Jim Thompson
Jim Thompson
By Jim Thompson
HCP columnist


As readers of this column know, I live in Georgia, specifically Gwinnett County, Ga. Gwinnett County is a northeastern suburb of Atlanta. I moved here in 1994.

In those days, Georgia was a red state – solidly red. So was Gwinnett County, but Gwinnett County was growing. Back in the 1990s, Gwinnett County was one of the top 10 growth counties in the entire country. I remember when the population of our county surpassed that of the state of Wyoming. It was still Red – both the county and the state.

Greater Atlanta is about a half-dozen counties, and more get scooped into the “Greater Atlanta Area” or MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Area) all the time.

Today, Georgia is bifurcated politically. For as blue as Atlanta is, the rest of the state is solid red. There is Greater Atlanta, and there is everything else. In recent decades, Atlanta has grown to a size that it dwarfs the rest of the state.

Atlanta can grow in all directions because it is not bound by a significant body of water. Atlanta started out as railroad terminus in the 1830s and 1840s. All other big cities first depended on water for transportation, a liquid barrier that now dictates their growth (most perfect example of this – New York City).

When Laura and I moved into our home in 1996, for all intents and purposes, we were near the northeast edge of Greater Atlanta. Now, there is another 50 miles of metropolitan style density northeast of us along I-85.

Up until about 10 years or so ago, all the growth was what I will call typical suburban housing – single-family homes on quarter-acre lots. They are big homes compared to the middle-century, post-World War II cracker boxes, but they were still single-family homes.

Lately, though, the housing style has changed. This change has been encouraged by the federal government, starting in the Obama Administration, and now it is becoming apparent as to why.

Coming out the Norfolk Southern mainline (we are still defined by railroads), there are Chamblee, Doraville, Norcross, Duluth (where we live), Suwannee and Buford. The type of housing being built here today is something different.

It starts with a precast concrete parking garage built in the center of a recently cleared large city block. Around that is built a five- to seven-story apartment structure that comes all the way to the sidewalk. Anything green is confined to planters appropriately spaced. Otherwise, it is a concrete jungle.

I started calling these things “millennial housing.” Every town along the Norfolk Southern mainline from Chamblee to Buford has built these. I have not researched or counted, but I bet Duluth alone has picked up 3,000 to 5,000 of individual apartment units in the last five years. It has totally changed the feeling of our town (some say for the better; I disagree). And, of course it has changed the traffic for those who commute.

However, I got to thinking about this a couple of weeks ago. I have been watching the congressional district gerrymandering arguments going on all over the country. It struck me, thinking about that and the housing situation I see around me – we are watching gerrymandering by home construction before our very eyes.

What are the likely politics of the young people who rent these apartments? I would say they are mostly young liberals. And this is why Gwinnett County, Atlanta, and then Georgia are moving from red to purple and eventually blue.

Now, it is not as simplistic as I have stated here. These young people were most likely raised as liberals, and these apartments are their first homes. Yet, it is a structural change, physically and politically, that is sweeping the country for we are not alone in seeing this. Next time you are in a large city, look around and you will see these buildings.

Jim Thompson, formerly of Marshall, is a graduate of Hillsboro High School and the University of Cincinnati. He resides in Duluth, Ga. and is a columnist for The Highland County Press. He may be reached at jthompson@taii.com.