I have been so hard on Atlanta.
I grew up there. My family arrived from Florida in 1964 and I didn’t leave permanently until 1990. That’s about 26 years of history, most of it very pleasant.
I loved Atlanta. It was certainly a city, but it was small enough to get around. I could travel from one side to another in 30 minutes or less and knew the network of streets like the back of my hand. Even after I-285 came along in the late 60’s, the town was human-friendly and easy to navigate and enjoy.
In those days, no matter where you were, you were never very far from the country: the mountains to the North, lakes to the Northeast, farmland to the South. It was so easy to jump in the car drive an hour in any direction and be in a totally different landscape doing totally different things.
But after I left, Atlanta seemed to grow up . . . and I didn’t care much for the lumbering brute of a city it became.
Not so much ‘White Flight,’ but a desire to escape the grittiness and increasing ethnicity (of all kinds) inside the Perimeter fueled a population explosion north of town. Places that seemed a day trip away began to flourish: Flowery Branch, Buford, Cumming, Canton and on and on. With that came a rubber stamped sprawl of nearly identical two story homes and franchised retail establishments. I would come back to Atlanta to discover that my business and my friends had all moved an hour or two north of the city and were delighted to be hanging out at Applebees, TGIFridays, P.F.Changs and El Torito. Traffic was terrible (always) and there was nothing real or genuine about the place.
I started referring to Atlanta as ‘My least favorite city in America.’ That had to do with the stupid suburban sprawl, sure, and with the long commutes to get anywhere. But mostly my damning judgement had to do with loss. I had lost a beautiful, place where things were green, where the rain fed lakes and rivers, and where I had roots.
I spent last weekend in Atlanta with my friend Dusty and a few of his friends. We went to a Braves game (I love Turner Field! It is so beautiful! And I can’t believe they are going to tear it down and rebuild in two years.), ate lots of good food and mostly NEVER VENTURED OUTSIDE I-285. Mostly we stayed in town, in Decatur, Candler Park, Ponce-Highlands, Little Five Points and Oakhurst.
What I learned is that the Atlanta I loved really hadn’t gone anywhere. When everybody ran out to the boonies to the good life of predictability, all the good stuff stayed behind.
Atlanta is a gorgeous city on so many levels. The new buildings that have sprouted in the past 25 years are awe-inspiring. And somehow, in the midst of all of this urban development, they’ve managed to preserve so many mature trees that it still feels like a forest.
The close-in scene is young, hip and vibrant – and yet an old fart like me can feel comfortable. And the artistic funk of the place? I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it anywhere south of New York City.
So I’m sorry, Atlanta. I’ve been too hard on you, and that wasn’t fair. I was just sad when I thought you went away. Let’s make up and be friends again, ok? And if it’s ok with you, I’d love to come back for an even longer visit.