One of the things that I ponder a great deal are the various ways that we can enhance the startup ecosystem here in Georgia. As I blogged about recently, there is definitely a lot of pent-up energy out there, and I really do feel that we’re on the verge of breaking through. However, one issue that I haven’t talked much about is how Atlanta’s sprawl represents a substantial speed bump for these initiatives.
There are those out there who disagree with this statement, so I’ve assembled some facts and figures that may just surprise you.
Atlanta, Georgia is experiencing one of the most severe cases of sprawl in the country, and offers a striking example of sprawl-induced stratification.
— SPRAWL CITY (Island Press, May 2000, ISBN: 1559637900) by Bullard, Johnson, and Torres
According to several sources (including the Brookings Institute:)
Check out this nifty graphic provided by the Brookings Institute’s Living Cities report. It shows the population trend in Atlanta over the past decade. Note how much of this image is dark red (heavy increase in population) and where the lighter areas representing decreases are (e.g. downtown, midtown, etc.) Keep in mind that this chart doesn’t even show the bulk of the suburbs on the northend.
Additionally, if you look back 20 years ago, the wealth distribution had its epicenter in midtown and Buckhead. Now it is the 10-to-2 northern arc, outside of the perimeter. Take a look at this graphic which shows the poverty level (and to some extent/by proxy, the opposite) of the population living in poverty. The darker areas represent high-poverty areas (lower income) and the lighter areas represent areas that are low-poverty areas (higher income).
Why is all of this important? Simple.
While the vast majority of professional Atlantans live/work in the suburbs, the vast majority of professional events of interest to the entrepreneurs are still being held downtown/midtown. Included in this is pretty much every event put on by TAG, ATDC, IEI, MIT Enterprise Forum, and others.
Yet the vast majority of the Atlantas that are more easily capable of becoming angel investors or fast-growth entrepreneurs live and work in the suburbs.
This is a fundamental disconnect within the Atlanta community. Is it our only challenge? Not by a long shot. But it is, in my view, a speed bump that does inhibit the natural networking and connection process.
There are very few Atlanta entrepreneurs and angels that are going to routinely put themselves into morning or afternoon rush hour to try to get downtown to hear someone speak. Those that don’t have a problem attending these events (and those who don’t believe that the sprawl represents a challenge) probably live in midtown.
My challenge to these groups (and others) is to start addressing this directly by either rotating your venues (ala TechLINKS) or move your events to a more centralized location (such as perimeter). Otherwise, you are going to continue to be part of the problem, and not the solution.
On a related note, we’ll soon be announcing the StartupLounge.com Meetup. Patterned loosely after David Ratajczak’s successful YnR gatherings down at Georgia Tech, this will be the first major entrepreneurial networking event to be regularly held on the northend of the city (probably perimeter area, but perhaps a bit north of there – we’re still deciding.) It will be comprised of entrepreneurs and active investors (VCs and angels), and the location will not be published (to avoid the ever-increasing tidal wave of predatory service providers.) We are getting some pretty good interest in this event from some heavyweight names, so that is pretty exciting. I’ll post more details soon.