About the Exhibit

For decades, the Atlanta Metropolitan region has experienced a tremendous growth in population and territorial expansion. Today, the City of Atlanta with 472, 522 residents (as of 2019) is dwarfed, in terms of population, by a metropolitan region of 5, 612, 777. However, in 1940 the City of Atlanta was a relatively dense city of 302, 288 that dominated the metropolitan region of 518, 100. Outward regional growth in the form of low density development and decline in the urban core has characterized the region for so long that it has become nearly impossible to imagine the region’s built environment exhibiting anything other than its current, ill-defined form.

The Sprawling of Atlanta digital project invites the public to visualize the extensive built environment and demographic changes that have occurred throughout the metropolitan region from 1940 to the present. The project offers georeferenced and stitched together aerial imagery overlays of the five core metropolitan counties (Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb, Gwinnett, and Clayton) with one aerial mosaic layer for each decade beginning with 1940. Additionally, our project incorporates census tract-level data from Atlanta Regional Commission’s annual Population and Housing estimates and from the Census Bureau’s Decennial Census and American Community Survey.

The Sprawling of Atlanta is unique in that it uses census tract-level data that corresponds to the exact year of the aerial photos. Demographic change in the Atlanta metropolitan area often occurred rapidly. Therefore, using census tract data from different sources allows us to provide a snapshot of, for example, the estimated number of whites and blacks by census tract for a given year and to show the actual built environment during that same year. Together, these aerial and census data overlays reveal the dramatic growth of the suburbs, the loss of farmland, the decline and rebuilding of the urban core, and shifting racial and housing patterns.

Aerial images are only available for certain years. In two cases we could not provide census tract-level estimates that exactly correspond to the date of the aerial images. Substitution was necessary for the 1955 aerial layer and the 1981 aerial layer. For the 1955 aerial layer, we used Atlanta Regional Commission’s census tract-level estimates from 1956. For the 1981 aerial layers, we used the Census Bureau’s 1980 Decennial Census estimates.

Suggested citation

Hurley, Joseph A.and Katheryn L. Nikolich, The Sprawling of Atlanta: Visualizing Metropolitan Area Change, 1940s to Present, Georgia State University Library, accessed [current Month Date, Year].

Project Team

Project Director: Joseph A. Hurley
Project Manager: Katheryn L. Nikolich
Lead Student Assistant: Carson Kantoris
Graduate and Honor Student Assistants
John Hohrn
Alexandra Orrego
Shaofan Zhang
Technical Assistance
Matt Brooks
Jonathan Bodnar


For questions related to The Sprawling of Atlanta, please contact Digital Library Services at digitalcollections@gsu.edu.

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