May 9, 2014

Atlanta: Sprawl and the New Poverty

I’ve always been fascinated by Atlanta, Georgia – by some measures, the sprawliest city in America.

There’s been a spate of articles on the region (as big as Massachusetts!) in the last few days – notably this one in Politico by Rebecca Burns:



 If the old story of poverty in America was crumbling inner cities and drug-addled housing projects, the new story is increasingly one of downscale strip malls and long bus rides in search of ever-scarcer jobs. We can’t understand what’s working in America’s cities unless we also look at what’s not working in the vast suburbs that surround them. …

Designed around a car-centric culture of single-family homes clustered in cul-de-sacs served by strip centers and shopping malls, and fueled by jobs reached by commuting to downtown or suburban office parks, suburbs like Cobb County have struggled to respond to denser populations, increased congestion and, as a result of the 2008 recession, a decline in the middle-class jobs that made it all possible.

Suburban Atlanta voters, including in Cobb County, have consistently rejected mass transit that might relieve their car dependency. And county zoning ordinances have continued to favor single-family housing over denser development, exacerbating the problem for the poor who are clustered there in ever greater numbers.

Full story here.


Atlantic Cities provides a supplemental perspective: By 2011, Atlanta Had Demolished All of Its Public Housing Projects. Where Did All Those People Go?

And Robert Robert Bruegmann provides a rebuttal in Politico Sprawl Is Good for You.  Why urban yuppies have it all wrong.



Posted in


If you love this region and have a view to its future please subscribe, donate, or become a Patron.

Share on


  1. In the 21st century we will see whether sprawl wins out. I’m placing a huge bet (by virtue of how I’m choosing to live my life) that it will not. So far, I’d say the signs are in my favour.

  2. I go to Atlanta regularly for work – I’ve spent probably about 9 months there over the past 6 years. It really is like being in a whole other world. The West Coast world we live in here bears no resemblance to the daily reality for folks in the Atlanta area.

    The whole city has grown without a shred of forward thinking or urban planning towards making the region work together as a whole and it shows big time. Couple that with development policies that don’t seem to in any way favour redevelopment of existing properties rather than mowing down more trees for something new and you end up with huge sprawling abandoned “big box stores” with their acres of parking lots sitting vacant:

    That would just be unheard of here…