Changing Atlanta: More Retirees Enjoy The Intown Hip Life

The Beltline is perfect for speed-walking, an activity Bunny Lenhard enjoys.
The Beltline is perfect for speed-walking, an activity Bunny Lenhard enjoys.
Credit Ali Guillory / WABE

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This is not one of those stories about millennials.

Even though people in their 20s and 30s are often credited as the prime movers and shakers in the “hipster-fication” of Atlanta’s east side—the influx of restaurants, bars, and coffee shops that have swept in with the advent of the Atlanta Beltline—this story’s about a different demographic.

People like Bob and Bunny Lenhard.

For three decades, they’d made their home in suburban Sandy Springs, where they raised their kids. Before that, they lived in suburbs in Chicago. And before that, both were raised in the suburbs of Detroit.

But in early 2016, after Bob retired from IBM, they were ready for a change. Now in their 70s, these two lifelong suburbanites moved intown.

Now Bunny describes her life like this: “I play.” She walks on the Beltline. She babysits her grandchildren, who also live intown. And, in her own neighborhood, the Old Fourth Ward? “There’s always something going on. It’s fun!”

Started With Running

This story wouldn’t have ended up like this had Bunny not started running back in 1983. She quickly ramped up to Peachtree Road Races (she’s run 34), and marathons. While training, she grew bored with the scenery Sandy Springs had to offer.

“Even with the beautiful trees, it just gets boring if you’re out there for hours. There’s the sameness in suburbia,” she says.

She and a friend started driving into town and parking almost “at random” in different neighborhoods.

Bunny was quickly impressed with the variety of architecture she saw, and what she calls the comparative “sense of history” in the city.

“There was always something to see,” she says. “And way back then, I said, ‘Someday, I want to live intown.'”

That “someday” came earlier this year. One reason for the move is their grandchildren—whom their kids are raising intown. (Of their urban upbringing, Bunny says, “Our grandchildren are a lot more sophisticated today. They’re a lot more world-wise.”)    

Then there was the Beltline — perfect for speed-walking (Bunny doesn’t run so much anymore), and close to plentiful in-town amenities. They bought a townhouse, sold one of their cars, and haven’t looked back.

These days, the list of places Bob and Bunny walk is long: the cleaners, the beauty shop, any number of bars and restaurants, neighborhood meetings and friends’ houses.

And when they don’t walk? They Uber.

Atlanta: Home of the Hipster Boomers

The Lenhards aren’t alone. Earlier this year, a study from Forbes found Atlanta to be the American city with the fastest-growing aging population.

“What we see happening in Atlanta is an influx of people who are post-retirement and are looking for amenities,” says Dr. Heidi Ewen, who studies demography and aging at The University of Georgia. “They’re looking for places where they can be active and engaged, and they can be free from maintaining a larger home. They’re looking for good weather. And Atlanta has all of that to offer.”

And Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward, where Bob and Bunny live, has it in spades.

While a lot is said and written about the moneyed millennials pumping tech and film industry dollars into this part of town, Ewen says the disposable incomes brought by retirees shouldn’t be discounted. According to the AARP, nearly three out of four boomers want to live in walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods.  

As for Bunny Lenhard, she’s found her home.

“I feel like this is where I belong, and this is where I’ve belonged all along,” she says. “Suburbia, even though it was a major part of my life, more years than I’ll ever have here, I have much more of that sense of community here than I ever did there.”

And the restaurants, they’re not bad either.

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