Atlanta 2040: What life will look like in the city’s third century
Atlanta’s future has always belonged to people with big ideas, starting in 1837, when the Western and Atlantic Railroad Company picked out a random ridge east of the Chattahoochee River as the southern end of its line from Chattanooga.
Ironically, the company’s chief engineer, Stephen Harriman Long, believed the outpost would never amount to more than “one tavern, a blacksmith shop, a grocery store, and nothing else” and declined to buy 200 acres in what today is the heart of downtown. He couldn’t imagine that the tiny settlement known as Terminus would become the powerhouse of the Southeast, home to 5.7 million people—where a pharmacist would turn caramel-flavored sugar water into a global brand, a preacher’s son would win a Nobel Peace Prize, and an old race track would blossom into the world’s busiest airport .
The Olympics. The BeltLine. What is Atlanta’s next great idea? The Atlanta Regional Commission predicts that the 10-county metro area will add 2.5 million people by 2040. Officials project roughly 500,000 of them will live within city limits, more than doubling the city’s current population. By one estimate, Atlanta will become the sixth largest metro region in the United States, leapfrogging Chicago.
When contemplating the future, it’s fun to daydream about flying cars and on-demand Outkast holograms. Will life here be more Back to the Future II or Blade Runner? But let’s be realistic. Will we have enough room? Sure, we just have to literally grow up, especially around transit. Will we have enough jobs? According to current projections, no. Will we continue to spend all our waking moments in traffic congestion? Not if we invest in buses and rail and let robots take the wheel. What developments and visions will fill in the gaps—and fix our past mistakes—to set a new framework for the future metro?
We asked Atlanta’s leading experts in fields from medicine to technology (plus a few dreamers, a second grader, and a psychic) about what they think Atlanta will be like in 2040 and beyond. —Thomas Wheatley