THE UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES OF
“Blinded by visions of property tax revenues … public officials ignored the costs that accompany growth. The expense of building new roads, schools, and infrastructure never seemed to enter their minds. The result of all this unchecked, unplanned growth: Metro Atlanta grew into something that many people wouldn’t ever want to call home.”
—Athens Daily News1
Georgia’s population growth is among the most rapid in the nation. In the last decade, the state’s population has increased by more than 1.7 million. This explosive growth is transforming the Georgia renowned for its history, distinctive charm, and ancient, sweeping magnolias into a Georgia whose roots may soon be unrecognizable—a Georgia of clogged highways, razed fields, and sprawling cities.
Certainly some growth can be beneficial. Early in the twentieth century, when Georgia was sparsely populated, more people meant more jobs and more opportunities. And in a state with considerable land area and few people, every new resident lowers the cost of providing basic services to all. But as an area becomes more populated, its infrastructure bumps up against its carrying capacity. Police forces, roads, and schools no longer satisfy the demands of a growing population. Farmland and forests are sacrificed to strip malls and housing developments. And eventually growth no longer lowers the average cost of services, but instead raises it. When this point is reached, growth increases the tax burden on communities; the revenue brought in by new growth is outweighed by the costs it creates.2
Georgia, the sixth-fastest growing state in the country, has reached this downside to growth. Its open space is vanishing, its highways are clogged with polluting traffic jams, and every day, 50 acres of its farmland and open space are lost to development.3
This study explores the detrimental effects of population growth on Georgia, first sketching the dimensions of Georgia’s expected population growth and then addressing what these projections mean for the state’s infrastructure, environment, and quality of life. The final section works through some strategies for slowing growth and preserving the robust economy of the present while also safeguarding Georgia’s future.
I. Sketching the Demographic Picture
In the early 1950’s, Georgia’s population was just over 3.5 million. Today, according to the 2000 Census, it stands at over 8.1 million.4 In just fifty years, Georgia has more than doubled.
In the last ten years alone, Georgia grew by 26 percent—one-fifth faster than the rest of the nation. Between 1995 and 2000, the state had a net increase of over one million people—the fourth largest net gain in the nation. Georgia adds about 540 people every day.
What accounts for Georgia’s rapid growth? Populations grow or shrink as a result of shifts in net migration (people moving into the state minus people moving out of it) and natural increase (births minus deaths). Between April 1, 1990 and July 1, 1999, natural increase in Georgia accounted for net growth of 527,844. During the same period, the Census Bureau estimates net domestic migration for Georgia at 665,418 and net international migration at 105,839. Thus, 40 percent of all growth in Georgia came from natural increase, and 60 percent came from migration from other states and countries.5
The impact of foreign immigration is somewhat greater than these numbers indicate. Immigrant births and deaths are included under native births and native deaths. And some people may move from Cuba or Haiti to Florida or New York, for example, and then move to Georgia. These are counted as domestic migrants, but in fact they are foreign immigrants.
The impact of immigration is better illustrated by the number of foreign-born residing in the state, which doubled during the 1990s. In 1990, Georgia was home to 173,000 foreign-born residents; in 1999, it had gained 115,000 foreign-born residents, for a total of 288,000.6
Very few of Georgia’s 159 counties lost population in the 1990s, and the growth in some counties was remarkable. For instance, Gwinnett grew from 353,000 to 588,488. Douglas County saw its numbers grow by 21,000 to 92,000. Henry County almost doubled in size over the ten-year period, from 59,000 to 119,341. Between 1990 and 2000, the population of metropolitan Atlanta increased by over one million, from 2.9 to 4.1 million–the largest gain of any large metropolitan area in the nation. Of all U.S. counties with at least 10,000 residents, four of the top ten fastest-growing were on the edges of Atlanta.
If current trends continue, Georgia’s population will reach 11.9 million in 2025.7 Over the next 25 years, Georgia’s population is expected to increase by more than three million; a population of perhaps 15 million by 2050 is not out of the question.
Such projections may be on the conservative side. By about 2025, the nation’s baby boomers will be entering retirement. That cohort, nationally some 50 million strong, is likely to have an impact on Georgia—particularly as a growing number of retirees are beginning to choose Georgia over Florida for their retirement years.8 The proportion of Georgia’s elderly population is likely to grow from less than 10 percent in 2000 (785,000 seniors) to almost 17 percent by 2025. Since the total impact of the “senior boom” will not be felt until after 2025, that share will undoubtedly continue to grow to 2050, when it may reach 3 million.
