Something I think the city could use is some kind of explicit population growth target. That might help structure people’s thinking about specific development issues. The city’s peak population came around 1950 when about 800,000 people lived here. And the population of the United States as a whole was only 150 million back then. Given that the national population has doubled since then and continues to grow, it seems to me that a District with aspirations should be hoping to see a over a million people living here a few decades hence.I wonder if this wouldn't be a good idea for the city of Atlanta.
Atlanta's population peaked in the 70's at around 500,000, so we are about back to our peak population right now. There are 5.5 million people in the MSA currently, and the ARC shows that increasing to 8.2 million by 2040. What is a realistic portion of that number that should live in the city?
Presently it is about 9%. ARC puts the city at 603,000 in 2030, which is a more like 8% of the regional population (which should be 7,378,000 in 2030). Where are an addition 240,000 or so people going to live within the city limits? When you start trying to find room for another 240,000 people, it makes arguing over eight stories at Monroe and 10th seem pretty silly.
Should the city set a goal of 20% of the metro population living in the city proper? That would be 1.6 million people in 2040. What would we need to do to triple the city's population in thirty years, beyond getting our government in shape? What level of infrastructure - road, sewers, transit - would we need to invest in to make this happen?
I think (hope?) that the city planning department and politicians consider this sort of stuff, but I don't think the population at large does. Maybe it isn't realistic to expect an extra 240,000 people to move into the city, much less an extra 1.1 million. Perhaps realistically, you could aim for 15% of the region's population. That would still still mean an extra 740,000 people or so. If we are serious about Atlanta regaining its position as the employment and cultural center of the region, doesn't that mean taking on a greater share of the population? Personally, I want leaders who set ambitious goals like that, and then try and figure out exactly how we are going to get there.
I also think it is good for regular folks to consider these numbers and what it means for Atlanta's growth. You can't advocate for a walkable Atlanta that competes with the rest of the region for employment and cultural amenities without considering what it actually will mean for the physical make-up of your own neighborhood. Perhaps the population growth will occur in other areas (e.g. gentrifying south and west Atlanta), but I don't see how Midtown, Virginia-Highland, et al escape the next twenty or thirty years unchanged like many residents here seem to expect.