Why Atlanta needs help from the ‘other Georgia’

The goods shipped to and from Savannah's port all boost Georgia's economy. (AJC Photo / Brant Sanderlin)

The goods shipped to and from Savannah’s port are a vital element of Georgia’s economy. (AJC Photo / Brant Sanderlin)

When Nathan Deal became governor almost five years ago, Georgia was the 10th-largest state by population. Today it’s ranked eighth. In 2040, given current growth trajectories nationwide, an additional 4 million Georgians will push our state past Ohio, Pennsylvania and possibly Illinois to the top five.

Let me make a prediction now: If the vast majority of those 4 million people try to cram themselves into metro Atlanta, a great many of them — and us — will wish they never came.

Practically speaking, there is no way it can continue to absorb such a disproportionate share of the growth of the state’s population or economy. Understand, this is a pro-Atlanta sentiment. The capital region will always be Georgia’s population hub and biggest economic engine. But we already have a huge task of marshalling resources just to catch up with the growth we’ve already experienced and haven’t accommodated. We’ll be truly swamped if some of the growth doesn’t go elsewhere.

You already know about traffic around Atlanta. So consider another example: the size of high schools.

Before 2000, the Georgia High School Association placed its members in just four classifications: A through AAAA. Since then it has added a 5A division, then a 6A, and starting next fall a 7A. In that largest classification, enrollments range from 2,092 to 3,998. Only four of the 48 mega-schools in 7A are outside metro Atlanta; there are five just in Forsyth County.

The 131 counties outside metro Atlanta have 22 schools in either 6A or 7A. Gwinnett County alone has 19, four of which have opened since 2009.

It’s not only that the resources required to build ever more, and larger, schools might be put to other uses. Our one-sided growth tends to attract still more Georgians toward the metro region, exacerbating the strain on the region and the drain on the rest of the state.

There are bright spots elsewhere. Savannah and Brunswick have seen tremendous growth through their ports and should continue to do so. Augusta is beginning to capitalize on the Army’s decision to put its Cyber Command at Fort Gordon, attracting private defense contractors. Macon, after decades of shrinking, is starting to see a reversal thanks to “the three M’s”: Mercer University, medicine and the military.

But it will take all this and more, in places like Athens and Rome and Albany, to relieve some of the growth pains Atlanta continues to suffer. Atlanta may never have intrastate counterweights the way the largest cities in states like Texas and Florida do. But it would be nice to be more like North Carolina, which has four metro areas larger than Georgia’s second-biggest.

The big question, of course, is how to achieve more balance. Some solutions are already in the works, from rethinking public education to building out road and rail infrastructure so people and goods needn’t pass through Atlanta if that’s not their destination. Some solutions are still being sought, such as shoring up health care in rural areas.

And some will have to come from the next crop of state leaders, in business as well as politics. Candidates in the latter group would do well to put some real thought into this question between now and 2018.

Reader Comments 0

16 comments
iwd
iwd

Mr.Wingfield,

I am afraid you don't seem to understand the basic fundamentals of regional growth and development. You seem to pose an option of directing growth away from metropolitan Atlanta towards smaller, distant cities and metros. It doesn't work that way. The jobs and people that might come to metro Atlanta are not choosing between Atlanta and Macon. They are choosing between Atlanta and Charlotte, or Atlanta and Nashville, or Atlanta and Miami. Secondary cities like Macon or Columbus may be competing among each other, or may be simply just slowly growing or declining, but it is not a question of directing Atlanta's population to these places. Most folks (and their jobs) who settle in Atlanta  would never have these smaller cities on their radar at all.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@iwd "it is not a question of directing Atlanta's population to these places."

I agree, and if my piece left that impression, then I erred. I am talking about making these other cities more competitive so that they can attract new industries and residents, not trying to simply direct potential Atlantans to them with something like a PR campaign.

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

Who are all these people coming to Atlanta? Are they refugees, or people looking for handouts? Or are they planning on working for a living?

If it's the latter, the infrastructure problems should mostly solve themselves thanks to all the new tax revenue the newcomers will pay.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

"Some solutions are already in the works, from rethinking public education to building out road and rail infrastructure so people and goods needn’t pass through Atlanta if that’s not their destination."

How about transit in Atlanta? More capacity? Add a railcar. Buses will be trapped in traffic unless you build managed lanes on every Interstate and major Arterials. 


As for the schools, should we be investing our money in companies that build trailers?


