1. Governance
March 2, 2023

Buckhead vs Atlanta: Can part of a city really secede?

The wealthy, predominantly white area of Buckhead is looking to break away from Atlanta.

By Alex Summers

The Buckhead district of Atlanta, Georgia, made headlines recently as it took further steps in its bid to secede from the city as two bills passed a Georgia Senate committee on Monday 27 February with a floor vote expected imminently. 

Buckhead, Atlanta
Buckhead City patches are seen on a platter at a fundraiser for the move in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Elijah Nouvelage/AFP via Getty Images)

If both bills are approved by both chambers (House and Senate) it could pave the way for Buckhead residents to vote in November 2024 on whether to secede from Atlanta and form their own city.

Many residents are blaming high taxes and Atlanta’s inability to tackle its high crime rates as their reason for getting behind the initiative. 

The move was previously blocked by Georgia legislative leaders last year.

“[Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens] is disappointed by the committee’s vote to advance this short-sighted legislation,” said City spokesperson Michael Smith.

Can Buckhead secede from Atlanta? 

The concept of one part of a city seceding from the main city, as in the case of Buckhead, Atlanta, is a controversial issue. On the one hand, it is seen as a means of local autonomy from a centralised authority. On the other hand, it is seen as a potential threat to the unity of the city as a whole. 

While the idea of one part of a city seceding from the main city is theoretically possible, it is often fraught with difficulty. In order to secede, a part of a city must first form its own government, though most US cities have many layers of local government. Secession also requires a significant amount of political and legal manoeuvring, which can be difficult to achieve in a short period of time. 

There may also be potential issues regarding the legality of secession. Depending on where the city is located, there may be laws in place that prohibit secession or require the approval of the state or federal government in the US, for example.

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Perhaps the most difficult issue when it comes to secession is the potential for conflict. Secession can be seen as a threat to the unity of the city as a whole, and it can lead to political, economic and social tensions between the two parties. 

Additionally, the secession of one part of a city may lead to other parts of the city attempting to secede as well, leading to a domino effect. Though this would be a very long, drawn-out process.

So while the idea of one part of a city seceding from the main city is theoretically possible, it is a complicated and potentially contentious process, and it should only be pursued if all parties involved can agree on the terms and conditions. 

That said, it hasn’t stopped ambitious campaigns like the one in Buckhead, Atlanta, with others in the US even attempting to redraw state lines.

[Read more: Can Atlanta end single-family zoning?]

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