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Riverdale adjusts to new growth
City imagines changing from 'bedroom' to 'multicultural'

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

While Clayton County's five other cities have seen a leveling off, or decline in population from 2000 to 2007, the City of Riverdale is quickly losing its title of bedroom community. It is growing rapidly.

According to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, Riverdale, an area of 4 square miles, saw its population grow 23 percent, from 12,478 to 15,345, since 2000.

An abundance of affordable housing, several new subdivisions along Highway 138, easy access to public transportation, and the proximity to downtown Atlanta, have contributed to Riverdale's growth in numbers and diversity, according to City Manager Iris Jessie.

While growth comes with some pains, Jessie believes it is a sign Riverdale is poised for upward development. "The county itself is very densely populated, and I think that cities are about the same," said Jessie. "Along with the rest of the metro area, we need to be focusing on smart growth.

"We're growing vertically, instead of trying to grow horizontally," she said. "We'll probably have buildings that are taller than we have right now, and [will] provide amenities for people who are pedestrians, to ease congestion."

Three other cities in Clayton saw limited growth.

Morrow's population grew 12.6 percent, from 4,882 to 5,499. Forest Park, the county's largest city, saw a 1.7 percent population increase, from 21,447 to 21,806. Jonesboro's population rose 2.1 percent, from 3,829 to 3,911.

Clayton's two other cities, Lovejoy and Lake City -- both with aging populations -- saw a decrease in population. Lovejoy dropped 2.1 percent, from 2,495 to 2,443 and Lake City fell 6 percent, from 2,886 to 2,713.

Jessie said Riverdale is experiencing a boom of diversity in age and cultures. Riverdale's population is approximately 67 percent black, 20 percent white, 7 percent Asian, 5 percent Latino, and 1 percent Pacific Islander or other races, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Last year, the New York-based Asian grocery giant, Super H Mart, located its second Georgia store in Riverdale. Jessie believes the decision is a "recognition of the diversity that was already here. "They wouldn't have put a store here, if they didn't think the market was already here," said Jessie. She believes the city soon will be able to attract other businesses aimed at an international audience.

Growth has come at a price, however. Jessie said vehicle and pedestrian traffic has increased greatly, and that some pedestrians have been injured attempting to cross major thoroughfares. "We have had a couple of accidents that have been very serious, and those involved pedestrians," she said. "We are trying to be proactive in that regard."

A Livable Communities Initiative (LCI), as well as a recent $850,000 transportation enhancement grant from the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), are aimed at making "it easier to traverse [State] Highway 85," Jessie said. She said the initiatives will help create more sidewalks and pedestrian-friendly attractions.

Employment opportunities within the city also are an issue. Unemployment in Riverdale is 5.95 percent, slightly higher than the state average of 5.7 percent.

Doug Manning, Riverdale public works and community development director, suggested that many businesses along Highway 85 -- the city's major business corridor -- lack the visibility to remain economically viable.

"One of the problems that you have with state roads that are strip-mall oriented, is that [businesses] are too far to the back," said Manning. "You have these businesses, but nobody sees them, therefore, they are dying."

Manning said he is working to create more "curbside attractions," as well as mixed, commercial and residential properties, so property owners get "higher use of their property."

With the addition of the city's proposed Town Center, which will include residential, commercial, and governmental components, Riverdale Mayor Evelyn Wynn-Dixon said the city can become a community where people can drive less, and walk more.

"We don't have that much acreage," said Wynn-Dixon. "What we are trying to do is build up, so we can entertain more people safely. What it is going to do, is take us from a bedroom city into a very upbeat, multicultural city."