Home : Atlanta — Place of a Lifetime – Ravi Doshi – Medium

“It’s such a great city, you just don’t get it” I yelled back to my parents. I was talking about Atlanta of course. My former great southern home for the past 4 years of college. The City in a Forest, the Empire City of the South, the ATL, and yes, Hotlanta. I’m not from Atlanta originally. In fact, out of everyone I knew at college well, only two were from within the Perimeter (that is Interstate 285 for all y’all non Atlantans), and only one grew up in the actual city of Atlanta. Hence, we are all converts. This city did not grow on us overnight. It has neither the luster and fame of a city like New York or LA, nor the historical charm of a Boston or Washington DC. If anything, Atlanta spent a good part of the 20th and early 21st century collecting more accolades for infamy than fame going toe to toe with struggling rust belt towns for the title of murder capital (see: Murder Kroger). Yet, speaking broadly, we’ll always love this city, we’ll fight for this city, and proudly call it home. It and its memory pulls at us. Atlanta was named a Place of a Lifetime by National Geographic for its endless tree canopy of dahlias, and dogwoods, but as incredible as that is, Atlanta is truly a Place of a Lifetime because its dynamic pace and cityscape adopts and molds each of its residents to leave an everlasting mark.

Atlanta’s skyline and canopy extending over Emory. Credit: Rollins School of Public Health

Most of us from outside the metro arrived not knowing much about Atlanta. We came for our gated country club of a school first. Atlanta was just the zip code, and its airport luckily the statistically easiest place to fly to in the country. The greeting beyond the grandeur of the world’s busiest airport is a plethora of highways snaking in every direction coupled with drivers who like sharks can immediately smell the blood of a newcomer. Quite welcoming. If you’re in that 10% that managed to evade congestion, then you may get a few peaceful minutes of taking in Atlanta’s rather disjointed and eclectic skyline. For the other 90%, welcome to the world’s longest and widest parking lot! You might be caught dead wondering where all these people are headed at 2:00pm on a Sunday. We’ve been wondering that for the last 4 years along with every other local. Probably Chick Fil-A. After a few missed exits, and another few hours fighting traffic, you’ve arrived to campus where any concept of you being in America’s 9th largest metro is lost.

The only thing that can shut down the highways — 1/2″ of snow! Credit: The Columbian

A city devoid of natural barriers and steeped in southern tradition, urban here implies lot sizes still larger than those of many exclusive suburbs in the North. No brownstones nor federal style row houses, but plenty of freshly painted traditional craftsman bungalows with sprawling porches and a few rocking chairs to boot. Going west from campus takes you through some of Emory students’ and my favorite neighborhoods: Kirkwood, Edgewood, Reynoldstown, Grant Park and the Old 4th Ward (or O4W cause marketing science claims acronyms are sexier). Each has its own character and more importantly its own hipster coffee shop(s) of which concentration increases the further North and closer to the Beltline one gets. If you like me are addicted to coffee than by this point you have successfully contributed to gentrification and supporting local business in the same transaction. The further south towards Memorial Drive you go, the less manicured the properties look, the less coffee shops you encounter, the more package stores you see. These were and are working class neighborhoods. These were and are black neighborhoods. One minute you’re driving on Briarcliff, and the next Moreland. Two names, one road. This is on purpose and an eerie reminder to a time not so long ago when these streets were racial dividing lines.

Restored craftsman homes characteristic of Kirkwood. Credit: inKirkwood.com

As a resident of Atlanta, you are now a part of a real life experiment where everything about the neighborhoods you frequent is changing by the day and the consequences are no longer hypotheticals but realities of people being pushed out of their homes, demographics being flipped dynamically, and wealth being re-concentrated. You can’t opt out, and you can’t pretend to not see.