And while the percentage of Georgia’s population under age 18 may decrease—from 26.7 percent in 1995 to 23.6 percent in 2025—the numbers themselves will increase by about 300,000.
The combined growth of the school-age and the elderly segments of the population will increase the demand for schools and health care.
II. Implications of Demographic Change
Georgia’s rapid growth is overwhelming the state’s infrastructure. In north Fulton County, sewer and water systems have become overburdened due to rapid development.9 Richmond Hill, which grew by more than 137 percent, had to spend $6 million to build new fire and police stations, add traffic signals, and improve its wastewater treatment system. Bryan County, which grew by 58 percent, was forced to pave miles of roads and add recreation areas and emergency services.10 Population growth “doesn’t increase the tax base as much as it increases the need for services in that area,” noted Barrow County Commission Chairman Eddie Elder, whose county has experienced a 55 percent growth rate in the last decade.11
QUALITY OF LIFE
Education: Georgia’s student population is the fourth-fastest growing in the nation. From 1.4 million in 1998, that number will reach 1.5 million in 2008. In just ten years, the number of students will increase by 100,000.12 It could easily surpass 2 million by 2025.
Throughout the state, schools are already struggling to meet the needs of growing student populations. In county after county, students must attend classes in portable classrooms and eat lunch as early as 10:30 to ease the strain on crowded cafeterias.13 In some areas, sports leagues can’t find room for all the kids who want to participate.14
Although a recent law requires schools to cut class sizes over the next few years, principals report that they simply don’t have the space to do it. There are too many students for the available classrooms. More than 14,900 new classrooms are needed.15
Georgia already has some of the largest classes in public schools nationwide. To simply maintain its current student-teacher ratio, approximately 6,000 teachers will have to be hired annually (not including those who will have to be replaced due to retirement or career change).
At the same time it struggles to find more space and teachers, Georgia must still meet basic educational challenges, like reducing dropout rates, raising academic achievement levels, increasing teacher effectiveness, and meeting the needs of an increasing share of non-English-speaking students. Yet in 1999, Georgia spent $5,594 per pupil in 1999, well below the national average of $6,407.16 Further population growth will compound the difficulties that already exist.
Traffic: Metropolitan Atlanta rivals Los Angeles with respect to gridlock. Each day, the typical metro-Atlantan drives 34 miles—more than a motorist in New York or Los Angeles. The amount of time an average Atlantan spends sitting in traffic has more than doubled in the last eight years—to 53 hours per year, up from 25 hours in 1992.17 Carl Patton, vice chairman for transportation of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, predicts that by 2010, Atlantans will spend more time in traffic than at home.18
Traffic on I-95 is increasing by 7 percent annually,19 and the average volume of commuters on Ga.-400 has grown more than 48 percent since 1994.20
As long as population growth continues, traffic problems will simply get worse. The already legendary traffic gridlock in metropolitan Atlanta will be stretched to other sections of the state.
Nationwide and around the state, complaints about urban sprawl are increasing as population rises. Respondents in a national study by the Pew Center for Civic Journalism named sprawl and traffic tied with crime and violence as the most important problem in their communities.21
While sprawl is a problem throughout Georgia, the Atlanta metropolitan area has borne the worst of it. A recent landmark study by the Sierra Club ranked Atlanta first among the “most sprawl threatened” metropolitan areas of one million people or more.
In 1990, metro Atlanta measured about 65 miles from north to south. It’s now about 110 miles across. By 2018, its range is expected to include suburbs like Athens and Dalton.22
With the suburbs of Atlanta meeting the suburbs of Chattanooga, some joke that soon the two cities will merge into a huge, uninterrupted city called “Chat-atlanta” or “Atlantanooga.” Indeed, the Atlanta Regional Commission projects that the region will grow by 1.6 million people by 2020.23
As commercial and residential development swallows up Georgia’s towns, the heritage and beauty of the state are lost. “Savannah is going to look and feel like Atlanta and other cities that are denuded of their green spaces and flavor, cities having traded away their individuality, beauty, and culture,” noted one columnist in the Savannah Morning News.24
Unfortunately, discussions of sprawl in the news generally underestimate several key facts:
• When populations continue to expand, communities must find places to house, educate, and employ new residents and thus, even the best-intentioned “smart growth” efforts will eventually run up against population pressures.
