Metro Atlanta loses major ground on attracting young & educated, but there’s a silver lining

A New York Times piece titled “Where Young College Graduates Are Choosing to Live" is getting a lot of attention in Atlanta this week. It covers a new report that shows Metro Atlanta to be losing major ground in its ability to attract the young and educated — specifically, college-educated people age 25 to 34.

In the graph below of “percent change in the number of college graduates aged 25 to 34, from 2000 to 2012,” you can see Atlanta near the bottom, alongside Cleveland, Detroit and Providence.image

The reason this is so surprising is that, in the 1990s, Atlanta was near the top of this chart. This is a distinct turnaround for the region. A quote from the NYT:

"Atlanta, one of the biggest net gainers of young graduates in the 1990s, has taken a sharp turn. Its young, educated population has increased just 2.8 percent since 2000, significantly less than its overall population. It is suffering the consequences of overenthusiasm for new houses and new jobs before the crash, economists say."

Atlanta boomed in the 1990s, big time. According to this NYT article from 2006, it was a leader in young-population growth due to a rise in both jobs and affordable housing throughout the metro.

But the bigger they come, the harder they fall — and the fallout from the bursting of the housing bubble and the economic recession was harsh. Along with the hundreds of thousands of jobs that were lost in the region, a mortgage crisis made Atlanta a poster child for sprawling growth gone bad. The attraction for young, educated people proved to be unsustainable. 

This all sounds fairly grim, but there’s a silver lining in the numbers, I promise. 

The 3-mile radius story: a loss for the metro, but a gain intown

The raw data from the report that the NYT piece is writing about shows something very interesting: the loss in ground in the region was offset by a significant 39% rise in the young-and-educated population in what the report calls “close-in neighborhoods” — places that are within a 3-mile radius of downtown Atlanta.

In a post on ajc.com, Jay Bookman points out these nuances to the story:

Those familiar with the housing growth and changing demographics of intown Atlanta — an explosion of bars and apartments and restaurants and condos, with young professionals driving the change — may find those Census-derived numbers hard to believe.

…Almost all of metro Atlanta’s increase in young, college-educated professionals has been concentrated within a three-mile radius of downtown. Outside of that inner core, there was no growth whatsoever in the number of college-educated young people, even as the overall population grew substantially.

And while some might be tempted to read this as failure (“look at what a small portion of the region this is that’s attracting educated young people”), I’ll optimistically say that there’s a great opportunity for change in the region by adopting the growth practices that have been successful intown.

Atlanta Beltline: a new pattern for success

The Atlanta Beltline has been a powerful tool for changing the way people think about developing land and living intown. The BeltLine’s series of paths and parks stitch together (or at least will someday when fully completed) 45 close-in neighborhoods, all within a two- to four-mile radius of Downtown.

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See how nicely that fits in with the growth in the young-and-educated we’re seeing within that 3-mile radius of Downtown?

Look at the birds-eye rendering above of the Beltline. This pattern for growth hits all the right notes, and the educated young people of today know it. It has pedestrian/cycling infrastructure, transit access, walkable density and all the amenities needed for urban life.

For good urbanism, it’s important to make sure that amenities like parks, restaurants, grocery stores and more are all reachable by multiple transportation modes. But it’s also important for attracting young people; as you’ve probably seen in the many news reports on the issue, Millennials are particularly keen on transit access and are, in general, not embracing the car-centric culture and environments of the past. 

A movement toward good urbanism and alternative transportation in the core of the City of Atlanta has coincided with and encouraged a rise in the population of educated young people. The rest of the region can take cues from this success by viewing car-centric sprawl as a thing of the past and moving toward a better future. 

That moment when you realize car-centric sprawl was planned intentionally and was mandated by zoning laws — a social/economic experiment that allowed for a segregation of classes and a quick return on the development of cheap land. 

And that future generations are now left with the task of correcting the environmental and social damage of that sprawl.

So funny!! :) have a great day!

That moment when you realize car-centric sprawl was planned intentionally and was mandated by zoning laws — a social/economic experiment that allowed for a segregation of classes and a quick return on the development of cheap land.

And that future generations are now left with the task of correcting the environmental and social damage of that sprawl.

So funny!! :) have a great day!

