On Living in Atlanta

Atlanta has been my home for most of my life. It’s a massive, sprawling city unlike any I’ve lived or visited in the world.

In the latest issue of More Intelligent Life, a correspondent for The Economist, Jon Fasman, reminisces about living in Atlanta, after having lived in New York City, Washington D.C., Hong Kong, London, and Moscow (Russia). It’s a great read.

Ah, the big ice storm in February of this year which shut the city down:

The weekend after we moved down, it snowed. Not much—an inch or two over a full day—but it shut the city down. Something similar but worse happened this year: a three-inch storm coupled with a week of below-freezing temperatures shut the city down for nearly a week.

I like this comparison:

Different cities are suited to different seasons: a few years back I was posted to Moscow, which blooms in the winter and wilts in summer. New York’s summer days are repulsive—walking outside feels like swimming through garbage soup—but there is no place I’d rather spend a summer evening. Atlanta is built for spring and fall—the pleasant seasons, and Atlanta is a profoundly pleasant city. 

Vivid descriptions in this paragraph. Though I suspect you can extend the relaxation into the weekends in Atlanta (at least, in my view, more so than you would in New York City):

That is not as easy as it seems. New York is thrilling, Hong Kong a marvel of density, Moscow the closest a city can get to a cocaine level of jitteriness and excitement, London endless: I love all four places, but I would never describe them as pleasant. They are none of them as comfortable and human-scaled as Atlanta. Social life just sort of happens here. In New York and London my calendar filled up weeks in advance; here it is not unusual to look forward to a relaxing, empty weekend on Thursday and then find that Saturday and Sunday are frantic.

Lastly, I have to agree with the author’s assessment here. Atlanta has terrible traffic (I believe Atlantans spend more time in traffic getting to their jobs than anywhere else in the country), our public transportation system (MARTA) is severely limited, and schools ITP aren’t on the same level as those OTP.

 Atlantans divide the area into “ITP” and “OTP”—Inside the Perimeter and Outside the Perimeter, the highway that rings the city and its closest suburbs. Most of the area’s population is O; most of its charms are decidedly I. One quirk of Atlanta’s development is that urban areas like mine feel rather rustic, while suburbs that were rural 30 years ago are now strip-malled, parking-lotted and planned-communitied into blacktopped uniformity. For all its charms, Atlanta provides an object lesson for mid-sized cities today in how not to grow. It sprawls, it really does have bad traffic, and thanks to a befuddling stew of overlapping city and county governments, it has negligible public transport and dysfunctional state schools. Better to treat the perimeter as a national border, and cross it only on trips abroad.

Do read the whole article and don’t miss the solid recommendations on what to do/see at the bottom of the piece.

If you’re a native to Atlanta, what’s your opinion on the author’s take of Atlanta? If you’ve only visited Atlanta, how does it differ from other cities you’ve visited?

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