Dubai in Dixie

“Why was Atlanta so different from the other Georgia towns? Why did it grow so fast? After all, it had nothing whatsoever to recommend it—only its railroads and a lot of pushy people.”

Anyone visiting this astonishing boomtown, as I did recently, might wonder the same thing, but the question was posed in 1936 by Atlanta writer Margaret Mitchell in her novel…well, you know. She expressed more such views through her heroine Scarlett O’Hara who, “had always liked Atlanta for the very same reasons that made Savannah, Augusta and Macon condemn it. Like herself, the town was a mixture of the old and the new in Georgia, in which the old often came off second best in its conflicts with the self-willed and vigorous new.”

Atlanta was a hamlet when General Sherman took aim in 1864.

Atlanta was a hamlet, albeit a strategic one, when General Sherman took aim in 1864.

Mitchell’s presentiments may seem eerie, but it’s no real surprise that Atlanta exploded from the ranks of Sun Belt cities to become, far and away, the leader of the pack. Established in 1836 as a railroad center, its growth has been largely exponential over the years. Nicknamed the “city too busy to hate” during the 1960s civil rights upheavals, Atlanta was much more focused on financial growth than where African-Americans sat on city buses. In the ’70s, railroads took a back seat to airlines as the city’s airport became the busiest in the world. The Olympics came calling in 1996, subways now zoom beneath city streets and a 20-story Ferris wheel turns downtown. Hey, if London can have one…

Locals call the Burning of Atlanta as "early urban renewal."

Locals call the Burning of Atlanta “early urban renewal.”

Atlanta has always had a sense of humor about its unique place in Southern history. Union General Sherman’s 1864 conflagration is laughed off as “early urban renewal,” locals acknowledge the famously sultry summers by nicknaming the place Hotlanna, and the city has been called a lady “wearing a Yankee fur coat with her Confederate slip showing.” Scarlett’s Aunt Pittypat may have wondered “how Yankees ever got into Georgia,” but there’s no denying outside investments have catapulted Atlanta’s economy to the sixth biggest in the country and fifteenth world-wide. Talk about the South rising again!

Atlanta has not one but four skylines with more on the way.

Atlanta has not one but four skylines with more on the way.

I went to college in 1960s Atlanta and am now frankly astonished to see not one but four dynamic skylines and so many cranes and skyscraping shells on the horizon I thought of that other metropolis on steroids, Dubai. There are headaches and growth pains of course, most obvious in the city’s infamous traffic snarls, but Atlanta nevertheless barrels into the new millennium like a nineteenth-century Georgia stagecoach run amok. Southern gentility has been, I’m sorry to say, mostly lost in the shuffle, but Mitchell addressed that too. “Atlanta was of (Scarlett’s) own generation, crude with the crudities of youth and as headstrong and impetuous as herself.”

If London can have a downtown wheel, why not Hotlanna?

If London can have a downtown wheel, why not Hotlanna?

Yes, indeed, I suspect Miss Scarlett would be mighty proud of Atlanta in 2014. I certainly am.

6 Comments

  1. Bebe
    Aug 3, 2014

    You didn’t comment that the Battle of Atlanta will soon transfer to the Atlanta History Museum, or whatever its name is. Great blog.

  2. Liz
    Aug 4, 2014

    Well, fiddle-dee-dee! I haven’t been to Atlanta (other than the airport!) in more than a dozen years, so I probably wouldn’t recognize the place at this point. I can hear the enthusiasm and admiration in your voice, so I will hope to get there, too, one of these days…

  3. Karen Derderian
    Aug 8, 2014

    I always learn a little ‘somethin’ somethin’ from your wonderful insights. Just as you suspect that Ms. Scarlet would be proud of Atlanta, one thing I know for sure is that I am proud of YOU!!

  4. Joel
    Jan 17, 2016

    Thanks Michael– This certainly brings back memories of having lived in Atlanta during the 60s,70s and 80s. I am proud of you as well and am glad to have you as a friend all these years!!!

  5. Terrell
    Jun 26, 2016

    I just want to simply say that I love Atlanta!

    • Michael Lewallen
      Jun 27, 2016

      Glad you enjoyed the article, Terrell. I’ve written several more posts on Atlanta so you might want to check them out here.

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