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Pros & Cons of Moving To Atlanta

My family and I moved to Atlanta in February 2013 from Athens, GA. We have lived here ever since.

Like many Atlantans, we moved here for a job. And during the course of that job, we decided that Atlanta was the best long-term fit for our family.

When I left that job and started a business that I could run anywhere in the world, we decided to stay in Atlanta.

The decision had a lot to do with family and familiarity, but Atlanta had so much going for it – that it was less of a decision and more of a confirmation.

Here are the pros and cons of moving to Atlanta based on our experience in the past 5 years.

Pros of Moving to Atlanta

There are many reasons it has been one of America’s fastest growing metro areas for decades.

But I’ve found there is more to Atlanta than jobs and (relatively) cheap housing.

Economic Opportunity & Outlook

Atlanta is known for its Fortune 500 companies. But there’s a lot of other money sloshing around here.

I took a job with a mid-size marketing agency in Midtown. I worked on dozens of accounts serving clients from small startups to large corporations. Some were outside of Atlanta, but our bread and butter were Atlanta-based companies.

That perspective showed me that there are thousands of firms across an unbelievable range of industries in Atlanta. And they are all making money and growing like crazy. For example, Atlanta is quite a hub for children’s goods. Both Gerber and Carter’s are here. There are companies that make industrial water purification tablets. Neither of those contribute to Atlanta’s national image – but they definitely create tons of economic opportunity for both careerists and entrepreneurs.

And the diversity takes some risk out of starting a business. In Silicon Valley – you pretty much have to be a global tech company to draw talent and make the high rents. In Atlanta, any kind of company can make it – and there’s every type of company to service.

Even though I could operate my business anywhere in the world, the diversity & outlook of Atlanta’s economy provides not only opportunity but also stability for my business.

Lastly, businesses here want to make money. They want to invest. When I ran my first (failed) business in Athens, GA – it was exhausting to work with (some) clients. Not that they weren’t good people or good businesses – it was that everything was a cost not an investment. I’d have to fight over a $20 expense on an already absurdly cheap web project.

In Atlanta, like most big, prosperous metro areas – if an action or purchase makes money, then it makes sense. I’m sure New Yorkers or San Franciscans might think that Atlanta doesn’t act this way enough. But compared to the small cities that I’ve been in, Atlanta is like a breath of fresh air.

Earned Native-ness

The joke in Atlanta is that if you’ve lived in Atlanta for 5 years, then you’re from Atlanta. And if you’ve lived here for 10 years – you’re a native-born Atlantan.

But there’s some serious truth to the joke. It’s a city of transplants. A common conversational question is “where are your from” or “how long have you lived here” – with the assumption that nobody is from Atlanta. Instead, everyone assumes that everyone has moved here.

And there’s something cool to that – something very American. I know people in Boston who are still “from Georgia” even though they’ve lived in Boston for 10 years. Same for Chicago, New York, Philadelphia – and many other American cities. In Atlanta, you can move here and fit right in – no matter where you’re from.

Density Choices

Not everyone who wants to live in a city wants to live in a New York size studio apartment. And not everyone who wants to live outside of NYC / SF / LA / Chicago wants to live in a single-family detached home with a yard.

Atlanta has choices for everyone. I live 2 miles from Downtown in a single family home with a yard. But there are also 30 story condos available atop a grocery store and a MARTA stop in Midtown. There are townhomes and rowhouses and apartment buildings and historic homes and new construction – all within a short radius of all the commercial centers like Downtown / Midtown / Buckhead / Perimeter Center / Cumberland / Airport.

In other words – no matter what your housing tradeoff, you can find it. It’s not like Chicago where you have to travel 8 miles from Downtown to find a detached single family home or like LA where you can’t find a good, decently priced apartment. There are choices all around.

Cultural Choices

From Zoo Atlanta to the Georgia Aquarium to The High to Atlanta United to music & neighborhood festivals and everything else – Atlanta enough cultural choices to last a lifetime. We’re never short of things to do. Our list of things to do and places to visit consistently runs longer than we can possibly do them.

Big Ambitions

It’s fun to live in a city that wants to be the biggest and best in the world. Atlanta is famous for its never-ending boosterism. It’s been a thing since the era of the New South and Henry Grady after the Civil War.

