The imbalance of metro Atlanta’s growth shows we must focus on human and physical needs

By Saba Long

During the second half of the 20th century Atlanta experienced the demographic and political shifts caused by white flight.

In contrast, during the first two decades of the 21st century, Atlanta could be remembered for its class and economic moves when the pendulum swung the other way. Rather than being in the news for “little Vietnam,” Atlanta is reveling in celebrity-chef restaurant opening, enjoying corporate relocations to the central city and rebounding in the rankings for top metro areas.

Yet, this booming growth is not being felt across the Atlanta region.

The Atlanta Regional Commission recently held the first of a forum series “Building Opportunity: A Conversation on Poverty and Transportation Access in Metro Atlanta” to begin tackling the region’s equity challenge.

As a Brookings Institute study notes, the Atlanta region’s growth problem is much more than that of too-rapid suburban growth: it is a problem of unbalanced growth between the northern and southern parts of the region.

USA equality map

Studies show location matters when climbing the equality ladder. (Source: New York Times)

In just a decade, the region’s poor population has more than doubled.

Metropolitan affordability is indexed on housing and transportation costs, which combined should make up less than 30 percent of the household budget. The chief economist for the National Association of Realtors predicts home sales, prices and rents will all increase in 2015 partly because of rising mortgage rates.

As high-paying job growth continues to remain concentrated in the northern part of the region, corporations either relocate near MARTA rail stations or to car-dependent areas such as Gwinnett, Cobb and north Fulton.

Data shows only 17 percent of jobs are accessible by transit for suburban metro Atlanta residents and 33 percent for those living in the city.

To put our sprawl in context, the broader 20-county metro region covers more land than the entire state of Massachusetts. Yet, we lack commuter rail – an affordable alternative to multi-county commuting – and we have not been expanding our transit network, nor have we properly invested in road infrastructure.

Even while being ranked as one of the most expensive states for car ownership, Georgia’s citizenry routinely balks at the notion of willingly contributing more money to get us all moving faster, safer and with less stress. The opportunity costs of foregoing transportation investments are linked to the public’s purchasing power.

The Brooking Institute’s report points out that poverty drives up the cost of providing other services like police, schools, courts and fire protection. According to two Wharton scholars, they concluded in the study that “this reduces the resources cities have to serve non-poor residents and increases the tax rates they have to charge all their residents.”

As poverty within a school district starts to increase, the more affluent families overwhelmingly make the decision to relocate to schools with lower proportions of low-income children.

While elected officials are set to debate an approach to address our infrastructure needs, the next frontier is how to invest in human capital.

In both cases, the question we should be asking is, “What is the business case to invest in our human and physical infrastructure needs?”

Saba Long is a communications and political professional who lives in downtown Atlanta. She serves as the senior council aide and communications liaison for Post 2 At-Large Atlanta City Councilman Aaron Watson. Most recently, Saba was the press secretary for MAVEN and Untie Atlanta -- the Metro Chamber’s education and advocacy campaigns in supportive of the Atlanta Regional Transportation Referendum. She has consulted with H.E.G. an analytics and evaluation firm where she lent strategic marketing and social media expertise to numerous political campaigns, including that of Fulton County Chairman John Eaves and the 2010 Clayton County transportation referendum. In 2009, Saba served as the deputy campaign manager for the campaign of City Council President Ceasar Mitchell. Previously, Saba was a Junior Account Executive at iFusion Marketing, where she lent fractional marketing strategy to various ATDC technology startups operating out of the Georgia Tech incubator, ATDC. For the past two years, Saba has presented on online marketing and politics to the incoming fellows of the Atlanta chapter of the New Leaders Council.

6 replies
  1. Burroughston Broch says:

    “During the second half of the 20th century Atlanta experienced the demographic and political shifts caused by white flight.”
    You neglect to consider shifts caused by (1) well-to-do black flight to the suburbs and (2) poor black flight to outside the City of Atlanta due to the Atlanta Housing Authority closing its housing projects.
    I suggest you take a comprehensive look.Report

    Reply
  2. David Cater says:

    I think it’s worth noting that sometimes people vote against those investments not because they are against them philosophically, but because they don’t trust that the funds will be used wisely or that public officials will be good shepherds of those additonal funds. I think Atlanta is improving in that area. The more city officials can show they are capable of planning and executing major projects in a frugal and professional way while avoiding corruption issues that have plagued the city in the past, the more willing voters will be to get on board.Report

    Reply

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