Given enough political will and enough choice, we can save the world. Or, as this case study shows, we can let things continue to go to hell in a handbasket lined with peach blossoms.
Atlanta, the titular center city, contains only some 7 percent of the 6 million inhabitants of the greater area called Atlanta. That metropolis, writes native son Pendergrast (Beyond Fair Trade: How One Small Coffee Company Helped Transform a Hillside Village in Thailand, 2015, etc.), constitutes a “vast world where most people who say they live ‘in Atlanta’ actually reside” strung out somewhere on a beltway or endless avenue named, inevitably, Peachtree. The BeltLine is one, “a twenty-two-mile ring of mostly defunct rail lines, running through forty-five neighborhoods girdling Atlanta’s downtown.” Faced with this crumbling bit of infrastructure, Atlanta writ large has been trying to remake it to spur development and redevelopment, bringing life to an often ghostly downtown, and, with luck, easing the city’s notorious gridlock. In all this, Atlanta has discernible options that may lead to better tomorrows in a nation not well known for long-term thinking. The author turns in a lively urban history, charting Atlanta’s growth and linking it to political developments over time—not least of them Jim Crow laws that forged many of those wrong-side-of-the-tracks neighborhoods. He is generally optimistic, even in a time when taxpayers are reluctant to shoulder the burden of improving the commonweal: “Change is in the air in Atlanta,” he writes, “mostly for the good.” Where money and political will have been spent, that is, things have changed for the better, though the author also reckons, eyes open, that the possibility also exists that Atlantans will “continue to live segregated and unequal lives.”
A welcome look at a city—a mass of cities—not often heard from in the urban-studies literature and of wide interest well beyond the I-95 corridor.