Rising From the Ashes, Again

More later on my quietude of the last week – including on the challenges (and wisdom…?) of making multiple law review submissions in a single season – but for now, an interesting post from the New York Times‘ Economix blog.

It’s not every day that Atlanta makes it into the Times.  (I wasn’t quite sure the editors had heard of it!)  A near-paean to it under the headline Betting on Atlanta was thus a welcome surprise.  And coming, as it did, under the byline of Harvard economist Edward Glaeser– whose work I’d previously known only via his collaborations with Andrei Shleifer and the rest of the LLSV crowd on legal origins – was icing on the cake.

Beyond the gratification of my instincts that Atlanta has become a great city on many counts, including its diversity and integration, its embrace of globalization, its cuisine and arts scene, and the quality of its urban living more generally, though, a few points from Glaeser’s lengthy post particularly stood out.

One was the peculiarity of the city’s geography.  Unlike most major metropolitan areas in the country, Atlanta does not sit on a significant waterway.  It emerged in the mid-1800’s, instead, out of the railroad depot built at the intersection of a handful of significant train lines.  (Hence its original name, Terminus.)

Even more interesting, I thought, was the strikingly high level of education in the city – a notable fact, given Georgia’s perennial lagging in many measures of primary and secondary school education.  Between units of the University of Georgia, Georgia State, Morehouse, Spelman, Georgia Tech, Emory, and other colleges and universities, though, it turns out that nearly 43 percent of adults in the city have a college degree.  Doesn’t sound like all that much?  Compare it to 27 percent nationwide, and only 41 percent in the city of Boston.

Finally, there was Glaeser’s insight that a critical feature in Atlanta’s growth and success to date – and a promising indicator supporting his “bet” on Atlanta – was the availability of housing.  Given no natural borders limiting the construction of new housing and, as Glaeser reports, fairly liberal zoning rules, housing prices could remain relatively low, even as the city experienced one of the largest population influxes of any city in the country over the last decade.

All told, these and other factors add up to Glaeser’s happy conclusion:  “Smart money never bets against the ability of a huge concentration of smart people to weather an economic storm.  Don’t count Atlanta out.”

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2 Responses

  1. Matt says:

    My first-hand experience in Atlanta mostly consists of air-port transfers and driving through the city the day that Fred McGriff set the stadium on fire many years ago, but the last bit Glaeser mentions points me towards something about it that would worry me if I were to rank it as a great city. Sprawl seems to be awful for cities, especially when they are dependent on car travel, and density is usually great for them. Does Atlanta manage to be dense enough to support good culture, and to avoid the dead centers that are common in cities that sprawl for miles, with most people living outside them and coming in to the core only for work?

  2. Robert Ahdieh says:

    Clearly sprawl and traffic are huge issues for the city. On the other hand, the revitalization of the in-town neighborhoods over the last decade has really been quite remarkable, in turning the “inner city” neighborhoods in vibrants nodes of food and culture. That’s not to deny that issues of inadequate public transportation and the city’s sprawl won’t be big challenges for the city. It seems, though, to have nonetheless managed to have a vibrant in-town life.