Urban Realities: Some Controversial Aspects of the Atlanta Region's Future

By Downs, Anthony | Brookings Review, Summer 1994 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Urban Realities: Some Controversial Aspects of the Atlanta Region's Future


Downs, Anthony, Brookings Review


When the Atlanta District Council of the Urban Land Institute invited me to offer my views about the future of the Atlanta region, I decided to adopt an unorthodox approach. The Council undoubtedly expected me, as a real estate economist, to address traditional land-use planning and real estate issues. But instead I seized this opportunity to examine what I believe are far more important challenges facing all large U.S. metropolitan areas. This approach is especially appropriate in the Atlanta region, which enjoys unusually favorable conditions compared with most other U.S. metropolitan areas. It has higher incomes, a more attractive physical environment and climate, a better transportation network, more harmonious race relations, and prospects for much faster growth. If any big U.S. metropolitan area can surmount the key problems facing all of them--crime, children being raised in poverty, low-quality public education, lack of regional governance, and huge income disparities between different groups of citizens--Atlanta should be the place. Conversely, if Atlanta can't grapple successfully with its challenges, what U.S. region can?

The Dominant Vision of Future Growth

Like most other American regions, Atlanta has gotten where it is mainly by carrying out certain growth-related policies that have dominated development throughout the nation for the past 40 years. Continuing this nationally prevailing vision--I call it the unlimited low-density vision--of how growth ought to occur seems likely to be the Atlanta region's strategy for the next 20 years as well. This pattern of metropolitan growth is based on pursuit of five key goals or elements. One is widespread ownership of single-family housing extending indefinitely outward from the urban center. Another is almost universal use of private automobiles for movement. Workplaces too are widely scattered and low-density, and all have adjacent free parking. Low-income households are sheltered through the "trickle down" process in which they occupy units originally built for more affluent households. This tends to concentrate the poor in older neighborhoods near each region's center. Supporting the first four elements is a governmental structure that consists of many small and nearly autonomous local governments.

Problems Attendant on Success

Most Atlantans, like most Americans, have benefited from successfully achieving all five goals. Those who haven't--most of the region's poor--are systematically excluded from nonpoor neighborhoods and concentrated in deteriorating inner city areas. And all Atlantans face certain directly growth-related problems unexpectedly generated by their success at attaining those five goals. The problems are traffic congestion, difficulties in financing roads and sewage systems, shortages of affordable housing in growth areas, air pollution, difficulty locating airports and landfills, and shortages of recreational space.

Unlimited low-density metropolitan growth takes place through an uncoordinated, seemingly almost random set of local public policies and individual private actions carried out by separate governments and private parties. This process of "disjointed incrementalism" is cherished by many Americans, who reject the ideas of coordination and planning as almost forms of socialism. But none of the growth-related problems every region is now encountering can be solved by fragmented local governments, each acting to maximize the interests of its own citizens without regard for the rest of the region. All the problems are essentially areawide in nature, so coping with them will require much greater planning and coordination among the region's many governmental bodies. Failure to develop adequate mechanisms for regionwide decisionmaking is the first fundamental flaw in continuing the presently dominant vision of how growth should happen.

The second flaw is that Atlanta's growth strategy focuses far too much on physical and economic activities and far too little on critical social issues.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Urban Realities: Some Controversial Aspects of the Atlanta Region's Future
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?