Elements of Urbanism: Atlanta

April 13, 2011 87 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville takes a trip to the downtown of the New South's largest metropolis: Atlanta.

Tale of the Tape

Atlanta Population 2010: 420,003 (City); 5,290,078 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1847)

Jacksonville Pop. 2010: 821,784 (City); 1,328,144 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1832)

City Population 1950: Jacksonville (204,517); Atlanta (331,314)

Metropolitan Area Growth Rate (2000-2009)

Atlanta: +28.89%
Jacksonville: +18.29%

Urban Area Population (2000 census)

Atlanta: 3,499,840 (ranked 11th nationwide)
Jacksonville: 882,295 (ranked 43rd nationwide)

Urban Area Population Density (2000 census)

Atlanta: 1783.3
Jacksonville: 2149.2

City Population Growth from 2000 to 2010

Atlanta: +3,529
Jacksonville: +86,167

Convention Center Exhibition Space:

Atlanta: Georgia World Congress Center (1976) - 1,400,000 square feet
Jacksonville: Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center (1986) - 78,500 square feet

Connected to Convention Center:

Atlanta: Omni Hotel at CNN Center - 1,070 rooms
Jacksonville: N/A

Tallest Building:

Atlanta: Bank of America Plaza - 1,023 feet
Jacksonville: Bank of America Tower - 617 feet

Fortune 500 companies 2010 (City limits only):

Atlanta: Home Depot (29), UPS (43), Coca-Cola (72), Delta Air Lines (84), Coca-Cola Enterprises (113), Southern (145), SunTrust Banks (224), Genuine Parts (236), First Data (250), Newell Rubbermaid (373)
Jacksonville: CSX (259), Winn-Dixie (306), Fidelity National Financial (366)


Urban infill obstacles:

Atlanta: Railroads and expressways cut downtown off from surrounding urban districts.
Jacksonville: State & Union Streets cut off Downtown Jacksonville from Springfield.


Downtown Nightlife:

Atlanta: Midtown
Jacksonville: East Bay Street


Common Downtown Albatross:

Surface parking lots.

Whose Downtown is more walkable?

Atlanta: 85 out of 100, according to walkscore.com
Jacksonville: 88 out of 100, according to walkscore.com

City Land Area
Atlanta: 131.8 square miles
Jacksonville: 757.7 square miles

About Atlanta:

Atlanta is the capital and most populous city in the U.S. state of Georgia. According to the 2010 census, Atlanta's population is 420,003. The Atlanta metropolitan area, with more than 5.4 million people, is the third largest in the Southeastern United States and the ninth largest in the country. The Atlanta Combined Statistical Area, a larger trade area, has a population approaching six million and is the largest in the Southeast. Like many urban areas in the Sun Belt, the Atlanta region has seen increasing growth since the 1970s, and it added about 1.1 million residents between 2000 and 2008.

Atlanta is considered to be a top business city and is a primary transportation hub of the Southeastern United States—via highway, railroad, and air. Metro Atlanta contains the world headquarters of corporations such as The Coca-Cola Company, The Home Depot, AT&T Mobility, UPS, Delta Air Lines, and Turner Broadcasting. Atlanta has the country's fourth-largest concentration of Fortune 500 companies, and more than 75 percent of Fortune 1000 companies have business operations in the metropolitan area, helping Atlanta realize a gross metropolitan product of US$270 billion, accounting for more than two-thirds of Georgia's economy. Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport has been the world's busiest airport since 1998.

Atlanta is the county seat of Fulton County and the location of the seat of government of the state of Georgia. A small portion of the city of Atlanta corporate limits extends eastwards into DeKalb County. Residents of Atlanta and its surroundings are known as "Atlantans".

About Downtown Atlanta

Downtown Atlanta is the first and largest of the three financial districts in the city of Atlanta. Downtown Atlanta is the location of many corporate or regional headquarters, city, county, state and federal government facilities, sporting facilities, and is the central tourist attraction of the city. The largest financial district also contains striking architecture that dates back to the 19th century while maintaining a modern look and feel. Finally, the area is also the location of the hub of MARTA rail lines and where the major Interstates meet each other with two of them forming the Downtown Connector.

