Atlanta: the New Orleans of tomorrow?

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  1. A better parallel might be Detroit.
    If the burbs succeed, Atlanta is likely to run into serious financial problems and go into a decline. And if you think you can have a long-term healthy metro area while the center city becomes increasingly depopulated, decrepit, and dangerous, well… Detroit!

  2. The difference though is that Detroit is in a state with a declining population and has trouble recruiting new jobs. Georgia is part of the growing southern states and will still retain its “money” population if they split the county.
    It took a hurricane and loss of life for New Orleans to think much about reform (even if it is still lacking serious action) and I would prefer a debate about a new county force reform on local government than a historic natural disaster. The county may have enough problems that it would just be better for it to be split for it to realize what needs to be done.
    While race is an obvious debate issue in this story, I think another is more applicable to the future of American cities. It is the question of when is local government too big. At some point, a city is too large for comfort, but when is that?

  3. Actually, at this point, it’s doubtful whether or not the Milton County initiative will succeed. During the 2006 elections, voters approved a referendum to create the cities of Milton and Johns Creek, which will allow more money from the suburban areas that aren’t in cities (Alpharetta and Roswell, specifically) to be used on local initiatives.
    One of the more convincing (and less obviously money-oriented) arguments is the shape of the county. When Milton County ceased to exist in the ’30s, neighboring Cobb County had to cede the city of Roswell to Fulton in order for the new county to even be contiguous. (Check out the Wikipedia article to see what it looks like — the old Milton County is clearly visible at the top of Fulton).
    Despite the arguments, it will require a constitutional amendment to pull off (since the number of counties is currently fixed). But you shouldn’t put anything past Republicans in the state of Georgia. And yes, they do want to be “emancipated” from Atlanta just for the reasons you mention — Atlanta is poor and black.

  4. Jack asked: [W]hen is local government too big. At some point, a city is too large for comfort, but when is that?
    That’s certainly relevant, and not just to this post. Population projections make it obvious that the future holds more of these questions, not less. Urban planners have been trying to address this for years (decades), with little success, as businesses continue to center up in the center of large cities, and the people spread ever-outward.
    Patrick’s wikipedia link to the shape of the county was helpful (thanks) — and there’s an obvious argument there. Ultimately, though, it appears that the problem boils down to a) the money wanting to detach from the non-moneyed area so they can b) direct their own funds locally.
    No doubt if the urban area was poor white instead of poor black, the headlines would read differently — but pulling $ out would have the same net impact on the poorer area. While I suspect there are people who do, in fact, leap into these types of frays only to bait on the grounds of race, that doesn’t negate the underlying reality… nor (unfortunately for those in the area) the perception of those of us who read about it.

  5. I lived in metro Atlanta all my adult life, including north Fulton County and Atlanta proper. I also worked for Fulton County government for a number of years. The people in the north end are hacked off about high taxes and terrible, terrible service from their County government. The area called “Milton” didn’t even have a representative on the County Commission until about 20 years ago -yet they paid property taxes and utility fees to a government they couldn’t even vote on. It wasn’t just libraries and unpopular zonings, either. Ambulances would get lost on the way to calls because the County didn’t upgrade their 911 communication equipment. People got mad enough, and stayed mad enough, to do something about it, but I can tell you first-hand, if Fulton County had delivered equitable service and kept taxes low, Milton County wouldn’t be an issue.
    And if Patrick thinks Atlanta is “poor and black” he should consider buying a house in a section of Atlanta called “Buckhead.” I don’t know where y”all live, but in Atlanta, “black” does not equal “poor.” Ask Hank Aaron, Dallas Austin, OutKast, Evander Holyfield, Bishop Eddie Long or ask any member of the African American middle class (one of the biggest and wealthiest in the nation) who lives here.

  6. Hi Mike —
    Atlanta’s reputation as a thriving community for middle class African Americans is well known. It is, in large part, why I used New Orleans as the point of reference instead of other places.
    New Orleans, too, has (or rather, had) a black middle class, but New Orleans East itself wasn’t enough to keep NOLA from the poverty that led to its decline. But leaving race aside — I can’t actually imagine any fiscal situation where removing nearly half the funds would result in an outcome other than disaster in the long term.

  7. Atlanta is Atlanta. It is not Detroit or New Orleans, and the ignorance of that by bloggers and the AP is pretty striking. One of the underdescribed demographic trends here is the dramatic gentrification of in-town neighborhoods, which is going on at warp speed. The area around MLK’s birthplace is now majority white, and full of lofts and condos. My $150,000 house is now worth $550,000.
    “Milton County” has been underserved for years, as the majority of people in Fulton do not live there or share the general GOP outlook of that region. Also, the folks believe they won’t have to pay for services they don’t use (the rapid transit system — the public health system) if they secede. Race is not really motivating this — it’s taxes.

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