The US Census Bureau’s updated population growth estimates for incorporated cities with populations over 50,000 show the City of Atlanta growing quickly, but still lagging behind many other cities around the country. Overall, the numbers were great for big cities, especially those in Texas. Between 2010 and 2012 Atlanta grew at a 5.6% rate adding 23,496 new residents – this is good enough for the 44th fastest growth rate among cities with population over 50,000. However, among cities with populations over 300,000 Atlanta’s growth rate ranks 4th, trailing only New Orleans (7.4%), Austin (6.6%), and Denver (5.7%). Atlanta’s growth was the 5th fastest in the metro area, trailing only Alpharetta (7.8%), Johns Creek (7.3%), Roswell (6.1%), and Sandy Springs (5.9%). Considering these cities are all much smaller than Atlanta, which means achieving a higher growth rate requires adding far fewer people, it appears Atlanta was the major destination in the metro area.
It would be more helpful to compare Atlanta’s numbers to some of the surrounding counties due to similar population and geographic sizes, but the Bureau has yet to release updated county data. Over the past few years Atlanta has outpaced suburban counties in growth, so it will be interesting to see if these numbers continue to hold. From 2010 to 2011 only Forsyth County posted a higher growth rate among major metro counties than the City of Atlanta (3.4% vs. 2.4%). Gwinnett grew at 2.1%, Clayton at .3%, Henry at .9% and Cherokee at 1.3%. Unlike Cobb, Dekalb, and Atlanta, none of these counties experienced a major population loss due to foreclosures. Cobb, Dekalb, and Atlanta all experienced huge losses during the recession so looking at just these jurisdictions may provide a good indication of what types of areas are recovering best. It should be noted that Atlanta’s huge population loss of 120,000 from 2009 to 2010 is likely due to estimation and counting errors by both city officials and the Census Bureau that resulted in inflated population figures prior to 2010 (great AJC article about this). Among the jurisdictions that lost a significant number of residents, Atlanta’s growth rate of 2.4% bests the 1% rate of both Cobb and Dekalb. The growth rates across the region suggest that during the recovery, more people are/were choosing urban over suburban living.
Though Atlanta is showing strong growth, many other large cities are outpacing it in terms of total population growth. This is especially true of regional competitors like Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham, and every major city in Texas. Charlotte nearly matched Atlanta, adding 39,422 people at a rate of 5.4% and Raleigh-Durham together added over 30,000 people. This, however, pales in comparison to the growth of cities in Texas. Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston were the three fastest growing cities over one million people, each growing at over 3%. Though Houston grew at nearly half the rate of Atlanta, it added almost three times as many residents (63,000). Meanwhile, Austin more than doubled those growth rates by adding nearly 52,000 people. Atlanta city officials will likely applaud themselves for achieving such a high growth rate, but unfortunately the numbers show Atlanta needs to grow even faster to stay in the game. Atlanta is showing solid growth, but nearly every large city posted solid growth figures. These number tie in nicely to a future post about why redevelopment along Cheshire Bridge Road is necessary for Atlanta to keep growing and competing.