As we saw in Part 1, Atlanta was born on rolling hills at the nexus of three railroad lines, Native American trails, and river crossings.
In the 20th century,
these design constraints would prove to be a major challenge to traffic, as the railroad lines expanded to 15 lines, with up to 350 trains per day. Subsequently, the automobile took over, allowing Atlantans to travel distances easily, lowering the need for city density and adding the need for parking thousands of cars.
Finally, three major interstate highways were crashed directly through downtown Atlanta, inflicting the final blow to any perceptible grid in Atlanta’s urban design.
But, before we see that, let’s see how incredibly urban and dense Atlanta had become, with miles of streetcars, before the onslaught of the car.
1900 population – 90,000 (the largest city in Georgia; 3rd largest in the SE)
1910 population – 155,000, a 72% increase
1910 population – 155,000 1920 population – 200,600
1920 population – 200,600 1930 population – 270,400
Building The Viaducts:
Viaduct construction on Spring St (now Ted Turner Drive) in 1920.
1930 population – 270,400 1940 population – 302,300
All was not as great as it looked above, as Atlantans were suffering through the great depression.
1940 population – 302,300 1950 population – 331,300
1950 population – 331,300 (33rd largest city in US) 1960 population – 487,500
Sadly, this was the beginning of an era that would raze historical skyscrapers, or any building, to build parking garages and parking lots. This bad Atlanta habit would last into the 1980’s.
Sometime in the late 1950’s, Metropolitan Atlanta’s population hit 1,000,000 people.
1960 population – 487,500 24th largest city in the US
In the 1970’s, Atlanta became the 20th largest metro in US. By 1980 there were 2 million Atlantans; more than 4 million for the millennium. Today, Atlanta is the ninth largest American city with 5.7 million residents. The newest forecast is for a city of 8 million in 2040, just 25 years away.
I hear the question often; why does it seem there has been no urban design?
The various commissions which were responsible for Atlanta’s urban design never slacked off that I know of, but Atlanta’s runaway suburbanization kept designers ever busy continuously working to keep Downtown Atlanta viable through all the decades– a difficult task. The Perimeter Highway was built creating a huge force for growth– only outward. Civic leaders fought for the central downtown area, defeating the Outer Perimeter which was planned to improve Atlanta’s traffic, but would have been the final wound for Downtown Atlanta.
Also, the design commissions had no teeth, or legal power to enforce their decisions.
Suburban Atlantans of Cobb and Gwinnett counties and the GDOT may be mostly to blame. The suburbanites being afraid of MARTA, and the DOT confining themselves only to car transportation. Still, it should be said that after the GDOT “Freed the Freeways” in the 1980’s everything seemed great– until the population explosion after the Olympics. They definitely should have upgraded the intown arterial roads which have remained two lanes, always. Lawmakers had a hand in today’s clusterf___. Not until this year were gas taxes available for public transportation.
“Even now, instead of thinking regionally, as Atlanta so needs to do, new cities have split off from Fulton and DeKalb Counties. The City of Atlanta really needs to encompass at least Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb, Gwinnett, and Clayton Counties. Please, let’s work together people, it is in all of our interests.”
Atlanta has succeeded, with its’ Atlanta Spirit, with its ability to stay slightly ahead of the curve in Civil Rights, and with keeping Downtown Atlanta the center focus of the region. Atlanta also has the advantage of accepting everyone newly moved to Atlanta to be accepted as an Atlantan. It has always been that way. Newcomers are always welcome to become part of the continuous design that is the City of Atlanta.
Your ideas are welcome; together all of us will continue to make Atlanta greater.