As defined by the Central Atlanta Progress (CAP) organization, the area measures approximately four square miles, and had 23,300 residents as of 2006. This area is bound by North Avenue to the north, Boulevard to the east, Interstate 20 to the south, and Northside Drive to the west. This definition of Downtown Atlanta includes central areas like Five Points, the Hotel District and Fairlie-Poplar and outlying inner-city neighborhoods such as SoNo, and Castleberry Hill.

Part of the Downtown Atlanta skyline from the Downtown Connector.The Atlanta Downtown Improvement District (ADID) organization, though, defines a much smaller downtown area measuring just one and two tenths square miles. This area is roughly bound by North Avenue to the north, Piedmont Avenue and then Downtown Connector to the east, Martin Luther King Junior Drive, Courtland Street, and Edgewood Avenue to the south, and the railroad tracks to the west. This area only includes the core central business district neighborhoods of Fairlie-Poplar, Five Points, the Hotel District, Centennial Hills, and as of May 2007, the Railroad District.

The Downtown area is one of the most active business districts in the Atlanta Metropolitan Area. The daytime population swells to over 140,000 as of 2006. Downtown brings in more than 12 million visitors annually. Finally, Downtown boasts more than 12,000 hotel rooms, 185 restaurants/eateries and 30 bars/nightclubs.

Downtown Atlanta, like other central business districts in the U.S., is undergoing a transformation that includes building condos and lofts, uninhabited buildings being renovated and/or demolished, and the influx of people and businesses coming to the area.

Centennial Olympic Park

Centennial Olympic Park is a 21 acre public park that is owned and operated by the Georgia World Congress Center Authority. The park was built by the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG) as part of the infrastructure improvements for the Centennial 1996 Summer Olympics. ACOG's chief executive, Billy Payne, conceived it as both a central gathering location for visitors and spectators during the Olympics and as a lasting legacy for the city.

Closed shortly after the Olympics for renovations (including installation of grass) until spring 1998, Centennial Olympic Park now plays host to millions of visitors a year. It also hosts several events including a summer popular music concert series (Wednesday WindDown) as well as an annual Independence Day concert and fireworks display. Portions of the park are available for rental for private events.

The park has become a catalyst for new development in Atlanta's downtown. The new World of Coca-Cola museum opened on May 24, 2007, next to the Georgia Aquarium just north of the park, and Imagine It! The Children’s Museum of Atlanta opened on March 1, 2004 on a corner northeast of the park. Other significant attractions or developments surrounding the park include The Georgia World Congress Center, the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Atlanta Apparel Mart, the Omni Hotel, the Tabernacle (formerly a House of Blues location during the games), and the CNN Center, CNN's world headquarters. The Georgia Dome and Philips Arena are just a block away.

The Hotel District

The Hotel District is a district in Atlanta, Georgia, United States which is located in Downtown north of the Five Points and south of Midtown. The district is home to many hotels with one of them being the famous Westin-Peachtree Plaza. Among these and other hotels in the area, the Hotel District is home to much of Atlanta's premier class A office space by being home to many corporate headquarters, such as SunTrust. The district is home to Peachtree Center Mall, which contains one of Downtown's shopping areas.

Fairlie-Poplar Historic District

The Fairlie-Poplar Historic District is part of the central business district in downtown Atlanta. It is named for the two streets that cross at its center, northeast-only Fairlie and southeast-only Poplar. Fairlie-Poplar is immediately north of Five Points, the definitive centerpoint and longtime commercial heart of Atlanta. Roughly, it is bounded on the southwest by Marietta Street, on the southeast by Peachtree Street or Park Place, on the northeast by Luckie Street or Williams Street, and on the northwest by Cone Street or Spring Street. It has smaller city blocks than the rest of the city (about half by half), and the streets run at a 40 diagonal.

Fairlie-Poplar contains many commercial and office buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Local interpretations of prevailing national architectural styles, including Chicago, Renaissance revival, neoclassical, commercial, art deco, Georgian revival, and Victorian styles, are found here. The buildings of the district also represent the shift in building technology from load-bearing masonry and timber walls to steel and concrete framing.

Fairlie-Poplar developed during the late 19th century, when Atlanta emerged as the commercial center of Georgia and the Southeast. At the time, the area was promoted as "Atlanta's new modern fireproof business district". It constituted a major northward expansion of Atlanta's post-Civil War business district, which was largely concentrated along Peachtree and Alabama Street (now Underground Atlanta) and along Marietta Street. The new business district contained a wide variety of wholesale and retail operations, which marketed a broad spectrum of consumer goods and services. Public agencies and many of Atlanta's business offices were also located here.

