Atlanta as a Maturing City


My latest piece is now online over at City Journal. It’s a look at Atlanta, now bouncing back from a very rough 10-12 year period, but looking increasingly like a city that is maturing rather than a go-go boomtown in its hypergrowth phase. Here’s an excerpt:

"Though still growing rapidly, Atlanta’s fortunes have taken a hit in the new century. From 1980 to 2000, metro Atlanta grew in population by an astonishing 82.3 percent, outdistancing Dallas–Fort Worth and Houston. But in the 18 years since 2000, its population growth rate was only 39.6 percent, which trails its Texas peers. Since 2000, the population gap between Houston and Atlanta more than doubled, rising from less than 500,000 to more than 1 million. And growth has continued to slow. From 2000 to 2010, Atlanta’s average annual population growth reached only 2.13 percent, and that has fallen to 1.45 percent since 2010.

Any boomtown, as it reaches maturity, will eventually see a decline in population growth. But in Atlanta, this slowdown has come with troubling economic indicators. The city’s per-capita income as a percentage of the U.S. average declined from 110.5 percent in 2000 to 96.2 percent in 2017. Regional income levels have diverged across America, but what’s more troubling for Atlanta is that its real per-capita GDP started declining in the 2000s, especially during the Great Recession, which hit the city hard. It ranked 42nd out of 52 major metro areas in jobs performance during that era, and per-capita employment in the region fell from 51.2 percent to 40.6 percent from 2000 to 2013. Atlanta added 1 million people but lost jobs in that decade.

The economy turned around in 2013. GDP per capita started growing again, and per-capita incomes relative to the U.S. average started improving as well. Jobs are up 22.4 percent since 2010. Atlanta got great press for its Beltline, a greenway encircling the city along an abandoned rail corridor. Its urban center began growing and gentrifying, in the familiar pattern. The Census Bureau estimates that the city’s population has grown by 16 percent since 2010. Atlanta’s tech industry has blossomed, too, and the city has become an unlikely center for financial technology."

Click through to read the whole thing.

This piece originally appeared on Urbanophile.

Aaron M. Renn is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a contributing editor of City Journal, and an economic development columnist for Governing magazine. He focuses on ways to help America’s cities thrive in an ever more complex, competitive, globalized, and diverse twenty-first century. During Renn’s 15-year career in management and technology consulting, he was a partner at Accenture and held several technology strategy roles and directed multimillion-dollar global technology implementations. He has contributed to The Guardian,, and numerous other publications. Renn holds a B.S. from Indiana University, where he coauthored an early social-networking platform in 1991.

Photo Credit: Mike on Flickr, CC BY 2.0