Yes – the haters will hate on Atlanta’s ambition. The 1996 Olympics has tons of critics (and defenders). Our biggest, boldest public investment gets called a “glorified sidewalk“. And Atlanta will forever be in the American South for worse…but hopefully for the better as well. But whatever.

In high school, I lived in a small town where the mayor’s default response to everything was “this town don’t need that.” Atlanta is the total opposite of that.

But optimism wins in the long-run. And it’s fun to live the hype.

The Airport

Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. It’s the world’s busiest by passenger numbers and by aircraft movements.

It’s that way because it’s the perfect hub. Fly thousands of people into Atlanta – and fly them right back out.

What that means for Atlantans is that we have way more direct flights than any metro area our size.

A metro area our size should not have direct flights to Madrid, Seoul, Managua AND Muscle Shoals…but we do. And it’s awesome.

Diversity & History

Atlanta is the birthplace of the Civil Rights movement. It’s a center of black wealth, political power and culture. Atlanta is a hub for immigrants from all over the world. It’s one of the few LGBTQ friendly places in The South. A small Atlanta suburb is one of the most welcoming cities for refugees in America.

The city is also home to dozens of research institutions, international businesses, a thriving arts scene. and a film industry that attracts people from all sorts of different backgrounds to the City year-round. There are all kinds of cultural festivals, incredible restaurants, and interesting people throughout the city.

It’s a city that feels like the future of America, and it’s definitely a place where we want to raise our children.

Geography, Weather & Natural Disasters

No earthquakes. No wildfires. Few tornadoes. And hurricanes weakened by 200 miles of land.

We have a beach 3 hours away. Incredible mountains are 3 hours away. A giant National Park is 4 hours away. We have a major river (even if it’s not right Downtown). And we have a ton of outdoor recreation opportunities.

Summers are hot – but winters are mild. Snow comes occasionally. Atlanta gets many days of sunshine, but also plenty of rain to keep everything green.

Sure – there is pollen and there’s summer humidity. I wish we had an ocean or river view downtown. But overall, the climate and geography are really good.

Neighborhood Choices

This point is related to density choices, but still a huge advantage for Atlanta. Until you live here, it’s hard to understand the importance of neighborhoods in Atlanta.

Atlanta has 242 official neighborhoods ranging from little pocket areas to Midtown.

Every single one has a unique history, identity, and feel. Very little of Atlanta was planned out by the city government. Most of the city was developed privately and incrementally over the years and annexed into the city.

All these little pocket neighborhoods add a layer of community, pride, and lifestyle throughout the city.

I know every city has its own boroughs and neighborhoods and choices – but Atlanta has an especially wide range due to how it developed.

Family Friendly City

I love huge cities. I love visiting New York City with every chance I get. Same with Chicago – and any city around the world.

I’m also a parent to 2 young children. And I want to raise them in the city.

But the biggest cities in the world are simply not fun places to regularly go out and about with your young kids. Little things like subway turnstiles, public eating space, clean restrooms, safe playgrounds and the option to occasionally take a car make a huge difference in day to day life.

Atlanta provides that balance for us. It’s big enough to have all the attractions, diversity, and resources for kids without the constant low-level headaches that come with traveling in a super-dense city made for singles and young professionals.

The Future

If you look at the Metropolitan Area Population Charts over the last 30 years – you can see a trend. People are moving to the Sunbelt. And while there’s an occasional pause – they keep coming.

But not every Sunbelt city is equally attractive.

With climate change, greater worldwide mobility, and continuing shifts in how we work – Atlanta is looking good.

Miami and Phoenix both have well-known issues to deal with. And while Atlanta will have to deal with big problems in the future, I’m not actively worried that we’re going to turn to desert or drown underwater.

And! Here’s a fun list of 101 more things to love about Atlanta from our local Curbed website (useful for researching neighborhoods).

In 2021, JLL released a fascinating report on “Why Atlanta” – you can download it here.

Negatives of Moving to Atlanta

Atlanta has plenty of notoriety. Some of it is deserved and some of it is not. But I’ve found that a lot of the downsides of Atlanta are simple tradeoffs from its strengths.