Georgia State University (GSU) is a research university in downtown Atlanta, Georgia, USA. Founded in 1913, it serves about 30,000 students and is one of the University System of Georgia's four research universities. Georgia State is the second largest of the 35 colleges and universities in the University System of Georgia.

The university offers 52 degrees in 250 fields of study with more than 1,000 faculty members. The university president is Mark P. Becker. The Robinson College of Business has more than 50,000 graduates. Tens of thousands have gone on to become business leaders, like these who did so nationally: Ken Lewis, Bank of America Chairman and CEO; Richard Lenny, former Hershey Foods CEO; Jim Copeland, retired Deloitte & Touche CEO; Bill Dahlberg, Southern Company former Chairman and CEO; J. Veronica Biggins, Heidrick & Struggles senior partner; and Michael Gearon, Jr. a part owner of the Atlanta Hawks, Thrashers and Philips Arena. Georgia State’s campus occupies 34 acres (140,000 m2) of downtown Atlanta with 40 buildings. Future construction is on the drawing boards with numerous new projects. A multi-million dollar Science Park with laboratories and classrooms recently opened next to the Sports Arena.

Woodruff Park, named for Robert W. Woodruff, is located in the heart of downtown Atlanta, Georgia. The park's 6 acres (24,000 m2)[1] are north of Edgewood Ave, between Peachtree Street NE and Park Place NE. The park includes two fountains, a performance pavilion, and several monuments. A bronze sculpture, Atlanta from the Ashes (The Phoenix), depicts a woman releasing a phoenix, a symbol of Atlanta because of the city's rise from the ashes after being burnt to the ground by William T. Sherman's Union armies during the Civil War. Atlanta from the Ashes (The Phoenix) was a gift of the Rich Foundation in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Rich's Department store. The sculpture was designed by James Seigler, sculpted by Gamba Quirino, and fabricated by Feruccia Vezzoni in 1969. Atlanta from the Ashes (The Phoenix) was originally located on a viaduct adjacent to the first Rich's Department store on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, S.W. & Spring Street, S.W., Atlanta, Georgia from 1969 to 1995. In 1995, the sculpture was restored and moved to its current location in Woodruff Park.

Five Points

Five Points is a district of Atlanta, Georgia, United States, the primary reference for the downtown area. The name refers to the convergence of Marietta Street, Edgewood Avenue, Decatur Street, and two legs of Peachtree Street (the south-southwestern leg was originally Whitehall Street, a section of Whitehall was renamed as an extension of Peachtree Street to give businesses south of Five Points the prestige of a Peachtree Street address). Five Points is usually considered by Atlantans to be the center of town, and it is the origin of the street addressing system for the city and county, although four of the streets (except Edgewood) are rotated at least 30 clockwise from their nominal directions, along with the rest of the downtown street grid.

Underground Atlanta is a shopping and entertainment district in the Five Points neighborhood of downtown Atlanta, Georgia, United States, near the intersection of the east and west MARTA rail lines. First opened in 1969, it takes advantage of the viaducts built over the city's many railroad tracks to accommodate later automobile traffic. Each level has two main halls, still called Upper and Lower Alabama and Pryor Streets.

South Downtown

South Downtown is an urban sub-district of Downtown Atlanta, Georgia, United States, east of Castleberry Hill and south of Five Points. According to CAP/ADID, South Downtown is one of the oldest sections of Downtown Atlanta. This part of Downtown is primarily home to the city, county, state, and federal governmental offices, which prompted the city to adopt signage declaring the area "Government Walk." Underground Atlanta is the primary shopping and entertainment center near South Downtown but it, along with the railroad gulch, separates the district from Five Points and the Hotel District. Although much of South Downtown is dominated by surface parking lots, the district was passed over during the redevelopment boom of the 1960s and 70s that resulted in the demolition of much of Downtown's architecturally significant buildings. The result is a plethora of buildings from the 1950s and earlier that remain ripe for renovation.

Learning From Atlanta

Jacksonville can learn a lot from the poster child of American suburban sprawl. Despite being at the center of a low-density metropolitan area that swallows a significant chunk of Georgia, city leaders have been able to bring downtown back to life by clustering complementing uses together within a compact setting and by taking advantage of special events to create legacy projects for residents to enjoy.

Article and photographs by Ennis Davis