• Many people like to get away from areas of concentrated growth and move to the suburbs, thereby creating even more sprawl. Indeed, history shows that as population grows, people move further away from the centers of growth. Eventually, the suburbs of one city begin meeting the suburbs of another city, which in turn may meet the suburbs of a third city.
While “smart growth” experiments do limit sprawl somewhat, sprawl can never end as long as population growth continues.
THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT
The discomforts described above affect everyone’s quality of life but do not involve survival. Environmental problems are far more serious.
More than 3.2 million Georgia residents live in areas where ozone pollution and smog have made it unsafe to breathe the air.25 Metro Atlanta is among the worst violators of the federal standards for ground-level ozone, with a dangerously high ozone level. Most of the problem is caused by motor vehicle emissions. As a result, the 13-county Atlanta region has been ineligible to receive federal highway funds for new road projects in the past two years, because it has not devised a plan that would bring it into compliance with the federal air quality standards.26
Pollution knows no geographical boundaries. As metropolitan areas expand, so does the air pollution. It can be expected that other urban areas in Georgia will face problems similar to those faced by Atlanta if growth is not reduced soon.
Toxic chemicals released in Georgia doubled between 1996 and 1998. In 1996, 61 million pounds were released; in 1998, 121 million pounds were released.27
The drive for development is destroying Georgia’s open space, as well. Of the 74,542 acres of state parkland in Georgia, 8,212 are endangered by sprawl, commercial and residential development, and traffic, according to the National Park Trust.28 About two-thirds of the trees that used to drape in a canopy over the Atlanta area have been cut down by development, reports the Georgia Conservancy.29
Nor are water quantity and quality immune to population-driven problems. A doubling of demand for water over the next twenty years is highly probable. Given that drought-prone Georgia already uses a relatively high share of its land for residential purposes, future population growth will have a meaningful impact upon the supply of fresh water. As more and more faucets drain the aquifers, or underground reservoirs, urban sprawl paves over the land and short-circuits its absorption properties. Georgia’s fast-growing cities face water shortages by 2020 unless local utilities find new supplies.
Michael Rodgers, director of the air quality laboratory of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Science at Georgia Tech, puts it plainly: “Since we have no ground water, there is not enough water to support growth. There are ground limits of what we can do technologically.”30
On top of this, more people mean more potential polluters, and pollution reduces the supply of useable water. Already, more than 1,000 miles of rivers and streams in the Atlanta metro region don’t meet federal water quality standards.31
The basic question is clear: What will the addition of millions of people do to the environment and the quality of life of all Georgians in the coming years? For far too long, state officials have tried to “solve” their problems—whether education, highways, garbage disposal, or worsening environmental conditions—without considering a major root cause of the problems: population growth.
III. The Solution: Fertility and Migration
Population growth must be reduced if Georgia is to remain a truly livable place. There are two ways to reduce growth: reductions in fertility and lower migration.
Public and private agencies alike should work to raise the awareness of all Georgians about the problems associated with high fertility and population growth, through education, advertising campaigns urging responsible family planning, and wide availability of contraceptives.
However, because migration accounts for a substantially larger portion of population growth, particular attention must be paid to how the region can exercise control over in-migration levels.
Foreign migration: The Census Bureau’s new projections indicate that immigration will account for two-thirds of all growth nationwide over the next century.32 Georgia in particular is a major destination state for immigrants, both legal and illegal, due to its opportunities for agricultural work. According to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), as of 1998 Georgia ranks seventeenth in illegal immigration, with about 32,000 illegal aliens residing in the state as of 1996.33 If current migration patterns continue, post-2000 immigrants and their children will account for 1.6 million new residents in Georgia by 2025.
Illegal immigration can be combated on a number of fronts. Federal law encourages state cooperation agreements with the INS in assisting in enforcement of immigration law, including the removal of criminal aliens and agreements to screen the eligibility of non-citizens for a variety of state and federal benefits. Recent court decisions have confirmed that states may enforce immigration laws, as long as there is cooperation with the INS and their enforcement is consistent with federal law.