Because here’s the thing – Atlanta is a city that is really, really great at whole lot of stuff…but not really The Best at anything. The city is also really, really bad at a whole lot of stuff…but never really The Worst.

It’s why on so many city rankings – you’ll see Atlanta consistently in the Top 10 of everything…but never #1 for anything. Overall – that’s the biggest negative of living in Atlanta, even though that “above average with little downside” is also the big advantage. Either way, here’s the specific areas that bug me living here.

Geography & Weather

Atlanta is convenient to so many geographic features, but exists immediately at zero interesting features.

It’s great to only have a 3 1/2 hour to the mountains or the beach. It’s great to live only 30 minutes from a major river and recreational lakes. But it’s annoying to not live at any of them. There’s no river, lake, or beach downtown. There are no mountain views.

There are plenty of trees, but few forests. There is more sun than most cities, but also plenty of rainy days.

The weather is not harsh. It’s never bone-numbingly cold or so hot that you have to wear oven mitts in your car. But it’s humid year-round. It’s hot in the summer. It still gets cold in the winter…and it rarely snows significantly.

Oh – and there is pollen everywhere all through April.

Overall, the weather is really good (hence the listing in the advantages)…but it’s also a decent negative since it’s never awesome either.

History & Personality

From railroads to the Civil War to corporate brands to the Civil Rights movement to the Olympics – Atlanta has so much history. We have lots of historic neighborhoods. The local Atlanta History Center is full of interesting exhibits.

Atlanta also has a unique business culture, a unique music scene, an up and coming food scene, a big influence in international non-profits all in addition to plenty of “firsts” in government innovation.

But most of the history is either really recent or it’s been demolished. Atlantans usually have to go to Savannah to see history.

And the same goes with personality and symbolism – the city is so young and changing so fast that there’s no real set identity or symbolism like other, older cities might have.

Layout & Design

The layout of Atlanta is a hot mess. The city started as a boomtown next to a railroad. While the railroad was doing its own planning, the City of Atlanta only did the bare, basics of planning in the early days. And even then, profit and racism drove all master planning. As the city grew, and tried to build out some arterial streets and a semblance of a grid between neighborhoods – even those were busted up by the Interstate highways.

The end result is that Atlanta has the spaghetti mess of roads of Boston…without the density of Boston. That means that intown, you still need a car to get some places…but are usually limited to a few chokepoints in traffic.

The BeltLine and new planning laws are changing this a bit…but nowhere near as fast as development is happening.

When I walk or drive down Chicago or Philadelphia or DC or New York’s grid – it’s pretty amazing compared to Atlanta.

Also – the joke about every street having “Peachtree” is actually fairly true.

Real Estate Game

Atlanta has no natural boundaries. So unlike cities like Boston, New York, Los Angeles, etc – there’s no natural reason why any specific location is better or worse than another.

So everything in Atlanta real estate is relative. Real estate values are subjectively based on history, stories, prejudice, stereotypes, job locations, school perceptions, commercial development, public works projects, friends, transportation, etc.

I know that this is how real estate works everywhere – but in Atlanta it’s extreme.

Both within the actual City of Atlanta and throughout the Metro area – massive change happens very quickly over time. And small nuances cause massive price differences over a very small geographic area.

It’s weird and crazy. It’s super-complicated (job shifts, transportation modes, etc) but also super simple (racism). And it’s been happening for a long time.

On the whole, I’m hopeful that the city as a whole will develop equitably – and that this generation will push for better zoning, more diverse housing, and more affordable housing – all without the giant side of racism.

But until then – I highly recommend renting for a year before purchasing a home. Also – develop an objective rubric, hire a good, experienced real estate agent before shopping, and **visit** actual neighborhoods rather that going off stereotypes or hearsay.

Established Institutions

All of Atlanta’s big cultural institutions are really young. In some ways that’s great – everything is new. But when you go somewhere like Chicago’s Field Museum or Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts…you realize just how young Atlanta’s institutions are.

This means that there are very few “Atlanta traditions” – even our big music festival is only around 3 years old. Our oldest sports teams came to town in 1966 – and none have the history or stories of the Celtics, the Giants or the Cubs.