Tags: sprawl

Metro Atlanta: poster child for carbon emissions
This marks at least the third time I’ve posted a variation of this Metro Atlanta vs Barcelona graphic. It’s getting annoying to see it so often in the media, but it looks like this is the new normal for Atlanta. We used to be the “poster child for sprawl,” which was a more general condemnation of our metro’s sprawling, car-centric development pattern.
But now writers are getting more specific and cutting us to the core with the details: sprawling Metro Atlanta is now the poster child for carbon emissions per capita (among other things such as suburban poverty and low transit mobility for seniors), due entirely to our inefficient, low-density built environment.
The Washington Post has a new story on our carbon problem, focusing on the tons of emissions from transportation:

As you can see in the graphic from the World Resources Institute…the literal footprint of a city and the carbon footprint of its transportation — are intimately linked. The more spread-out an urban area, the more likely its residents are to run even the most routine errands by car, producing vehicle emissions. The more compact it is, the less distance residents need to travel every day, and the easier — and cheaper — it is to build public transit.

This is big news currently because of studies from the Global Carbon Project which show that, worldwide, emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide jumped more than ever in 2013. And just this week, about 300,000 people convened to protest climate change and carbon emissions in New York City, where a UN summit on climate change is taking place.
The world is eager to point out and shame the worst offenders of carbon pollution — a  situation that puts car-crazy Metro Atlanta , apparently, in the spotlight.

Metro Atlanta: poster child for carbon emissions

This marks at least the third time I’ve posted a variation of this Metro Atlanta vs Barcelona graphic. It’s getting annoying to see it so often in the media, but it looks like this is the new normal for Atlanta. We used to be the “poster child for sprawl,” which was a more general condemnation of our metro’s sprawling, car-centric development pattern.

But now writers are getting more specific and cutting us to the core with the details: sprawling Metro Atlanta is now the poster child for carbon emissions per capita (among other things such as suburban poverty and low transit mobility for seniors), due entirely to our inefficient, low-density built environment.

The Washington Post has a new story on our carbon problem, focusing on the tons of emissions from transportation:

As you can see in the graphic from the World Resources Institute…the literal footprint of a city and the carbon footprint of its transportation — are intimately linked.

The more spread-out an urban area, the more likely its residents are to run even the most routine errands by car, producing vehicle emissions. The more compact it is, the less distance residents need to travel every day, and the easier — and cheaper — it is to build public transit.

This is big news currently because of studies from the Global Carbon Project which show that, worldwide, emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide jumped more than ever in 2013. And just this week, about 300,000 people convened to protest climate change and carbon emissions in New York City, where a UN summit on climate change is taking place.

The world is eager to point out and shame the worst offenders of carbon pollution — a  situation that puts car-crazy Metro Atlanta , apparently, in the spotlight.

"[Furguson] was simply the place where a flashpoint exposed the tragedy of American inner-ring suburbs, conspired against by large-scale migration and development trends…the suburban sprawl machine that created the inner-ring suburbs in the first place continues to expand, making newer, more desirable places even further from downtown."

The death of America’s suburban dream : The events in Ferguson, Missouri reveal the ‘resegregation’ of America’s once-aspirational inner suburbs, which – far from the social utopias they were meant to be – have become ethnic enclaves: white in one pocket, black in another | The Guardian, 9/5/2014

Housing and transportation costs — as a percentage of income — are higher in sprawling metros like Atlanta
As a companion to my recent post “The affordability swindle: why living in sunbelt sprawl actually costs more" — here’s a great graphic from a post on Reuters’ Data Dive blog titled "The expense of sprawl.”
It shows the percentage of household income (that’s the horizontal metric) that’s spent on average, within each of these metro areas, on a combo of housing and transportation costs. And yes, it says “cities” but it means metros — pet peeve of mine. The blue part is housing and the green part is transpo.
Take a look at where sprawling places like Atlanta and Phoenix fall on the chart. On average, people in Metro Atlanta spend a higher percentage of wages on housing/transpo costs than people in more compact, walkable places like NYC.
Of course, you have to take into account that average wages in NYC are higher. But is it possible that those high wages are possible as a result of some innate benefit to local economies brought on by that compact, walkable environment? Could be.

Housing and transportation costs — as a percentage of income — are higher in sprawling metros like Atlanta

As a companion to my recent post “The affordability swindle: why living in sunbelt sprawl actually costs more" — here’s a great graphic from a post on Reuters’ Data Dive blog titled "The expense of sprawl.

