Just How Far Can Atlanta Expand?

Atlanta may be the posterchild for urban sprawl. Just take a look at this comparison of Atlanta and Barcelona, two comparably populated cities with about the same amount of rail line transit system tracks laid. The slightly more populous Barcelona takes up around 62.5 square miles of built up area, while Atlanta has some 1,652.5 square miles of the same, and the city just keeps growing. In fact, one projection has Atlanta merging with Charlotte to form a Southern megalopolis by 2060, which leads us to ask, how big can Atlanta get?

The MARTA Expansion

One important part of that discussion is MARTA, Atlanta’s metro public transportation system. Expansion of the bus lines is already underway, and the largest expansion in MARTA history has been set forth to include new high capacity services meant to link major job centers across the region and push for more transit oriented development instead of the current park-and-ride system.

Expansions like this have the potential to make Atlanta bigger without actually making it larger. That is to say with better means of getting around the city, Atlanta residents might actually want to be in Atlanta. Expanding MARTA’s service to make it accessible to more people encourages more balanced growth, and ultimately allows for greater densification in Atlanta’s interior and fewer people pushing outward to escape the congestion of the city. That’s a gross oversimplification, but it’s a known successful method when implemented with the idea of accessibility in mind.

A better MARTA may make for a bigger Atlanta, but not necessarily a more expanded one. Just how far the plans go will determine how far the city stretches in the coming years.

The Value of Agriculture

Agricultural land is most likely to be impacted by Atlanta’s expansion, which brings another factor into the conversation – how much land is necessary to maintain American agriculture. Pushes to include neighboring communities into the city boarders when they offer both parties new amenities make sense, but when it comes to farmland, it’s often the farmer getting shafted.