in front of my house, but I rarely take it due to this frequency. Beyond the route frequency, we noted that the bus stop had no shelter, trash cans, or benches. It was simply a signpost on the side of busy Concord Road.

The area has reasonable connections via shared paths along Spring Road and Atlanta Road. While these paths provide a convenient way to downtown, they can also be unsafe. Due to the high speed on these roads, we frequently encountered cars turning into slip lanes quickly, with little regard for pedestrians.


What makes this place unique? – The group had a hard time with this question. It’s unique in the immediate area, surrounded by single family homes, but it doesn’t stand out in a recognizable way around Cobb. Smyrna is unique in that it kicked-off re-creating its downtown after altering it for vehicular traffic, but it hasn’t really kept up the momentum. We hope the new developments in the area will get this going.

Who is invisible here? – We found that transit riders, cyclists, and pedestrians were de-prioritized in this area. While the Mountain-to-River trail improved the safety somewhat, Downtown Smyrna is built for cars – not people. Parking was everywhere, but we only noted three bike racks. Atlanta Road has medians separating car directions, but no pedestrian islands. The sole transit stop was an afterthought.

How much life is happening on the street? We did note some life on the street! Run Smyrna was very lively. People were walking around the pedestrian friendly Market Village (Spring Street). Once we left that area, though, cars were dominant. The immediate area had little, if any, pedestrian activity.

What is working well here? We thought the Market Village was a great example of people-oriented places. It had a unique mix of building and businesses in close proximity. We were disappointed in how small that area was, and that it hadn’t expanded outward over the years.

What can we do right now? There are a lot of new developments coming up. For advocacy, we all need to be involved and speak with our representatives on the First Baptist Church re-development. This opportunity cannot be wasted on parking – we should expand the street grid. Crossing Atlanta Road safely is paramount to reconnecting downtown to the surrounding areas. For immediate action, we could use a parking pop-up to show all of the wasted space in the Market Village. Potentially, some “tactical urbanism” to improve several items (lack of benches at transit stops, fixing the balk lines) are possible. In general, improving awareness of issues downtown would be the most beneficial thing.

Smyrna’s leaders were visionary in implementing the Market Village concepts years ago. We need to keep moving forward to make this a human-centered place, again!