Archive for July, 2011

the city too busy to stop and read a plaque for once

Posted in atlanta with tags , , , , , , , on July 11, 2011 by kaffeemitschlag

Did you know Atlanta is one of the only true skyscraper cities in the United States? Outside of New York & Chicago, Atlanta’s buildings are taller than any others in the Western Hemisphere. Whether you’ve never been to Atlanta or have lived here your entire life, chances are you learned that just now.

(click to enlarge with zooooom capabilities)
Atlanta Skyline

As a seven-year resident of the city of Atlanta (and lifetime resident of the metro area), I can say with certainty that this city has a unique inferiority complex.

A history of Civil War, Civil Rights, and ah, Ted Turner has shaped Atlanta’s legacy as the major political and cultural center of the Southeastern US. Thanks to the astronomical number of Fortune 500 companies headquartered here, from Delta to Coca-Cola to UPS to Waffle House (okay, that last one may not be Fortune 500), the city has become an unexpected international hub for big business (remember that one time, when the Olympics happened?). Like many urban environments, Atlanta is a city composed of a kaleidoscopic population spanning demographics worthy of a census taker’s dreams (or nightmares, if they’re making up their statistics), with an atypical concentration of left-leaning, progressive types that render the city a deep blue island awash in a sea of roiling red. These factors combined have crafted Atlanta into a unique American city: an historically crucial, culturally diverse, surprisingly global urban center in the American South.

But Atlanta unnecessarily struggles with a cohesive identity, a desperate yearning for tourist dollars, and having to live with the fact that no matter how commercially & historically important the city may be, the rest of the South views it as a danger-filled strip club for Bolsheviks & Black Panthers and the rest of the country only sees a humid, backwater billboard plantation with a big airport. And the city’s desperation for tourism sometimes yields results like unnecessary trolley projects, an aquarium that looks like a mall food court, and museums dedicated to multimillion-dollar corporations. External prejudice and internal cynicism contribute to Atlantans’ mutual complex that their city isn’t perfect. Which, of course, it isn’t. But as far as underrated cities go, it ranks high. The individual personalities of each neighborhood, the plethora of historic districts and incredible museums, the annual events that transform the city into an American mecca, the immense (and delicious) restaurant culture, the mix of Old & New South architecture, and the grassroots community arts groups shape a uniquely amazing city. For any visitor to understand that, just spend a day exploring every shop & restaurant in Little Five Points; have a beer & a gyro and stalk Anderson Cooper in the CNN Center; explore the Sweet Auburn neighborhood that shaped Martin Luther King’s life; dress up like Sailor Moon or Hawkman for DragonCon; go ghost-hunting in Oakland Cemetery (Margaret Mitchell’s always wandering around at night); or grill out with a grindhouse b-movie at the Starlight Drive-In. Even the aforementioned questionable tourist traps are admittedly kind of awesome (beluga whales & international sodas!).

So while Atlanta may lack the cultural iconography of New York or the charming climes of San Francisco, the city’s rich reserves in history, the arts, neighborhood culture, food, and natural beauty are sometimes left untapped. Many Atlantans I know have never explored Cascade Springs Nature Preserve, the Fernbank Natural History Museum, the King Center, Westview Cemetery, the BeltLine Trail (especially the west side), the Botanical Gardens, the State Capitol Museum, the Carter Center, the countless parks dotted throughout the city that aren’t Piedmont, or the international cuisines of Buford Highway. So I encourage any Atlantans to venture outside for once and see what this city has to offer (and any non-Atlantans to come over & say hi), because you’ll be surprised at how awesome this place is when you actually look.