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tennreb
Oct 27, 2008, 1:20 AM
This article appeared in the October issue of Garden and Gun magazine. It's the best portrait of a city I've ever read. My favorite line: "It’s…uncultivated, vulgar, even soulless…but it’s alive! God…the energy in this town!"

The Brazen City
By: Candice Dyer
August 12, 2008

Not long ago, an ill wind swept through the corner where Peachtree meets Sweet Auburn, the intersection of white and black thoroughfares that symbolizes Atlanta’s racial unity. Or some might call it a breath of fresh air. It was blowing from a few blocks away at the Margaret Mitchell House & Museum, where Alice Randall stood on the veranda and condemned its late occupant—the South’s best-known novelist—as a racist.

Randall had just published The Wind Done Gone, her postmillennial rewrite of Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind from the point of view of a feisty new heroine, a mulatto slave named Cynara, Scarlett O’Hara’s half-sister.

Impassioned denunciations flew back and forth in a debate that was not clearly black and white. Mitchell, a flapper who loved a good hissy fit, might have relished the scene.

Ultimately, however, after much to-do and legal wrangling, a spirit of reconciliation prevailed. Randall’s publisher made a hefty donation to Morehouse College, and it was revealed that Mitchell had anonymously underwritten dozens of scholarships for African Americans to study medicine at the historically black school. All was forgiven, and everybody gained something.

Mary Rose Taylor, the unflappably gracious director of the Mitchell House at the time, was pleased with the events and their outcome, saying the goal was “a dialogue of building bridges and not one of tearing down.”

And that is what Atlanta is about: a dialectic that often achieves the balance, harmony, and good fortune of a yin-yang symbol. The tradition dates back to the 1880s and Henry Grady, the managing editor of the then Atlanta Constitution, who rallied Northern investors with promises of a “New South” and “sunshine everywhere and all the time.” That relentless boosterism, shellacked in social conscience, has never dimmed and, some dark days notwithstanding, has shaped Atlanta’s peculiar character as a boomtown where wheeler-dealers substitute gumption for bigotry (which is bad for bidniss). Mayor William Hartsfield coined that semantically loaded slogan “The City Too Busy to Hate.” To prove it, Ivan Allen, Jr., who succeeded him as mayor in 1962, took down those unseemly water fountain signs two years before the Civil Rights Act. When our homegrown prophet Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated, other American cities went up in flames. Atlanta, miraculously, did not. Instead, it became the “black mecca,” and it kept right on working and innovating with companies like Delta, CNN, Home Depot, and—granddaddy of all hustlers—Coca-Cola, peddling carbonated sugar to an increasingly diabetic world.

“How did we get the Olympics? Confidence and salesmanship—after all, it’s not like we had great architecture and the Mediterranean,” Joel Babbit, an aptly named adman who had been the city’s marketing director, told the New York Times in 1996. “Atlanta’s business is self-promotion. We have always sold first, then kept the promises afterward.”

On the Move
Dixie’s City on a Hill owes its dynamic spirit to the potency of Bubba Babbittry, which climaxed with the 1996 Olympics and spawned another fat novel in A Man in Full.

“To have someone of Tom Wolfe’s stature hold you up to scorn is really the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval,” historian Frederick Allen gushed to reporters.

The city’s preening progressivism has always set it apart from the rest of rural, conservative Georgia. “Atlanta’s a diamond on a cow chip,” quips Tom Crawford, one of the pundits who gather weekly at Manuel’s Tavern, a politico hangout where much of the city’s backroom horse-trading still takes place.

Atlanta was born from the expediency of transportation. Originally a railroad nexus with the unlovely name Terminus, it was briefly called Marthasville and then rechristened a truncated version of Atlantica-Pacifica, another nod to the rails. Highways followed, and Atlanta grew into its role as hub. And grew, and grew. By 2009, the metropolitan area is expected to exceed 5.5 million people, and it straddles twenty-eight counties—like a colossus doing a split.

Whether you’re going to heaven or hell, you have to pass through Atlanta, went the rural saying. Today, many commuters point out that they are already in hell. Atlanta ranks second only to Los Angeles in gridlock. “I can remember a time when people in Atlanta could converse without ever bringing up traffic,” author Pat Conroy observed.

Happily, the sprawl is reversing course. “There was a tipping point in commuting that sent people back toward town,” says Jeffry Scott, a journalist who bought a fixer-upper in Kirkwood. “This used to be a neighborhood of crack houses. When we saw someone out walking a dog that wasn’t a rottweiler, we knew the place had changed.”

