Compared to Detroit, Atlanta is such a new city

By Saba Long

After spending a few days in downtown Detroit, I’m reminded of Atlanta’s adolescence.

I’ve spent the past few days walking all over Detroit’s downtown and using its convenient people mover to get one from destination to the next. (It’s worth noting the automated trains come every three to four minutes.)

At every corner was a prominent building with artful masonry from top to bottom. From the Penobscot to the Dime to the Guardian buildings, and even the Detroit Public Library, city dwellers are treated to one architectural delight after another.

Detroit, Downtown Sports Zone, 2013

Detroit has clustered its sports arenas in close proximity to one another in the central business district, as seen is this 2013 photo. Credit: Special

The downtown area, much like Atlanta’s, holds much promise. The city is also building a streetcar. Downtown Detroit is a real estate professional’s heaven, provided the city finds a way to rebuild its population.

I’ve lived in downtown Atlanta for the better part of a decade, most recently in a century-old building. The hardwood floors in my loft are scarred from once serving as the foundation for a department store’s storage rooms. It’s one of the few buildings downtown – or even in the city – with a story to tell.

In Atlanta, new flats and condos are popping up all over town, particularly around the Atlanta BeltLine, but most of them lack originality. Jamestown Properties has done a stellar job in celebrating the rich history of the original Sears building on Ponce de Leon Avenue – Ponce City Market. That’s “PCM” for the in crowd.

Our Kessler’s and William Oliver’s are such a rarity when compared to buildings in other metropolises.

It took me some time to understand the pleas of Atlanta’s historical societies and architecture buffs to save our notable buildings. In a fervor to grow up as a city, we’ve imploded our history, often with little thought.

At a time Atlanta was rebuilding after the Civil War, Detroit was earning the nickname, "Paris of the West." Detroit's advocates back the city even amid recent tough times. Credit: nreionline.com

At a time Atlanta was rebuilding after the Civil War, Detroit was earning the nickname, “Paris of the West.” Detroit’s advocates back the city even amid recent tough times. Credit: nreionline.com

We all know how hard the Motor City has been hit by the financial crisis of the late 2000s. Detroit, like Atlanta, has also suffered from race politics and classism. The renaissance of in-town living is best characterized as a generational reversal of white flight. Millennials seemed to occupy nearly every restaurant and bar.

Living in the city proper doesn’t seem to be a consideration for the well-to-do; the Detroit suburbs could easily be placed in north Fulton. The young and scrappy are the ones willing to bet on the city.

Our buildings in Downtown Atlanta have dozens of empty street level retail shops. I bet if the city would be willing to bet on young entrepreneurial talent, we could accelerate the growth of Atlanta’s downtown. And there’s no time like the present to do so. We’ll have a new sports arena in less than two years, Underground Atlanta will soon undergo a redevelopment, and Georgia State University is clearly committed to the city center.

The renaissance of Atlanta’s downtown could also be seen as a traffic solution to a car-choked Midtown and Buckhead. Or even to the eastside towards Inman Park. Downtown is accessible by the major public transit providers, in addition to the Atlanta Streetcar and a bourgeoning bicycle network. MARTA’s Five Points Station would undoubtedly have a different look and feel with a critical mass of individuals wining, dining, shopping and living in the area.

Perhaps it’s time to create and cultivate a hybrid, community-driven real estate investment trust or public-private partnership to catalyze Atlanta’s downtown.

 

 

Saba Long is a communications and political professional who lives in downtown Atlanta. She serves as the senior council aide and communications liaison for Post 2 At-Large Atlanta City Councilman Aaron Watson. Most recently, Saba was the press secretary for MAVEN and Untie Atlanta -- the Metro Chamber’s education and advocacy campaigns in supportive of the Atlanta Regional Transportation Referendum. She has consulted with H.E.G. an analytics and evaluation firm where she lent strategic marketing and social media expertise to numerous political campaigns, including that of Fulton County Chairman John Eaves and the 2010 Clayton County transportation referendum. In 2009, Saba served as the deputy campaign manager for the campaign of City Council President Ceasar Mitchell. Previously, Saba was a Junior Account Executive at iFusion Marketing, where she lent fractional marketing strategy to various ATDC technology startups operating out of the Georgia Tech incubator, ATDC. For the past two years, Saba has presented on online marketing and politics to the incoming fellows of the Atlanta chapter of the New Leaders Council.

6 replies
  1. Matt Garbett says:

    Great piece, Saba. Regarding the last paragraph… isn’t it time Invest Atlanta did a better job? Let’s call it like it needs to be called.Report

    Reply
  2. JessicaGeiger says:

    You can already see this through the efforts of the Goat Farm and their team on Broad Street and other places in South Downtown.  The area is very walkable with gorgeous buildings.  There are a few store fronts that are open, mainly during the week, but we need more!  I checked out a loft on Peachtree near 5 points Marta and it was so unique and still had so much character.  This is what young people want & Downtown Atlanta has all the right starting points, it just needs to happen sooner rather than later!Report

    Reply
  3. Sally Flocks says:

    The City of Atlanta is more diverse than you suggest, particularly with regards to wealth. Indeed, Atlanta has been ranked as having the greatest inequality in the country. Due to Insufficient affordable housing many areas in the city are home primarily to more affluent households. Likewise, the city is a magnet for empty nesters.Report

    Reply
  4. ShannonFain says:

    odd that she called Midtown “car choked” unless she just meant the Connector passing through.  Midtown is by far the most ped/transit friendly major (not just a block or two) area in Atlanta.Report

    Reply

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