“South of the north, yet north of the South, lies the City of a Hundred Hills, peering out from the shadows of the past into the promise of the future.” – W. E. B. DuBois
Throughout American history, most of our major cities were founded (at least in part) for some geographic reason. New York sits next to an amazing harbor. Chicago, at the meeting of its river and a Great Lake. The settlement first known as ‘Terminus’ was located because it was to be the terminus of a railroad. No geographic feature needed. Just transportation and connection. Today, Terminus – which later became known as Atlanta – continues to rely on transportation and connection to aide its growth as one of America’s regional economic capitals.
By the Civil War, the southern United States had lagged behind their northern peers when it came to development of urban centers and industry. The state of Georgia correctly forecast that it would need to connect its primarily agrarian economy to the Midwest and Northeast by rail. While the city of Atlanta, aforementioned as the terminus of these rail lines, was burned to the ground during General Sherman’s march, the city rebounded after the war as the emerging urban center of the “New South”.
What turned a mid-size city in 1940 to a major business and population center today can be at least partially summed up in one word: Delta. The airline, today one of the world’s largest, moved to Atlanta and helped the city’s airport grow into one of the largest in the world. Further, the promise of good weather, lower taxes and lax zoning laws fostered tremendous population growth, along with corporate relocation and expansion. The result, however, is most startling when you drive into the city along the massive freeway known as the Downtown Connector – a long line of skyscrapers with little by the way of urban density.
The city and region today are working to rectify years of unchecked sprawl though targeted reinvestment. Efforts have been made to promote walkability and dense development zones. However, the majority of the city includes single-family residential streets and linear stretches of mid and high rise office towers, condos and hotels. The MARTA rail system, which began construction in the 1970s, has fostered further growth and connection throughout the core of the region.