A demographic shift is happening in Atlanta: young, educated professionals are moving in to the city and bringing economic development with them. This new wave of talented workers isn’t looking to live just anywhere though. As an article in today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution explains, these new residents want to live in neighborhoods close in to the city, with apartments in walking distance to pubs, shops and restaurants. This emerging, economically powerful demographic wants smart growth.
The article comes in the wake of CEOs for Cities‘ recent report The Young and the Restless in the Knowledge Economy, which explains that Atlanta is not alone in this trend. Young, talented workers are flocking to areas that use smart growth strategies – and employers are following them. As Joe Cortright, senior research advisor explains, “If you have [young, educated professionals], you attract employers and grow your economy. If you are attracting them, it’s usually a sign that your community is getting stronger.”
The fact that young, talented workers are moving to town centers and urban cores across the country is a major shift from the trends of the last generation, and one which CEOs for Cities believes will be crucial for the U.S. economy in years to come. Creating places where the vanguard of the 21st century economy want to live and work – places that are walkable with transportation options and shops and jobs – is helping Atlanta thrive, and it is a model for other regions across the country to follow.
An energy has taken hold in the city of Atlanta, driven by young, college-educated professionals who want – and can afford – a lifestyle rich in variety, diversity and excitement, all close to home. They are moving in by the thousands, transforming abandoned warehouses into lofts, vacant lots into dog parks and communities long in decline into neighborhoods of choice.
In fact, Atlanta is on the leading edge of a national trend: Since 2000, neighborhoods within three miles of downtown Atlanta have seen a 61 percent surge in residents aged 25 to 34 who have at least a four-year degree, according to U.S. Census figures. That’s almost 10,000 new patrons for everything from apartment and condo developments to restaurants and bars to computer and cell phone vendors.
The same thing has happened in dozens of other cities, but the movement is twice as robust in Atlanta as it is nationwide.
Krista Ruggles and her husband moved to Castleberry Hill two years ago so he could live closer to his job at CNN. Fifteen years ago the area was full of empty warehouses and crime. Inroads by artists helped raise up the community, as they opened galleries and studios. Developers followed, renovating the warehouses into lofts.
Now Ruggles, 37, is president of the Castleberry Hill Neighborhood Association. She’s proud of the changes, especially the dog park on Peters Street that draws neighbors after work and on the weekend.
“It’s a true neighborhood,” Ruggles said. “The dog park has its own Facebook page.”
Chances are, you’ve encountered the phenomenon — in the adult kickball teams playing in Piedmont Park, or conversations about whether Glenwood Park or Cabbagetown is the cooler place to live. Or perhaps you’ve walked into a pub on a night when it was packed with enthusiasts of a darts league or a trivia contest.
“The city is just getting younger,” said A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress, a nonprofit business advocacy organization. “This is not the old Atlanta. It’s much more diverse and mixed, culturally and racially.”
For Ruggles and her peers it’s clearly all about the urban vibe; the rest of the 28-county Atlanta metro region saw just a 7 percent increase in young, educated residents during the last decade, according to a recent report by the urban leadership group CEOs for Cities.
The rebirth of close-in communities is good for the city and the entire metro region, experts say. These young adults bring a new vibrancy to a city that is a major economic engine for the state, said Joe Cortright, senior research adviser for CEOs for Cities.
“If you have them, you attract employers and grow your economy,” Cortright said. “If you are attracting them, it’s usually a sign that your community is getting stronger.”