Can Atlanta cram 1 million people - or more - inside the city limits?

Come to the Central Atlanta Library on Thursday and find out

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You have probably heard Planning Commissioner TIm Keane say Atlanta needs to start thinking about how the city will look if its population doubles in the coming decades. On Thursday at Downtown’s Central Atlanta Library, residents will hear an expert say whether that figure is overstated, lower than what we should actually expect, or just about right.

Arthur C. Nelson, a University of Arizona planning professor who’s an expert on urban growth and demographics, will join Keane and Ryan Gravel, the urban designer and Atlanta Beltline visionary who’s leading the Atlanta City Studio at Ponce City Market with Keane, to ask “How Big Can Atlanta Be?”

The city’s growth has been pretty static, growing slowly, compared to the region,” Keane says. “What we’re saying is over the next 25 or 30 years, that won’t be the case. That’s what we’re finding. But we want someone else to come in... to tell us what he sees and whether we’re being too optimistic or not aggressive enough.”

Thursday’s talk is part of a larger project called the City Design Project that’s happening at PCM and will pack up and relocate in the coming months to a different location. Residents, businesses, and elected officials have been walking in and helping to decide how Atlanta should prepare for a growing population and how the city should look. This is supposed to happen while also protecting neighborhoods, the city’s strongest asset, and making Atlanta open and available to everyone. 

Nelson’s input is vital, Keane says. The findings will help inform the studio’s work and will later guide the rewrite of the city’s zoning code, a long-overdue, important, and complicated process that creates a blueprint for Atlanta’s growth.

“The idea of the City Design Project is a physical manifestation of the number we’re shooting for,” he says. “Over the course of the coming months we’ll be basing our work on a goal of population growth. That’s why we started this, to have a reasonable, defendable and aspirational goal for the city. Then we literally build a model off of that. How would the city physically accommodate that?”

That plan is really a first for Atlanta, which has spent decades reacting to growth rather than trying to decide where it should go and how it should take shape. The commissioner says it’s in the same vein as plans that helped chart a course for Chicago and Vancouver’s growth. 

“It’s just something Atlanta is missing,” Keane says. “What is this city going to be? A really specific design for the city, rather than just constantly reacting to things and trying to mitigate or manage growth. Rather than doing that, actually have a design that we’re seeking to achieve as a community.”

Having a good idea of just how many people might decide to call Atlanta home is a vital part.

“This is the big discussion about the number,” he says. 

The fun starts at 6 p.m. at the Central Atlanta Library auditorium and will include a Q&A period. Space is limited so city officials ask people to RSVP with jmansbach (at) atlantaga (dot) gov. Remember, this isn’t at Ponce City Market. Consider taking MARTA or biking.