Federal law requires that states allow officials to turn over information to the INS about an alien’s illegal status. Also, there are a variety of federal provisions encouraging states to set up verification requirements for basic identification information, such as those that would support an application for a driver’s license, allowing states to play a vital role in the effort to halt illegal immigration. Meanwhile, laws preventing the hiring of illegal immigrants must be enforced and the INS given adequate resources to enforce regulations already on the books.
Legal immigration levels, which are determined by the federal government, also deserve a second look. The U.S. currently admits nearly one million new legal immigrants each year. If federal legislation limiting immigration to more traditional levels of about 200,000 annually were passed and if illegal immigration were drastically reduced, migration levels into Georgia could be drastically reduced.
Domestic migration: Georgia is the second-most popular destination for interstate moves.34 Using aggressive tools to limit growth could become the only recourse for Georgia communities inundated with newcomers.
Governor Barnes’ newly created Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA) is able to reject city or county development permits if it can be shown that these would cause environmental harm. While this is a worthy first step, Georgia must go further.
Eben Fodor, an urban planner and author of Better Not Bigger, recommends correlating growth with the burden it places on services: “Development impact fees are an increasingly popular means of funding the many types of public infrastructure required by growth. At least 18 states have now adopted enabling legislation that specifically authorizes local governments to collect these fees. With a system of impact fees, developers and new home buyers must pay more of the full cost of their impact on the community … Unless limited by state law, local governments can charge impact fees for providing the following new or expanded facilities: schools, roads, sewage treatment, storm-water systems, water supply, parks, and open space, recreational facilities, police stations, fire stations, libraries, and other government facilities that must be expanded to serve new growth … Courts have consistently upheld all reasonable and properly designed impact fees.”35
Several states have mandated that adequate schools, sewers, roads, and water capacity must be in place before a development project is completed. If a community is unable to afford the new facilities, a developer may be required to pay for them in order to obtain construction permits.36
Georgia also could move more aggressively to buy up tracks of land to ensure the perpetuity of open spaces. In fact, public acquisition of land or the development rights to land can often save taxpayers money.37
IV. Conclusion: Reckoning With Growth
The greatest challenge that Georgia faces is finding the political leadership to realistically address its complex growth problems. This is the entire state’s problem and responsibility, and residents must prod their legislators into aggressive action. Otherwise, the projections in this report may prove to be grossly understated.
What kind of future does Georgia want for its children and grandchildren? Georgia’s obvious natural advantages, from the Sea Islands to the Blue Ridge mountains, could help make the state the envy of the nation—but only if steps are taken now to halt the current population explosion. The choice is ours, but time is short.
1. “Sprawl Rankings Show Athens Can’t Ignore Effects of Its Growth,” Athens Daily News, February 28, 2001.
2. Alan Altschuler and Jose A. Gomez-Ibanez, Regulation for Revenue: A Political Economy of Land Use Exactions (Washington: Brookings Institute; Cambridge: Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, 1993), p. 77.
3. Dave Williams, “Barnes’ Green-Space Plan Covers Most of State,” Savannah Morning News, February 2, 20000.
4. This official total is slightly higher than that projected as recently as 1998 (7.9 million). Since, as of this date, further detailed data are not as yet available from the Census Bureau, we will rely on the 1999 estimates in discussing more specific demographic statistics.
5. “County Population Estimates for July 1, 1999 and Demographic Components of Population Change: April 1, 1990 to July 1, 1999,” Population Estimates Program, Population Division, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC.
6. Jeffrey S. Passel and Wendy Zimmerman, “Are Immigrants Leaving California? Settlement Patterns of Immigrants in the Late 1990s,” Urban Institute, presented in March 2000.
7. Projections to 2025 are derived from “Georgia’s Population Projections: 1 995 to 2025,” Population Division, U.S. Bureau of the Census, Washington, DC.
8. Jingle Davis, “Coastal Construction: It’s No Longer Just the Seashore Islands that Attract Development: Growth Moves Inland,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, August 28, 2000.