By the way, good column.

Stuffy
Stuffy

I was born and raised in the SW part of the state, Thomasville to be exact. T'ville is a lovely little city but if you are not into football and church, you can be left feeling a little left out. Plus the strident right-wing politics can be frustrating to those of us who desire representation in our government.

Another problem is economics. Relative to the average income of the area, housing is ecpensive, moreso than Atlanta if you are comparing apples. That's why so many people down there live in mobile homes.

Plus income inequality is much more obvious there. You are either doing very well down there or barely scraping there thanks to disappearance of manufacturing jobs etc.

Finally, the transportation infrastructure of this state needs to be fixed. It is simply difficult to gey around once you get off the interstates due to having to creep through multiple small towns at slow rate of speed. High speed rail from population centers around the state would help a lot of these issues.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@Stuffy In dealing with planning in the SW corner of the state, the main problem is that new businesses (that never make the move) and their management can't answer: What is there to do after work and with our families? Football season lasts 3 months. What do they do for the other 9 except shoo gnats?

Bruno2
Bruno2

Kyle: "You already know about traffic around Atlanta."

Any time I start missing living in metro Atlanta, a quick weekend visit reminds me why I like day-to-day life better in Columbus.  Rush hour in Atlanta used to be from 4:30-5:30 in the afternoon and only during the week.  Now you take your chances even on a Saturday night.  I'm not sure what was going on around 14th and Peachtree this Sat, but it took 4 light changes to get through each intersection.  Very frustrating.

Of course, you will always have folks like Ivg and your counterpart, Jay Bookman, who claim that all of this congestion would magically disappear if we would only sink 10 or 12 trillion dollars building subways and constructing bus routes that no one really wishes to use due to the inconvenience.  The bottom line is that moving millions of people per day around to various out-of-the-way places within the city can never be done efficiently.  As such, I think Kyle's idea of encouraging de-centralization ultimately makes more sense.


Of course, from what some of our other bloggers tell us, getting people to move to Albany might be a challenge unto itself......  ; > }

Stuffy
Stuffy

Oh how simple! Just move 'em around the state, what a great idea. Forget mass transit. Just move the people to Columbus!!

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@Stuffy Isn't that the same plan for Syrian refugees...put them in convenient camps and/or move them around to somewhere else?

lvg
lvg

Funny Kyle uses  name Atlanta to discuss regional population growth. GOP and state government has done everything possible to limit Atlanta's ability to solve regional problems  like other major cities in US. Power has been steadily taken away from Atlanta with more local governments, gerrymandering, MARTA bashing etc.Kinda reminds me of News media saying Atlanta was responsible for snow jam disaster before Reed went on air saying "not us". 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@lvg "Funny Kyle uses  name Atlanta to discuss regional population growth."

Actually, in almost every instance I used "metro Atlanta." What would you call it?

Bruno2
Bruno2

@lvg Out of curiosity, Ivg, what other cities would you consider to have effectively solved their growth problems??  I was just in San Fran a couple of months ago and used the public transportation system.  A bus ride from Bernal Heights to Chinatown took more than 30 minutes due to all of the stops.  By car, the same ride would be around 10 minutes.  We won't even talk about the crazy folks I had to deal with on the bus......

lvg
lvg

@Kyle_Wingfield @lvg Kyle:

"""It will take all this and more, in places like Athens and Rome and Albany, to relieve some of the growth pains Atlanta continues to suffer. Atlanta may never have intrastate counterweights the way the largest cities in states like Texas and Florida do. But it would be nice to be more like North Carolina, which has four metro areas larger than Georgia’s second-biggest.""""""

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@lvg From my previous comment: "in almost every instance"

Are you really going to be pedantic about this, or do you have a real point?

lvg
lvg

@Bruno2 @lvg If you have not noticed most young people in the Atlanta area want  to live in the city which is why construction is booming for condos and apartments in Atlanta. Transportation is not an issue if you live in the city and take MARTA. We just need it to expand to more areas. City schools are expanding too meaning the burbs is not the chosen location for young families

lvg
lvg

@Kyle_Wingfield @lvg Practically everyone  agrees MARTA needs to expand North as well as South. State government requires local jurisdictions approve for county to get funding. Why would heavily Republican Johns Creek oppose any MARTA expansion with one cent sales tax money, state funding and federal funding? If Atlanta had been allowed to expand North this would not be an issue.  Again the largest city in the state has little say in regional problems.