Summary of paper prepared by Myron Orfield, Metropolitan Area Research
As the wave of social and economic stress grows in the older suburbs, tides of middle-
class homeowners sweep into fringe communities. Growing cities and counties, facing
tremendous service and infrastructure needs, offer development incentives that allow
them to capture the most tax base. In doing so, they lock the region into sprawling
development patterns that are fiscally irresponsible, foster automobile dependency,
contaminate groundwater, and needlessly destroy tens of thousands of acres of forest
In metropolitan areas across the country, communities like Atlanta's inner suburbs,
satellite cities, and low tax-base developing communities are beginning to realize that
the solutions to these problems are larger than their own jurisdictions and will require
cooperation with neighbors in the regional community. This paper seeks to further the
processes of metropolitan reform in the areas of regional land use planning, regional
equity, and regional structural reform. It outlines the need for reform for the traditional
advocates of land use, housing, fiscal and governmental reform (such as
environmentalists, good government advocates and academics), while encouraging
new participants - including elected officials and representatives of developing
suburbs - to join the debate.
A decline in business opportunities in the older suburban areas of Atlanta
including DeKalb, Clayton, south Fulton, and inner Cobb can be linked to a
loss of middle-class citizens.
Signs of change exist in suburban Atlanta elementary schools. Growing
segregation in schools is a sign of future social and economic problems
for a community. For example, the non-Asian minority school
population increased by more than 20% in fifteen elementary schools
located in suburban Clayton, DeKalb and Cobb county school districts
between 1992 and 1995. Some inner Gwinnett County schools also saw
increases of more than 20% in non-Asian minority students.
The older suburban areas are more fragile than the central city of
Atlanta, because they lack the large tax base of the downtown business
district, a gentrifiable housing stock, and a central location.
Some communities, particularly those in Gwinnett, Cherokee, Douglas, Fayette
and Rockdale Counties, are developing without enough tax resources for
public services or schools.
Jobs and economic growth are going north while workers for those jobs often cannot afford
to live close to those communities. As a result, the region has had to build enormous highway
projects to respond to the mismatch between housing and employment. As this gap grows
wider, congestion and pollution increase to unacceptable levels.
Thousands of acres of forest and farmland are becoming urbanized unnecessarily
as the core
of the region is abandoned. Between 1970 and 1990, the region's population increased by
85% while the land area grew by 161%.
Create County and City property tax equalization - similar to the school
aid system already
in place - that will keep property taxes down and services high in older communities and
ease the financial need to develop in low tax-base suburbs.
Include urban growth boundaries and transit-friendly development in plans
for future growth
(as exists in Oregon, Maryland, California and Washington) and place greater emphasis on
mixed highway and transit solutions that solve congestion rather than make it worse.
Give residents of inner-Atlanta, stressed older suburban communities and
struggling with the impact of rapid growth more of a voice in Atlanta-area development
decisions by creating a more public and accountable regional planning process for the Atlanta
For additional information, contact Myron Orfield, 612/379-3926.