Cobb County’s future is upon us. Please handle with care.
I was born and raised in East Point, at one time the eighth largest city in the state. We had grocery stores (three as I recall), dry cleaners, a five-and-dime store, three movie theaters, a dozen or so churches, a high school fed by four grammar schools, two recreation centers, a swimming pool, bowling alley, a bunch of doctors, two ice cream shops and even a weekly newspaper, the Suburban Reporter.
Today? East Point is a ghost town. Buildings have been razed and turned into empty lots. I get bemused at the complaints about not having space to park in downtown Marietta. Visit East Point. There is plenty of parking, only there is no reason to park. Like Gertrude Stein’s observations of Oakland, the trouble with East Point is that “when you get there, there isn’t any there there.”
One of the theories given as to the demise of my hometown was that you could roll through the city on Highway 29 and never have to stop on your way out of town. Whereas in Marietta there is the Square. You couldn’t go through Marietta. You had to go around the Square to get through it and that most likely made it became a destination point.
That may be true, but there is more to it than that. Marietta and Cobb County have always had strong business and political leadership. From that leadership has come success. Look beyond East Point. Poor governance and a lack of civic leadership has prevailed among our neighbors in Fulton County, the City of Atlanta, DeKalb County and Clayton County. Compared to them, Cobb County stands out like a beacon. Are we perfect? No, but we are pretty darned good.
Now, about the future. Sunday’s Marietta Daily Journal reported on the latest findings from the Atlanta Regional Commission, looking ahead at the 10-county region, including Cobb County. By their estimation, the Metropolitan Atlanta area’s population will hit 8.6 million people by 2050. That is 30 years from now. By contrast, the population of the entire state of Georgia 30 years ago was 6.5 million.
Cobb County’s population currently stands at 775,000, including 72,500 who arrived here in 2019. By 2050, we will have an estimated one million residents, an increase of 40% and we will be more diverse. According to the 2010 Census, 62% of the county was white, 25% was black and over 12% of the population was Hispanic. By 2040, the ARC projects that Cobb’s population will be minority-majority. African Americans, Hispanics and other groups will make up 58% of the population in Cobb County and whites 41%.
And this is where the tough part comes in. Will we have the kind of forward-looking civic and political leadership we have had in the past that made Cobb County stand out from its neighbors or will we degenerate into a selfish and myopic bunch of political demagogues pandering to special interests? And how will the business community respond? We had better get ready to answer those questions.
Like it or not, we are going to have to get a better handle on transportation. More and wider roads are not the answer, particularly when you have a million people living in the county who trying to get to other areas of the metro area. I am not sure what the answer is. A bus rapid transit system connecting Kennesaw State to the Arts Center in Midtown Atlanta may be a good start, but will it be enough to accommodate the growing population?
Whatever the answer, transportation solutions will cost money — lots of money — and that is where the political leadership comes into play. Cobb County has been blessed over the years with outstanding political leadership who put the county’s interest before their own. Whether we will ever see the likes of another Ernest Barrett, the forward-thinking chairman of the county commission from 1965 to 1984 is debatable. He almost single-handedly transformed Cobb County from rural to urban with his visionary leadership.
With the demographic changes occurring in Cobb, our political leaders will undoubtedly reflect those changes. How they chose to govern will be the question. Will they put their county ahead of their own self-interest?
Tomorrow’s political leadership in Cobb County needs to be colorblind. We already have some excellent examples of minority leaders in the county including state representatives Erick Allen and David Wilkerson and Marietta council members Cheryl Richardson and Michelle Cooper Kelly. May they serve as role models to those who would play the race card like a banjo.
Growth is a wonderful thing. The antithesis being my poor bedraggled hometown. But growth has challenges, too. Is Cobb County up to those challenges? Stay tuned.