Atlanta pays environmental price for fast growth
March 19, 1999
ATLANTA (CNN) -- Atlanta, long known as "a city built in a forest," is becoming a concrete jungle as its trees disappear to make way for shopping malls, houses and highways.
The rapid urbanization has raised a debate in the city over the importance of growth versus the quality of life.
"We're at a point in our history where we need to make some tough decisions about how we want to live, work and play over the next several years or we are going ... to choke on our own growth," said Michael Rich, a political science professor at Emory University.
Metro Atlanta's population jumped from 3 million to 3.5 million between 1990 and 1996, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and the trend shows no sign of slowing.
The Atlanta area includes four of the nation's top 10 fastest-growing counties. Developers are clearing an average of 50 acres of tree-covered land per day, which amounts to an area larger than Manhattan each year.
"Atlanta, in the last five years, has created more jobs than any other metropolitan area in the country," said Donald Ratajczak, an economics professor at Georgia State University.
As the green canopy surrounding Atlanta recedes, temperatures are going up. The moisture in vegetation serves as a coolant: with fewer trees and more people, temperatures in the city center have risen about six degrees in recent years.
Pollution levels are also up, since trees capture dust, smoke and carbon dioxide.
The good news is Atlanta offers cheaper housing and better opportunities for employment than many U.S. cities.
Unemployment in Atlanta hovers around 3 percent.
But commuting times have risen along with the number of jobs. The average commute for the Atlanta area is now 35 miles round-trip per day -- longer than any other city's in the nation.
Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes made Atlanta's growth a major part of the platform in his November campaign.
"It's not a question of slowing. It's a question of making sure that we can grow in an orderly fashion," Barnes said.
Other cities, such as Portland, Oregon, have tried to control sprawl by setting boundaries for urban development, but Atlanta has yet to do so.
Gridlock drives developers to design wiser cities
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