We know that growth is coming. The question is, where will it go, and who will it benefit? If we continue on our current trajectory, we know that we will severely under-deliver dwellings across the city, resulting in ever-increasing housing prices. This means that only the most well-off among us will be able to afford to live in the city, and that we can say good-bye to our city-wide goals of equity and affordability. But if we are serious about meeting our goals, what would that look like?
The Atlanta City Design projects that the City will add 700,000 people in the next 19 years, with an estimated population of 1.2 million by 2040. That seems like a lot of people, but we have a surprising amount of room in the city to accommodate this growth. The problem is, we don't have the right policies in place to support this coming growth. First, we need to figure out where growth should go, and what type of growth makes sense for different areas of the city. Then, we need to figure out the policies needed to make this vision a reality.
Using the Atlanta City Design population projections as a baseline, we've estimated population densities needed across the city to accommodate this growth, and compared those with current population densities. As a framework for understanding where growth can and should occur, we've again looked to the Atlanta City Design and at our existing and future transit networks. Population projections aside, there are certain minimum densities needed to support transit funding.
The Atlanta City Design classifies areas of the city as "Growth Areas" and "Conservation Areas," clarifying that growth will need to occur in both areas. The Growth Areas will accommodate more dense development patterns, from high rises to medium-scale apartments. The Conservation Areas will support "below the tree-line" development patterns, or the building types that make up our historic neighborhoods: cottages, single family homes, ADUs, duplexes, townhomes, and small apartment buildings that range from 1-3 stories. Some Conservation Areas are more amenable to growth than others, such as areas with access to transit and a walkable street framework. These more urban areas will need to accommodate more growth than their suburban counterparts.
Working backwards from the Atlanta City Design areas and our existing infrastructure network (transit access and walkability), we have analyzed the viable densities needed in each census block to support the coming growth. The density projections in turn help identify the patterns of growth and the policies needed to support the framework.
To provide enough housing to meet our population projections, we estimate that half of new homes can be accommodated in Conservation Areas (which make up the majority of the city's land area), and the other half in Growth Areas. This translates to roughly 160,000 new homes in each area, for a total of 320,000 new homes city-wide. While this level of construction would exceed recent experience, it would create new good-paying jobs, bring needed investment to all parts of the City, and reduce the housing cost burden for current and future residents.
The pattern of growth we propose will not only support housing options at various price points, but will also support transit, local businesses, and community amenities and services. In short, more neighbors can mean a better quality of life for us all. To enable this level of thoughtful growth, we need thoughtful zoning reforms that will allow it to happen. From attached and detached ADUs in existing single family neighborhoods, to small apartment buildings near transit, to reduced parking requirements city-wide: small steps can add up to big changes, helping us achieve our goals of a more affordable and inclusive Atlanta.