Flipping houses ITP (Inside the Perimeter) has become the bourgeois-bohemian pastime, and industrial wastelands along Howell Mill Road, Krog Street, and Edgewood Avenue are morphing with mixed-use makeovers into playgrounds of condos, art galleries, recording studios, and restaurants that astonish even the most jaded foodies. The multi-culti crowds look fit, purposeful, and casually fashionable; diversity, to them, was always a blithely foregone conclusion.

The neighborhood that most dramatically reflects this transformation is Cabbagetown. Once a heartbreakingly downtrodden mill village, it is now a hive of BlackBerry-wielding loft dwellers with a buzzing café society where Jane Fonda holds court. And Lake Claire Community Land Trust is a rolling greensward with a community garden and twenty-five campsites hidden away behind a nimbus of dogwood blossoms just five miles from downtown. There you might cross paths with a church group or with Malik the Mystic, a regal dreadlocked gentleman, leading a drum circle.

In a city often criticized for not supporting the arts, the High Museum of Art has more than doubled its space with the help of superstar architect Renzo Piano, and the new Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre showcases the Atlanta Opera with crystalline acoustics. Absence of music is never an issue anywhere in the South, and workhorse Atlanta, dubbed by hip-hoperatti the Motown of the South, is the birthplace of “crunk” and “snap style” (see your teenager’s iPod).

Business Rules
Because of its image-conscious bustle, Atlanta does not cultivate eccentricity like Savannah, or decadence like New Orleans, except for the throbbing adult entertainment industry. With more than forty “gentleman’s clubs” titillating conventioneers, Atlanta has long furnished the lace garters for the Bible Belt. “I’ve always liked Atlanta,” said comedian Jon Stewart. “And not just for the strip clubs, but the shopping and the food.”

Expect more discerning praise for the shopping and the food with the development of the Midtown Mile, one million square feet of chichi retailers and bistros spanning fourteen blocks of Peachtree Street, modeled on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile.

I tend to agree with Anne Rivers Siddons’ narrator in Peachtree Road: “In Atlanta, if it is good for business, it is as good as done. I have never particularly liked that about Atlanta, but I concede that it has given us an extraordinary vigor, and I have certainly feasted on its fruits…It’s…uncultivated, vulgar, even soulless…but it’s alive! God…the energy in this town! And it’s just so beautiful, parts of it.”

Atlanta’s genius may always have the unmistakable air of commerce, but it puts on that most hopeful of shows: a work in constant progress.


You can see the rest of article at http://www.gardenandgun.com/stories/search.html?id=162&words=high%20hampton%20inn

Tombstoner
Oct 27, 2008, 2:58 PM
a pretty insightful article about the good and the bad of Atlanta, I think (but what the hell is Garden and Gun magazine??? Must be a parody e-zine?)

tennreb
Oct 27, 2008, 7:43 PM
a pretty insightful article about the good and the bad of Atlanta, I think (but what the hell is Garden and Gun magazine??? Must be a parody e-zine?)

It's a fairly new magazine that is sort of an intellectual Southern Living. It's named for a defunct bar in Charleston that was populated by a cross-section of Charleston society for decades. The magazine is great if you like reading about the South.

shanthemanatl
Oct 27, 2008, 7:55 PM
Good article, but I've never understood this reputation of Atlanta being "soulless". Though it can be difficult for the casual observer to find, I think that Atlanta has tons of soul and character just below the surface.

trainiac
Oct 27, 2008, 9:33 PM
a pretty insightful article about the good and the bad of Atlanta, I think (but what the hell is Garden and Gun magazine??? Must be a parody e-zine?)

Yeah, quite a name. It's a new national magazine based here in the ATL

Thanks for posting this article.... very provocative

atl2phx
Oct 28, 2008, 5:02 PM
Good article, but I've never understood this reputation of Atlanta being "soulless". Though it can be difficult for the casual observer to find, I think that Atlanta has tons of soul and character just below the surface.

i don't agree with the souless label either, however, when so many people experience limited sections of the city from the confines of an automobile, it's difficult to hear, see, touch, feel, taste and smell what atlanta has to offer.

Andrea
Oct 28, 2008, 6:02 PM
If "soul" means history, passion, distinctive local culture and character, then Atlanta certainly has tons of that.

However, my guess is that when people talk about a city being "soulless" they are referring to the bland vistas of freeways, strip centers and subdivisions that make up so much of the visual image of American cities. Just driving through areas like that, you get the impression that you could be Anywhere, USA.