[URBAN NOTE] “Atlanta’s All Grown Up”
Bloomberg View’s Conor Sen talks about how emerging southern US metropolis Atlanta may finally be coming into its own as a city of broader repute.
Coming so close to its first Super Bowl victory in franchise history, just as the city prepares to open two pro sports stadiums, Atlanta is reaching for a civic dream as much as an athletic one. Sports have a special significance for this Southern city; the arrival of the Falcons and the Braves in 1966, and the Hawks in 1968, represented the beginning of Atlanta’s transcending its Southern roots and becoming a national city. Professional sports didn’t come to North Carolina until 1988. Tennessee didn’t get its first professional team until 1997. Pro sports were a way of competing in a recruitment arms race with other Southern cities, and Atlanta won.
Atlanta has embraced its growth, even defining itself as the thriving economic engine of the New South. Until the financial crisis in 2008, that meant an endless boom in suburban real estate growth and development. An apartment tower in the Buckhead business district famously sported an “Atlanta’s Population Now” sign, a prideful boast celebrating gaudy metrics that you might expect to see at a tech startup.
Atlanta is a proud importer. As the foodie and craft cocktail movement found its way to Atlanta, one of the restaurants that epitomized this trend starting in 2010 was named Empire State South, a nod to New York. Thanks to tax credit changes in Georgia state law in 2008, Atlanta has become a center of movie production, but its nickname “Y’allywood” harks back to its big brother out west. And like so many cities, Atlanta has worked to grow and hype its startup and tech community, seeking to become the undisputed “Silicon Valley of the South.”
Over the past few months, something in the city has changed. The Braves played their final game in Turner Field, awaiting the opening of SunTrust Park, a controversial taxpayer-subsidized boondoggle that ultimately cost its architect, Cobb County Commissioner Tim Lee, his job in a July special election. The Falcons’ trip to the Super Bowl and move next season to its new taxpayer-subsidized $1.5 billion home has focused attention not only on their on-field success, but also on some of the poverty and blight in nearby neighborhoods. And in the final year of his administration, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, famous for blocking reporters or just about anyone that disagrees with him on Twitter, has come under increased scrutiny for some of the improprieties surrounding City Hall. Could a city famous for its boosterism finally be ready to acknowledge some of its shortcomings? That would be yet one more marker of Atlanta’s arrival in adulthood.