All this economics talk has probably got you feeling hungry. Welcome to the Cookout on Moreland Ave. For all things that can be seen as dividing people in Atlanta — by race, income, and/or generation — food, specifically greasy fast food, has a certain unifying romance to it. The most highbrow Atlantans will eat at a Waffle House, Cookout, or Chick Fil-A. They are always satisfying, an impeccable value, and an event in their own right. Nothing tastes better than a greasy chocolate chip pecan waffle and double hash capped and covered, or a $5 spicy chicken tray and mint chocolate chip milkshake after a late night on the town or exam.

Never complain about WaHo.

Whether it’s served up with classic southern hospitality (a guarantee at Chick fil-A), or the antics of a few inebriated guests and staff too tired of their shit (almost a guarantee at WaHo and Cookout), it’s a memorable time. The food doesn’t stop yet cause tomorrow morning is brunch.

Brunch as an event is a southern idea and I refuse to believe otherwise. Brunch and going to the mall encapsulate the two most favorable opportunities according to Atlantans for you to dress your best and be blessed with good lighting, so don’t fuck it up. With as many brunch places as chicken wing bones on the street spanning all levels of bougieness, this is the brunch mecca and the food never fails to impress on portion size or glutton. Unlike New Yorkers, Atlantans don’t brunch just for the insta. Now to walk off this hefty meal and last night’s debauchery, you’ll make your way to the Beltline.

The Beltline is another experiment. A former rail line encircling the city’s central neighborhoods that fell into disrepair after years of neglect now turned into the hippest urban trail in the country. This was another dividing line of white and black in the city but now revived is both a unifier of formerly disconnected neighborhoods, a brand new public walking space for a city notorious for its automobile affection sic affliction, and a beacon of wealth — the wealth of young migrants to the city. Plans to have a sizeable share of affordable housing built in its vicinity were mostly shelved the second developers realized they had stumbled upon a gold mine and the epitome of this is the marquee attraction of the Beltline, Ponce City Market.

The Beltline and Ponce City Market. Credit: Explore GA

Once veritably worthy of trap house status — and definitely not the sexy type with manicures and facials that 2 Chainz built — Ponce City Market is the gleaming repurposed food hall/mall of the former Sears & Roebuck Factory — one of the largest buildings by volume in the country. This beautifully restored structure is once again a gargantuan monument to capitalism complete with a rooftop bar and arcade (cause what do millennials love more than rooftops) and the truest embodiment of the city’s motto Resurgens (latin for Rising Again). I moved to the city the year it opened, and I remember the reaction of long-time locals to the dramatic change occurring before their eyes. It is another not so subtle reminder of the impermanence of places in this city. 10/10 Insta location if you were curious.

Atlanta knows the reputation it has developed and it’s hustling to change. Burned down in the civil war and shredded by white flight and overzealous highway construction, yet still holding together and ready for the future. The city’s heralded son, MLK, began his fight for civil rights here and his contemporaries such as John Lewis still proudly serve Atlanta residents. They represent the fighting spirit for change that this city has, whether it be social or as Midtown and Buckhead with their glass castles and forest of cranes prove, economic. Atlanta is open for business and shouting it proudly to the world, and as the focal city of the South, the city too busy to hate, it is emblematic of the hustle of the whole region to not only catch up with the rest of the country but even outclass it.

Cranes over Midtown. Credit: Curbed Atlanta

To those of you now inheriting Atlanta from those of us that have left and been lucky enough to call it home, I ask you remember that you are a part of the most dynamic experiment in America. A black city that is becoming more white and younger. A wealthy but increasingly stratified city. A city open for business and the economic uplift that comes with it. A city stuck in traffic but not time. A city with steady and unique institutions to cherish (yes WaHo is an institution, I will not accept any slander). Hopefully it makes you think about the other places you’ll encounter and how they can be made to be more inclusive, more supportive, and more open for business. Atlanta has nothing particularly that’s exceedingly great. It scores relatively low on every quality of life measure. It’s great because it grabs you by the balls and takes you on a ride in which you’re hit in the face by every possible social and economic nuance. They’re not hidden. You’re getting a free class on all these issues by virtue of studying there. What a privilege.

P.S. Going to WaHo and Pho 24 after 2am is a mandatory monthly excursion.

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