9. Matt Monroe, “Atlanta’s Exurbs Show No Sign of Slowing Growth,” Atlanta Business Chronicle, July 21, 2000.
10. Anne Cordeiro, Pamela E. Walck, and Kate Wiltrout, “An Expanding Empire,” Savannah Morning News, March 23, 2001.
11. Lee Shearer, “Population Explosion: Census Paints Picture of a Fast-Changing Northeast Georgia,” Athens Daily News, March 23, 2001.
12. Debra Gerald and William Hussar, Projections of Education Statistics to 2010 (Washington: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2000).
13. Jennifer Brett, “Schools, Roads Feel Squeeze of Growth,” Atlanta Journal Constitution, March 29.
14. Janet Frankston, “Schools, Cities Adapt to Growing Pains,” Atlanta Journal Constitution, March 29.
15. Shannon Womble, “No Room to Grow,” Savannah Morning News, August 24, 2000.
16. U.S. Dept. of Education, NCES, Common Core of Data, Table 7, 1999.
17. Paul Krugman, “Nation in a Jam,” New York Times, May 13, 2001.
18. Carl V. Patton, “How Atlanta Can Wean Itself from Car Addiction,” Atlanta Business Chronicle, March 30, 1998.
19. Davis, op. cit., August 28, 2000.
20. Russell Grantham, “Residents, Workers See Fast Changes,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, March 29, 2001.
21. “More Space Than Necessary?” USA Today, February 21, 2001.
22. Marcy Lamm, “Crystal Ball Shows No End in Sight to Metro’s Expansion,” Atlanta Business Chronicle, June 15, 1998.
23. Jan R. Costello, “Centennial Place: Model of Mixed-Use Urban Living,” Atlanta Business Chronicle, September 7, 1998.
24. Ben Hubby, “Save Savannah’s Beautiful Residential Areas from Attack of the Superstores,”
Savannah Morning News, February 14, 2001.
25. Georgia Airkeepers, as cited at http://www.cleanairsouth.org/state/ga/airkeepers/basic_campaign.html.
26. Kevin Sack, “New Georgia Governor Proposes a Remedy for Atlanta’s Sprawl,” New York Times, January 26, 1999.
27. Georgia Statistical Abstract, 2000-2001, Table 7.520.
28. Jane Gross, “Urban Sprawl Threatens the Solitude and Fragile Lands of Georgia’s State Parks,” The New York Times, August 31, 2000.
29. Lee Bey, “Nation’s New Suburbia Growing Out of Control,” Chicago Sun-Times, November 19, 2000.
30. Lamm, op. cit., June 15, 1998.
31. Michael Wall, “Water Quality Looms as Region’s Next Crisis,” Atlanta Business Chronicle, August 4, 2000.
32. Lori Henson, “Legalizing Immigrant Workers on Agenda,” Savannah Morning News, February 26, 2001.
33. U.S. Department of Justice, Immigration and Naturalization Service, “1997 Statistical Yearbook of the Immigration and Naturalization Service,” (Washington, DC: GPO, 1999).
34. Peter Francese, “People Patterns: As U.S. Population Grows, All States are Far From Equal,” Wall Street Journal, April 5, 2000.
35. Eben Fodor, Better Not Bigger: How to Take Control of Urban Growth and Improve Your Community (Garbiola Island: New Society Publishers, 1999), p. 114-5.
36. Fodor, ibid., p. 123.
37. Fodor, ibid., p. 135.
In preparing this report, the authors received valuable support. We are especially grateful to Alison Green, NPG’s Communications Director, for her excellent research and editing. We would also like to thank Crystal Freeman, NPG’s Program Associate for her editing and desktop publishing of this report.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Leon Bouvier has taught at numerous universities, including Georgetown University, Tulane University, University of Rhode Island, and currently Old Dominion University. He has served as demographic advisor to the U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on Population and the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy. He is the demographic advisor to NPG.
Sharon McCloe Stein is the Executive Director of NPG and the founding Chairman of Pop.Stop, Inc. A graduate of Cornell University, Ms. Stein has served in executive capacities of several national public interest organizations and is a frequent commentator in the media on population policy issues.
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Founded in 1972, NPG is a national membership organization advocating a gradual and voluntary reduction of world and U.S. populations to more sustainable levels.
Populacao Americana em 2011: 311 Milhoes 473 Mil e 693 habitantes
Populacao Mundial: 6 Bilhoes 922 Milhoes, 351 Mil e 522 Habitantes