cities atlanta.jpg

These kids are from Atlanta. I interviewed them in a park during a recent trip I took exploring cities throughout The South. Before we delve into the "urban affairs" take on the city, listen to what they've got to say:

Okay, on to Aaron M. Renn's assessment:

Atlanta is arguably the greatest American urban growth story of the 20th century. In 1950, it was a sleepy state capital in a region of about a million people, not much different from Indianapolis or Columbus, Ohio. Today, it's a teeming region of 5.5 million, the 9th largest in America, home to the world's busiest airport, a major subway system, and numerous corporations. Critically, it also has established itself as the country's premier African American hub at a time of black empowerment.

Though famous for its sprawl, Atlanta has also quietly become one of America's top urban success stories. The city of Atlanta has added nearly 120,000 new residents since 2000, a population increase of 28% representing fully 10% of the region's growth during that period. None of America's traditional premier urban centers can make that claim. As a Chicago city-dweller who did multiple consulting stints in Atlanta, I can tell you the city is much better than its reputation in urbanists circles suggests, and it is a place I could happily live.

Yet the Great Recession has exposed some troubling cracks in the foundations of Atlanta's success. Though perhaps it is too early to declare "game over" for Atlanta, converging trends point to a possible plateauing of Atlanta remarkable rise, and the end of its great growth phase.

In the remainder of the piece, he explains the specific challenges the city faces. Every section is worth reading, so click over. I did want to flag one more assertion: "Atlanta is left as a sort of 'quarter way house' caught between its traditional sprawling self and a more upscale urban metropolis. It offers neither the low traffic quality of life of its upstart competition, nor the sophisticated urban living of a Chicago or Boston."

On my visit, I liked Atlanta, a city that seems easier to accept if you've lived in Los Angeles. But having gone only briefly, I'll just add that it is fascinating how differently cities seem when you talk to residents, on one hand, and read urban affairs analysis from 10,000 feet, on the other hand. I'd love to explore it more in this space from either perspective, so if you're a former or current resident shoot me an e-mail -- what should we understand about Atlanta? What can other American cities learn from it?

The author can be emailed at or messaged on Twitter @conor64