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Not Just One City

What can be said of Atlanta? In 1989, Koolhaas encouraged the world to leave “Paris and Amsterdam” and to “go look at Atlanta, quickly and without preconceptions.” We encourage you to take another look. Your preconceptions are unavoidable. Though you may gawk at Atlanta’s enduring adolescence, you may also come to appreciate a city that continues to change by layering over itself, exploring new identities without fully shaking the past. Atlanta is a complex place if you take the time to see it. The layers begin with Atlanta’s birth as a historical accident of pure chance. Atlanta grew into a region too large and dispersed to be held easily in the mind as any kind of cogent whole. So, what we can say of Atlanta is that it is both the caricature of itself, a sprawling contemporary city, and it is its opposite. Trust us, Atlanta is not just one city. Atlanta is the Intersection of Geography and Technology Atlanta began as a coincidence of economic geography and technology: the railroad. What became Atlanta was a response to the needs of growing nation in the early the 19th century. Goods and agricultural products needed to be moved back and forth between Midwestern cities and farms and ports of the Atlantic Seaboard and Gulf Coast. Northwestern Georgia is the foci of three vectors drawn toward a common center from the port of Savannah, the port of Apalachicola with its navigable rivers northward, and the Tennessee River at Chattanooga which links the Southeastern United States to the Mississippi River. In the 1830s, the State of Georgia began connecting these vectors with railroads. At the heart of Atlanta’s creation story is an army explorer and rail engineer named Colonel Stephen Harriman Long. Colonel Long began surveying for the Western & Atlantic (W&A) railroad in 1837. Colonel Long and his crew moved south and east from Chattanooga to join the W&A with a line that was already constructed from Savannah to...

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