Neither Pros Nor Cons

There’s a few big things that I thought would be a big pro or con about Atlanta…that turn out to be just a fact of any city – and really need more context.

Crime

Atlanta is a safe city. Like every American city – there has been a massive drop in crime since the early ’90s. There’s no huge shootouts or nightly violence.

Crime rates in City of Atlanta are about the same as anywhere else in Georgia. Now – there are more people here, so there are more crimes. But the risk is the same.

However, crime happens – especially property crimes. But there are plenty of habits that will dramatically decrease your risk profile. Keeping a clean car, having an alarm system, looking behind you before entering your car, parking under a light post will all substantially decrease the risk around the most common crimes (stealing iPads out of parked cars).

I run late at night. We know our neighbors. And the tradeoff of living in the city instead of an isolated gated community is totally worth it.

One thing that I’ve found is that crime in Atlanta is as much about perceptions as reality. When we first moved to our neighborhood, we subscribed to the NextDoor social network app. All the constant reports of BOLO (be on look out) and “suspicious activity” quickly drove our anxiety sky high…even though when you look at the crime map – there were zero crimes most months or a few predictable ones at worst (ie, tourist car break-ins at the Zoo).

Once we unsubscribed to NextDoor and started to know our neighbors more – our anxiety went way down…even though nothing in reality had actually changed except our perceptions (and this is true across America now).

Crime in Atlanta is just a potential fact of life – it’s neither terrible nor extinct. It’s just there. And it’s something that can be mitigated with better habits, getting to know your neighbors, getting involved in your local neighborhood association, and getting to know your community officers. Also – avoid local social media and be friendly to everyone in your area.

Traffic

Rule #1 in Atlanta is to live near your work. Yes, Atlanta does have infamous drive time commutes…but they are still shorter than New York or LA’s average commute. And when you drill down in the statistics – it’s Atlanta’s huge population of super-commuters who really drive up the average. The median commute is much more manageable. And in my daily life, traffic really is not a big deal. Here’s a few tips.

  • Consider the total cost of commuting.
  • Live near your work.
  • Get housing near MARTA to provide options.
  • Religiously use Google Maps / Waze before every trip – no matter how short.
  • Try biking. And bike everywhere shorter than 2 miles.
  • Do not drive anywhere at 5pm on a Friday.
  • Time-shift & batch errands whenever possible.

Every big, prosperous city will have traffic. For Atlanta, it’s just a fact of life – neither a pro or a con.

House Prices

If you Google anything about Atlanta house prices – you’ll find out that, somehow, Atlanta is both one of the most affordable places to live in America AND has a massive shortage of affordable housing. You’ll see that Atlanta’s house prices are both skyrocketing faster than anywhere outside of Phoenix AND have been languishing since the Great Recession.

It’s all true! See the “Real Estate Game” in the negative.

Within 1 mile of my office, you can get a 2/2 house with the same square footage on the same size lot for $108,000 OR $550,000.

The same goes with the suburbs. It’s crazy. House prices cut both ways. It just depends on what your goal / preference / budget is.

Every mention of “house price” or “monthly rent” should come with a giant list of caveats. It’s just a fact of life – neither a pro or a con.

Wrap-up

Atlanta is an amazing city. It has its downsides. It has tons of upsides – even if no single one is the BIG reason to move here.

But – it’s way above average on nearly every metric that matters day to day. So my limited experience**, it makes an amazing place to live and work. We may have moved here for work – but we’re staying for everything else.

And if migration patterns are any indication, plenty of other people think so too.

**Note – I’m a straight, white, married male with 2 children. I moved here after college and work in marketing. Even though Atlanta does well on a lot of “Best City for…” lists for people from different backgrounds & stages in life (like Singles) than me…it also has a lot of challenging downsides. Even though I can’t write directly towards those experiences, hopefully, some of what I mentioned above can be useful in figuring out your own pros & cons of Atlanta. I get on Twitter every few weeks if you want to DM me there for any questions. Also, the Atlanta subreddit is a useful place to search for or post questions. Thanks for reading!

By Nate

I'm Nate Shivar - I live in Atlanta and love exploring the city, outdoors, books & Internet. Read about me, my Now page, or my work.

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