The Livable Communities Coalition

Working to improve Atlanta's quality of life through smart growth

Urbanizing suburbs need a Fair Share

Like others I was stunned when I saw the census figures for the City of Atlanta. Atlanta only added 1,000 new residents between 2000 and 2010?

According to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article, both City of Atlanta and Fulton County used flawed methodologies to estimate population growth over the last decade. Whatever the cause, estimates of the city’s population had grown to 541,000 by the end of the last decade. The official 2010 census, on the other hand, put the city’s population at 420,000.

City and county officials are understandably scrambling to determine what this population shortfall may mean for them and whether there are any avenues available to appeal.

The flip side of the news generated by the census is that metro Atlanta continued to grow, adding over 1 million new residents since the 2000 census.

Some observers, notably Wendell Cox and Joel Kotkin, have leapt on this news to make a point about housing preferences – primarily that consumers prefer the suburbs. While the co-written article by Cox and Kotkin has generated a lot of buzz in the world of planning and economic development, I tend to focus less on the issue of suburbia versus cities; instead I make the argument that our suburban communities are urbanizing, creating new pressures on the region.

There is yet something else alarming from the census report: Despite metro Atlanta’s population growth – concentrated in its suburban ring – that growth did not generate a proportional number of new jobs even though metro Atlanta grew at the greatest numerical rate in the country.

Accordingly, there are two tasks before us as a region.

For one, the way we grow matters. The Atlanta Regional Commission forecasts the region will add yet another 3 million new residents by 2040. Traffic is already bad, and it is only going to get worse unless the region acts proactively to deliver transportation solutions.

We need to make appropriate investments in our transportation network to not only help people move freely through the region but also to facilitate commerce.

Secondly, we need to focus on the region’s competitiveness by making the right transportation investments.

As I have noted before in posts to this blog, other Sunbelt cities have taken the plunge and started building new transit systems to compete economically. That trend has only intensified as communities throughout the country compete for federal transit dollars.

Significantly, the City of Atlanta has secured one of those grants to build a streetcar line from Centennial Olympic Park to the Carter Presidential Library. On its own, however, the streetcar project will do little to solve our transportation problem unless we do more to coordinate as a region to make new assets like the streetcar work within the context of other proposed transportation solutions.

With strategic improvements to our existing transportation network and with expanded investments in our regional transit network and our network of safe routes to transit (pedestrian walkways and bike routes), we can help metro Atlanta get back to work. With a Fair Share for transit and safe routes to transit, next year’s proposed one-cent sales tax can go a long way to achieving that vision.

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