Atlanta – less sprawl since 1976?

atlanta_small.jpgMaybe. This study came out in May and I was alerted to it by reading the September Discover Magazine (another report is here in Business Week). In an attempt to quantify urban sprawl by comparing satellite images of the United States in 1976 and 1992, University of Toronto economist Matthew Turner and colleagues have determined some pretty interesting things. First, the country is growing – nearly 2% of the country was paved by 1992. Second, the percentage of growth that is sprawl is not increasing. That is, sprawl, based on their measurements is not increasing.

In fact, according to their “sprawl index,” Atlanta’s sprawl is decreasing. The Atlanta Sprawl index for 1976 was 57.77. For 1992 it was 55.57. This measures the percentage of undeveloped land in the square kilometer surrounding an average residential development in the Atlanta metropolitan area. Of course, this still makes Atlanta one of the highest in the nation (number 2, in fact), but this is after Pittsburgh and right before Charlotte.

The picture above shows the change in sprawl in Atlanta. The red areas are new development between 1976 and 1992 and the yellow areas are old. Note – it may look like it has grown, but read the methodology of the authors before judging. The original paper is located here and the raw data can be gathered here. Also, remember that the latest data is from 1992 and, well, things could have changed.

2 Comments so far

  1. Chintan (unregistered) on September 18th, 2006 @ 2:16 pm

    Numbers pre-Centenial Olympics are kinda meaningless, aren’t they? AFAIK, much of the growth in Atlanta has been post 1996, especially in the exurban Lake Lanier area and Henry county.


  2. Daniel (unregistered) on September 18th, 2006 @ 3:04 pm

    Chintan, I’m not convinced that that is on the whole true. It it were, you would see significant more growth between 1990-2000 than you would between 1980-1990. However, you don’t see that. The growth continues at about the same rate. Besides, the impact the Olympics would have had would be in the city and would not contribute to “sprawl.”



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