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David Pendered

Metro Atlanta split in half by class; wealth creators reside in northside, say new studies by Richard Florida

By David Pendered

Richard Florida’s latest research shows metro Atlanta has become a tale of two regions and likely will continue on that trajectory.

Most of the wealth creators in metro Atlanta reside in the areas marked in purple, stretching from downtown Atlanta to north along Ga. 400, according to urban theorist Richard Florida. Credit: theatlanticcities.com

Most of the wealth creators in metro Atlanta reside in areas marked in purple, stretching from downtown Atlanta toward northern neighborhoods along Ga. 400, according to urban theorist Richard Florida. Credit: theatlanticcities.com

The wealth-generating creative region begins near downtown Atlanta and spreads north along Ga. 400 through Roswell, with outparcels scattered across mainly the northern suburbs. Future wealth generation seems most likely to occur in north Atlanta and close-in suburbs, in Florida’s scenarios.

Florida’s work seems to support policies such as efforts by ARC and its partners to promote community development around Atlanta’s airport and MARTA stations. Likewise with the community benefit agreements that are part of Atlanta’s requirements for supporting a new Falcons stadium.

These policies intend to increase the number of pockets of wealth creation that now are concentrated in the region’s northern areas, as identified by Florida’s research. These pockets are evident in any driving tour of the region. Florida’s two new reports, issued in the past two months, use Census tract data to confirm what seems obvious.

In his latest report on Atlanta, Florida – the urban studies theorist who coined the term “creative class” – analyzed the region in the fifth installment of his series, “Class Divided Cities,” which appears in theatlanticcities.com. In January, Florida and two colleagues released a working paper through the Centre of Excellence for Science and Innovation Studies: “Human Capital in Cities and Suburbs.”

The “Class Divided Cities” piece portrays the city of Atlanta as a place that is literally split in half by class. The dividing line passes through downtown Atlanta and angles slightly from northwest to southeast.

The densest concentrations of the wealth-creating class are located in and around Buckhead, Midtown, Druid Hills, DeKalb County, and Sandy Springs, according to Florida’s research.

The class divide in the city of Atlanta is along an east-west line, according to urban theorist Richard Florida. Credit: theatlanticcity.com

The class divide in the city of Atlanta is along an east-west line, according to urban theorist Richard Florida. Credit: theatlanticcity.com

The wealth-creating creative class comprises 36.3 percent of workers, which is 3.7 percent above the national average. The average salary is $73,272, which is higher than the national average of $70,890 and more than $25,000 higher than the average wage in metro Atlanta, which is $46,442.

Turning to Florida’s working paper, “Human Capital in Cities and Suburbs,” the research indicates that the higher wealth-generating workers tend to live in the center city and close-in suburbs – at least in cities with populations above 1 million.

The report also notes that human capital tends to reside near urban amenities. In Atlanta, the region north of downtown is benefiting most from the development of new amenities – the BeltLine, plus the Ga. 400 Greenway Trail that stretches from North Buckhead toward Midtown.

The report states:

  • “Larger regions, by virtue of their size, require denser patterns to accommodate population growth. They are regions that suffer most from traffic congestion and burdensome commuting patterns. They are more likely to see considerable premiums for central locations. For these reasons, higher-skill, higher-income families are more likely to prefer central locations in these regions.”

The communities in metro Atlanta that are comprised of service class workers surround the creative class neighborhoods. They encompass most of the region and are populated by folks Florida says work in: “Low wage, low-skill occupations in the food service industry, retail sales, clerical and administrative positions and the like.”

This group comprises 43.8 percent of the region’s workers and the average salary is $28,973. Metro Atlanta has a slightly smaller proportion of service workers than the 46.6 percent reported nationally, and the metro Atlantans earn less than the national average of $30,597.

The working class, which is the final one in Florida’s spectrum, exists on the farthest fringes of metro Atlanta. This group is comprised of factory workers and those in manufacturing and construction.

The working class comprises 19.8 percent of metro Atlanta workers and their average salary is $35,961 – which is about $7,000 a year higher than average wages in the service class.

Florida concludes his essay with this observation:

  • “Atlanta’s class divide is pronounced. Similar to greater Washington, D.C., the line of demarcation between the classes in the city cuts across a sharply defined east-west axis. The metro area looks more like a cell, with the creative class nucleus centered in the city proper, the service class surrounding it, and the working class pushed way out to the periphery. “

By way of reminder, Florida is the urban theorist whose 2002 book, “The Rise of the Creative Class,” wowed many Atlanta leaders. Florida’s economic theories promised hope in a region darkened by the economic downturn of 2000-2002.

Florida proposed that economic prosperity would come less from traditional manufacturing and extraction, and more from creative efforts such as science and engineering, healthcare, finance and legal, arts and design.

Almost overnight, metro Atlanta’s leadership was focused on attracting a group of workers Florida named the “creative class.”

In Atlanta, the creative class came to be defined as the group of entrepreneurial innovators who desired a lifestyle of walking from home to work and shops. They wanted to hop on transit to ride to parks and cultural amenities.

Think: Atlantic Station, the city-onto-itself built on the site of a former steel mill adjacent to Midtown. Plus the 109 communities across the region that have devised plans to make themselves more attractive through funding grants provided by the ARC’s Livable Centers Initiative.


