How Does Atlanta Compare to New York City?

Ari Meier

Real data with a little fantasy thrown in for good measure

Atlanta vs. New York City

For a long time, many have compared Atlanta and New York City. Why, I don’t know. But I’ve heard many refer to Atlanta as “the New York of the South”. One of the many nicknames Atlanta has, the “Big Peach” references NYC’s nickname the “Big Apple”. Even the states the cities are in have similar nicknames, with New York state nicknamed the “Empire State” and one of Georgia’s nicknames “Empire State of the South”.

Most of us know there are no real similarities between both cities outside of the fact that both cities have big skylines (of course New York’s skyline is much larger) and they are regional powerhouses (with New York more international). I love my home city of Atlanta, and I love New York, but comparing the two are, well like comparing apples to peaches. (Sorry).

But Atlanta Feels So Big

I will agree with many (from NYC and other places) about Atlanta: It feels big. I’ve argued with people from Houston and Dallas that maintain that their cities are smaller than Atlanta, when in fact their cities are way larger. The numbers don’t lie. Here is how Atlanta and New York City compare on basic city demographics:

AtlantaNew York CityATL as a Percentage of NYC NYC Stats are These Many Times Bigger than ATL
Population (City)486,2908,622,6985.617.7X
Population Density (City)3,62928,49212.77.7X
Population (Metro)5,884,73620,320,87629.03.5X
Population Density (Metro)7031,52646.12.2X
Size in Square Mileage (City)134302.6444.32.3X
Size in Square Mileage (Metro)8,37613,31862.91.6X
Median Household Income$51,701$57,78289.51.1X
Persons in Poverty19.6%22.4%87.51.1X

All Data from U.S. Census Bureau

The Takeaway to Comparing Atlanta and New York City

For the “I want a summary of all this” readers, Atlanta is much smaller (in both population and land area, less densely populated, less wealthy, and less poor than New York.

The city of Atlanta (sitting mostly in one county, with a little spilling over into another), compared to NYC which encompasses 5 counties (boroughs) has a population less than 6 percent of NYC’s. New York’s metro area population is three and a half times bigger than Atlanta and has a little over 1 and a half times more land area than Atlanta. With the city populations so far apart and the metro areas closer, this shows that the city of Atlanta comprises a much smaller part of its metro area in both population and land area compared to the relation NYC has to its metro area.

Atlanta City Boundaries (Maps to scale)                 New York City Boundaries

NYC is almost eight times more densely populated than the city of Atlanta and New York’s metro area is a little more than two times more densely populated than metro Atlanta. This is surprising as Atlanta has been the very definition of sprawl for decades. These numbers show that most of the NYC metro density is concentrated closer to the core city, while Atlanta’s metro area population density is more evenly distributed throughout.

Atlanta Sprawl – U.S. Census Bureau

New York City Sprawl – U.S. Census Bureau

Atlanta and New York City is Similar in this Way

The two cities were the most similar in two areas: income and the number of persons in poverty. Atlanta’s median household income is almost 90% that of NYC’s and the number of people in poverty in New York City is 1.1 times the number of people in poverty in Atlanta.

Fantasyland: What if…?

Okay, now for the fantasy part of this. All the realists can stop reading at this point. I know the die-hard Atlanta folks would love to see their city compare more favorably to NYC on paper. Some may say that it’s an unfair comparison when NYC consists of five counties, while Atlanta is in one and a little bit in another.

If Atlanta was comprised of the five core counties in its metro area (we’ll call this ‘New Atlanta’), the population wouldn’t reach NYC’s population. New Atlanta’s population would be 3,755,843 compared to NYC’s 8,622,698 or about 44% of NYC’s population, while taking up 1,366 square miles, compared to NYC’s 303 square miles. The city of Atlanta would be four and a half times bigger in land area, while holding less than half the population. Not good.

Even scaling New Atlanta down to just two counties (Fulton and DeKalb) would give us a city that’s over 794 square miles, or 2.64 times larger in area than New York City, while the population comes in at only 1,794,676. A population that’s nearly five times smaller than New York’s. New Atlanta in this scenario, would be still smaller than Brooklyn, and Queens, but larger than the other boroughs in population.

New York’s density is a super intense 28,188 people living in every square mile, compared to New Atlanta’s 2,449 (five county New Atlanta, and 2,807 with two county New Atlanta). Let’s stick to the two county New Atlanta going forward (it’s less sprawling). If we switched the cities’ densities around, meaning that New York City’s population per square mile would be applied to New Atlanta’s land area, Atlanta would have 22,387,473 people. New York would have only 849,571 people if it had the density of New Atlanta applied to its land area.

Too Much Data and Even More Time

While this is totally useless information and might excite 8 people on the whole planet, it shows how big New York City is in area and population and how packed with people it is. It also shows (about 99%), how bored I must be to compare Atlanta and New York City and then come up with a fantasy of Atlanta expanding to try and get closer to New York in population status. Other things to note:

More of How ATL Compares to NYC

New York City has a population of almost 2 million people less than the whole state of Georgia (the Empire State of the South, Peach State, etc.) and they all live in an area a little smaller than metro Atlanta’s Cobb County. This fact alone should have stopped me in my quest to compare these two cities. To put a better perspective of Manhattan’s size (13.4 miles by no more than 2.3 miles wide), to Atlanta, Manhattan would stretch in length from Atlanta City Hall downtown up to where the King and Queen (Concourse Office Towers) buildings are in Sandy Springs. This area would be no more than a little over two miles wide and have a population of 1,664,727.

2 thoughts on “How Does Atlanta Compare to New York City?

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