Why we love Atlanta
Image: A Meeting of Elders by Jimoh Buraimoh, 1998
By Ryan Gravel
Love is in the air. Don’t get me wrong – it’s easy enough to see Atlanta’s shortcomings. But when you take a minute to see them as opportunities, and when you watch people grab hold of them and make this city their own, it’s hard not to fall in love with Atlanta. In fact, the most common observation I hear from people about why they love this town – why they moved here or what makes them stay – is that this is the kind of place where people can make a real difference. Fueled by growth and poised for a new generation of change, Atlanta offers opportunity at a level that few other cities can match. People of every stripe are finding ways to make their voices heard and to advance their ideas in the world.
Yes, we have serious challenges. And when we’re stuck in near-dystopian traffic, it’s easy to wonder how we’ll recover – from stark demographic inequities, economic and cultural displacement, environmental degradation, and social isolation. However, these challenges don’t have to be permanent, and when we look closely, we see a region that is already changing. Look at the music and film industries. Experience the Atlanta BeltLine, our vibrant neighborhood festivals, or the enthusiasm behind Atlanta United. Listen to the expanding discourse on affordable housing. Realize that the efforts behind these new stories come from a similar love that nurtured the American Civil Rights Movement and bested Athens, Greece to host the one-hundredth anniversary of the modern Olympics.
Across the region, it’s hard not to see love for Atlanta expressed through local movements in neighborhood revitalization, community-focused redevelopment projects, greenspace reclamation, food, the arts, education, business incubators, and various social innovation initiatives that are preparing the region for a very different, but even more lovable future. This kind of love is an important part of the Atlanta City Design, a project I’ve been working on with Tim Keane, Atlanta’s Commissioner of City Planning. It’s built around the idea that with love comes empathy and respect for the people and places around us. Love leads us to make better decisions about how the city is put together – who is included, who benefits, and who we want to be a part of our day-to-day lives. We know that only with this approach can our most ambitious aspirations be realized, because only love can commit us to the difficult negotiations, compromise, hard decisions, work, and investments required to become the best version of ourselves.
We can be that Atlanta only if we continue to cultivate a culture of inclusion, diversity, innovation, and opportunity. That’s why it’s so great to see the finalists that will be celebrated at this year’s ULI Atlanta Awards Dinner for Excellence on September 14 at the Fox Theater. These people and projects not only help us build a great city, they also make it more lovable. Please join us and share what you love about Atlanta by using the hashtag #thelovablecity. We’ll pick the best photos to share during the program.