Can Atlanta Be the City It Aspires to Be?

future of atlanta

Here at Nebo, we’re big fans of Atlanta. Not Donald Glover’s "Atlanta" (though I think many of us are also big fans of the show), but the actual city.

Atlanta is the city that facilitated Nebo’s 14 years of growth, so of course, we want to see it thrive.

It’s the ninth-largest metropolitan area in the United States by population and the tenth-largest in terms of GDP.

It’s the city where Bobby Petrino became a villain and Nayvadius Wilburn became Future.

It’s also a city on the cusp of a metropolitan tipping point: affordable enough to be accessible for everyone, but cool enough to attract celebrities and start-ups. We’re approaching the point where we can either embrace our chicness and send rents skyward, or remain affordable and compete with Oklahoma City for the “Kind of Cool, I Guess” award.

On its surface, urban development doesn’t seem like an issue for a digital marketing agency to worry about. Really, though, it’s an issue that everyone needs to care about.

Every cool urban improvement or community development project carries an inherent risk of displacement with it. Ponce City Market revitalized an entire neighborhood and brought a unique mixed-use project to an area that was lacking in communal spaces, but at a cost.

Cost of living in the Old Fourth Ward increased dramatically after PCM’s opening, and longtime residents of one of the city’s most culturally diverse neighborhoods were forced out because of the staggering cost increases.

“Transitional areas” in Atlanta have transitioned quickly in recent years, and neighborhoods like the O4W have changed drastically, both demographically and economically. Apartments refusing Section 8 vouchers are springing up left and right, and young SEC graduates are moving in like Patagonia and day drinking are going out of style.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult for people to continue to live in the areas in which they work, complicating other problems, like traffic. More than just a minor nuisance, traffic is a $7.1 billion drag on Atlanta’s economy annually.

America’s history is filled with examples of cities that flew too close to the sun and went from cool and cheap to “Holy shit they’re asking HOW MUCH for this roach-infested studio with no bathroom?” very quickly.

Take the Bay Area, where full-grown adults with jobs and retirement accounts and chronic lower back pain are willingly moving into DORMITORIES because rents are so unreasonable.

I, for one, don’t want to see Atlanta become a city that drives away talent and creativity because people can’t afford or don’t want to live here. I want to see it become a city where affordable, quality housing is available for all who need it, and the city is filled with so much cool stuff that people want to live here.

As an agency, Nebo is in the same boat. That’s why we actively seek to work with organizations that are trying to improve the Atlanta we live in by tackling issues of urban development and re-development, such as the BeltLine and MARTA.

Fortunately, the city is, for the most part, on the right track. The BeltLine has already facilitated the creation of 2,565 affordable housing units within walking distance of the trail through programs like Inclusionary Zoning. ChooseATL has contributed to Atlanta’s growth as a hub of innovation and MARTA is on track to expand into a more comprehensive, regional transit system.

Atlanta’s on the up, and I’m proud to say that Nebo has had at least a very small hand in some of that.

But at the same time, it’s not perfect. Improving it can and should be on every Atlantan’s mind, and almost everyone has some idea of what they want it to look like one day.

I, for one, have a specific vision for the future of this great city.

Fast-forward 10 years and Atlanta has become one of the nation’s premier cities. A perfect storm of industry, culture and affordability, “The City Too Busy to Hate” is popping off in 2028.

The BeltLine now encircles the Gate City as an unbroken circuit of breweries and bike rental shops, and Amazon has supplanted Delta as the city’s largest employer.

Electric vehicles are the norm, and internal combustion engines are limited to classic car enthusiasts and museums. Manually driven cars are virtually nonexistent, and car ownership has dwindled to less than half of the population.

As a result, air quality has improved significantly in the last 10 years, and traffic congestion inside the Perimeter is no longer the problem it was in 2018. Commuting from Duluth to Midtown takes a paltry 20 minutes on the metro area’s new, integrated transit system, and transit-oriented communities have developed around many of the major rail centers.

Peachtree Street is now restricted to pedestrians and bikes, and the downtown connector has been reduced to four total lanes, the rest being replaced by right-of-way lanes for electric buses.

The city took aggressive steps to prevent the displacement that usually comes with economic development, and affordable housing is a dream come true, not a pipe dream. 

That future is a legitimate possibility. I truly believe that we can collectively make this happen. From marketing agencies to real estate developers to politicians to used-car salesmen, everyone in Atlanta can make a difference and help drive Atlanta into a sustainable future.

The first step, though, is recognizing the problems facing the city. Ignorance is bliss, especially when you’re putting away a growler on the roof of an old warehouse. But it’s important to remember that every new brewery, yoga studio or Whole Foods played a small role in forcing people out of the hip, in-town neighborhood you’ve found yourself in.

Atlanta absolutely needs economic and community development, it just needs to be sustainable and inclusive. Here at Nebo, we’re trying to be a part of the solution.

In addition to our pro-bono work to support local causes, we actively seek to work with organizations that are tackling issues of urban development and re-development.

From MARTA to the BeltLine to ChooseATL, we work with some of the groups at the forefront of Atlanta’s growth. We want to help these organizations get their message out and tell their stories in a way that will be heard so they can focus on improving the city we love.

I want Atlanta to grow economically. I just want to make sure that the economic gains are distributed equitably and that everyone gets the chance to enjoy the things that make Atlanta great.

Written by Oliver Brantley on May 17, 2018


Add A Comment
AJATL says:

If Atlanta can get the new governor to legalize recreational marijuana, it will be a big economic boom for Atlanta in terms of tax revenue, small business growth, agriculture growth, and tourism. Colorado and Washington as proven it to be successful.

theATLproper says:

I don't disagree in principle with a good bit of what you wrote, but I think the scope of the proposed updates and changes you envision are a bit naive, and even short-sighted given the revenue burden they would put on the city. Also - be careful what you wish for with Amazon. They could literally displace or end competition in any number industries should they chose, and jeopardize long-standing Georgia-based Fortune 500s in the process (Coke, Kimberly-Clark, Mohawk, Newell-Rubbermaid, NCR). The amount of concessions being demanded by them sets a dangerous precedent. Just look at their lobby against the 'head tax' in Seattle. Median home price there is $777K. If you think Amazon didn't contribute to that you'd be mistaken.

Austin says:


Austin says:

Great read. I live in a warehouse... and drink beer on the rooftop. But what I'm really drinking is shame. I hope we can find the future you have illustrated here, so I don't feel like a sick little leach every time someone mentions gentrification.

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Written by
Oliver Brantley
Senior Paid Media Strategist