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.
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 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.