David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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  1. Angela Hale March 18, 2013 10:14 pm

    What impact will the political balkanization of the region have on the disparity? Or is it vice versa?Report

    1. The Last Democrat in Georgia March 19, 2013 11:35 am

      {{“What impact will the political balkanization of the region have on the disparity? Or is it vice versa?”}}

      It is likely vice-versa as it is the areas with the most economic affluence and largest enclaves of those filled with members in the “Creative Class” (Sandy Springs, Milton, Johns Creek, Dunwoody, Brookhaven, Peachtree Corners) that have created their own municipal governments in the last decade or so.

      It is these areas with the most economic (and political) affluence and the highest amounts of those of the “Creative Class” whom generally have the most financial and political resources to either escape from the control of dysfunctional county governments by forming their own municipal governments (like a Sandy Springs, Milton, Johns Creek, Dunwoody, Brookhaven and P’tree Corners have recently done) or exert great influence over their local governments (like Buckhead exerts over zoning within the City of Atlanta).Report

  2. Memory March 19, 2013 4:56 pm

    A somewhat more widely heralded scholar noted some time ago that:

    “we really need to look at a combination of forces that
    were transforming the American urban landscape unheralded as early as
    the 1940s and 1950s. Three forces transformed American cities in this
    period. One was the flight of jobs, capital flight, and you see this
    certainly in this area and in Detroit and many other parts of the
    country and the rotting hulks of giant factory buildings that have
    been abandoned by industry over the last half century or so. So, the
    loss of jobs is one. Second, is persistent racial discrimination in
    the workplace. Despite the gains of the Civil Rights Movement, which
    were consequential and important, despite the opening of job
    opportunities to African Americans there still remained persistent and
    really frustrating discrimination across industries that had a
    significant impact on the economic opportunities of blacks, in
    particular. And the third, and this remains in some ways the most
    vexing and unresolved problem in race relations in 20th-century
    America, is residential segregation by race. And there remains in most
    Northern cities a degree of residential separation between blacks and
    whites that would have made the architects of Jim Crow in the South
    happy. That is, the vast majority of whites live in all white
    communities, the vast majority of African Americans live in African-
    American communities that have been subject to depopulation and
    disinvestment. The story of segregation was one that I knew about in
    the abstract, but wasn’t really able to get at the inner workings of
    the process of segregation through my research in Detroit. And I found
    it was a combination of government policy, that is, federal subsidies
    to whites who were moving to the suburbs and to developers who were
    building communities for whites in suburban areas. The actions of real
    estate brokers who played a crucial role in stirring up fears of
    racial integration among white homeowners and an enormous grass-roots
    movement of working-class and middle-class whites who fought intensely
    to preserve the racial homage in 80 of their neighborhoods. So, in
    Detroit in this period—and I’ve subsequently through research found
    that this is true for many other cities in the North as well—there was
    an intense pattern of violent attacks on the first blacks to move into
    formally white neighborhoods. I found through digging, you know,
    rooting through all sorts of obscure records that there were more than
    200 violent incidents in Detroit between the mid-forties and mid-
    sixties targeted against the first black families to move into
    formally all white neighborhoods.”

    Nor was white Atlanta by any means a laggard in such activity :




    Florida’s study also manages to misplace the Atlanta University center by miles .



    *Thomas J. Sugrue, who grew “is associate professor of history and sociology at the
    University of Pennsylvania. Sugrue is the author of numerous articles
    focusing on 20th-century social and urban history, and the book The Origins of the Urban Crisis published by Princeton University Press. The Origins of the Urban Crisis has earned
    accolades from reviewers around the country and the globe; it has
    received numerous awards: the Bancroft Prize, the Philip Taft Prize
    for Labor History, the Social Science History Association’s
    President’s Book Award.Report

  3. shirley March 19, 2013 11:26 pm

    Thanks. I look forward to reading this report. It wasn’t too long ago that few business and civic leaders would have considered Midtown and downtown Atlanta as likely areas of growth or higher wealth. Since I haven’t read the report I am not sure about the Beltline comments. They seem a bit off the mark. Beltline investment in parks, trails and paths started on the southside -east and west- by design and deliberate planning. The notion that the public investment from the Beltline Inc. benefits the north side of the city more than or to the exclusion of the southside, east and west of downtown and midtown isn’t consistent what has happened nor what is planned. I’ll reserve additional comments until I have read the report.Report

  4. Jim March 20, 2013 2:36 pm

    According to “Memory” selective history, all “whites” are prejudicial and racist; period. All people of African origin who are living in USA are absolute victims of “the system”, “white” racism and, as a group of people who can not do anything about political and social paradigms which are perceived by “African Americans” as being oppressive. There are no other descriptions required for this “unjust system” of oppression, period. How can there be progress…Report

  5. Amber March 20, 2016 11:46 pm

    would a steady student be open to hande the responsibilities and pressures a parttime job offer? hullo, Im from Argentina and i lovemaking this pageboy so i wrote my essay most which is improve passion or money, i care whether you could resolve me whether this essay is goodness or not http://canadianessayservice.org To review, According to Succeeding. Writing an essay is winning out a lot of your zip rightfield from trying to occur up with a themeReport


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