It shows the percentage of household income (that’s the horizontal metric) that’s spent on average, within each of these metro areas, on a combo of housing and transportation costs. And yes, it says “cities” but it means metros — pet peeve of mine. The blue part is housing and the green part is transpo.

Take a look at where sprawling places like Atlanta and Phoenix fall on the chart. On average, people in Metro Atlanta spend a higher percentage of wages on housing/transpo costs than people in more compact, walkable places like NYC.

Of course, you have to take into account that average wages in NYC are higher. But is it possible that those high wages are possible as a result of some innate benefit to local economies brought on by that compact, walkable environment? Could be.

The affordability swindle: why living in sunbelt sprawl actually costs more

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Sprawl apologists like Joel Kotkin like to trumpet the continuing population shift to sunbelt metros of the southern US as proof that people prefer to live in these car-centric places that are spread out far and wide — as opposed to compact, walkable cities.

Others believe that there’s a draw to sunbelt states because of pro-business, low-regulation policies that allow for better wages. New York Time columnist Paul Krugman recently wrote an excellent piece that counters that argument, pointing out that, though the population shift is undeniable:

[From 2000-2012] greater Atlanta’s population grew almost 27 percent, and greater Houston’s grew almost 30 percent. America’s center of gravity is shifting south and west.

…this shift to the sunbelt isn’t due to wages:

The average job in greater Houston pays 12 percent less than the average job in greater New York; the average job in greater Atlanta pays 22 percent less.

In other words, what the facts really suggest is that Americans are being pushed out of the Northeast (and, more recently, California) by high housing costs rather than pulled out by superior economic performance in the Sunbelt.

The other draw that sunbelt metros are assumed to have is lower costs of living due to more affordable housing. And though the houses themselves may be lower in price, a new study shows that overall living costs are actually higher in these sprawling, car-centric areas due to transportation spending. Kaid Benfield has the info here: How Transit, Walkability Help Make Cities More Affordable.

A quote from Benfield:

The least affordable cities when housing and transportation costs are combined and compared to typical household income turn out to be sprawling, Sun Belt cities:  Riverside, California; Miami; and Jacksonville.  Those three cities also have the study’s highest transportation costs for a typical household, because of high rates of driving and relatively low use of mass transit.

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So even though lower home prices are an obvious draw to sunbelt metros — and appear to be the sole reason behind the population shift — these prices aren’t low enough to truly provide a cost-of-living advantage over more walkable cities when we factor in the big costs of car-centric living.

Places that are more compact and walkable offer more transportation choices, rather than tying all residents to expensive car mobility. Additionally, they provide a built environment that gives multiple generations of residents the ability to get around without a car.

As I’ve written before, when we build car-sprawl for the middle-class car owners of today, we’re also building environments that will be eventually devalued by the common trends of the real estate market and that will likely be housing the low-income populations of the future. It’s better to pass along walkable environments to future inhabitants of our places than saddling yet another generation with car dependency.

The answer to a more sustainable pattern of housing affordability is not to accept car-centric sprawl as inevitable — it’s to find ways to create lower housing costs inside walkable environments and encourage a population shift within that format.

Top photo of Atlanta suburbs by Flickr user Maik

Bottom photo of Atlanta traffic by Flickr user Craig Allen

Is that me? Talking about sprawl? Well I’ll be…

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The nice people at WABE asked me to appear in a short segment for their City Cafe radio series recently. It aired this week and you can stream it online here:

Clearing Up Where Atlanta Stands on Sprawl. No, Really.

The talk is based on a post I wrote about the confusing reports we’ve seen regarding Atlanta’s sprawl this year. In a nutshell: though metro Atlanta is the king of existing low-density sprawl among large US metros due to past expansion, it is no longer sprawling like it did. It is, in fact, doing quite a good job at urban infill these days, thanks very much.

The post on WABE’s site contains an interesting graphic that they found. It shows how metro Atlanta’s land mass, which contains 5.5 million people, could easily house eight world cities with a combined population of well over 100 million.

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This is not to say that metro Atlanta needs to shoot for that level of density, but it’s interesting to note what an inefficient use we’re making of this sprawled-out area — and to think about how this low density figures into our public transportation struggles. More on that in an upcoming post.