The Too-Busy City: Atlanta and Urbanity at the End of the TwentiethCentury

by Edward Adair Hatfield

Institution: Emory University
Year: 2015
Keywords: History, United States; Urban and Regional Planning; Political Science, General; Atlanta; Urban History; Conservatism; Suburbs; Sunbelt; Transportation
Posted: 02/05/2017
Record ID: 2080006
Full text PDF: http://pid.emory.edu/ark:/25593/pr86v


During the half-century after World War II, Atlanta and other Sunbelt cities underwent dramatic expansions, challenging orthodoxies of American urbanism and charting a rightward course in national politics. While historians have examined the political and economic implications of the region's growth, less has been said about the region's planning. By adopting an explicitly metropolitan approach to Atlanta's debates over expressway and roadway construction, rail transit, annexation and public administration, this dissertation explores the relationship that links the Sunbelt's planning regimes and political cultures. During the postwar period, city leaders embraced centralized planning to manage the region's explosive growth and to preserve the central business district's preeminence in an era of metropolitan expansion. But the expressways that were intended to save downtown only hastened suburban expansion, proposed annexation bids were foiled by racial animosity, and subsequent attempts to forge a regional consensus around rail transit only confirmed that metropolitan relations would be characterized by conflict rather than cooperation. In the years that followed, growth and development continued apace in Atlanta's suburbs. The central city meanwhile entered a steep decline, and its commitment to the public sphere existed in counterpoint to the political conservatism that flourished just beyond its limits. The announcement that Atlanta would host the Centennial Olympic Games vindicated the city's claims to international status and unleashed pressures for redevelopment not seen for decades. It also precipitated a campaign of neoliberal reform that would dramatically diminish the scope of the city's public sphere. The Games' administration by a privately-financed, non-profit corporation marked a turning point in the city's governance, providing the impetus for a host of market-based reforms in public housing, education and other fields of public administration that reflected the political ascendancy of the Sunbelt's suburban conservatives. In the final analysis, this dissertation argues that suburban separatism did not merely produce a political commitment to property rights and private enterprise on the metropolitan periphery. It ultimately succeeded in remaking cities in the image of their suburbs. Introduction. A City for Salesmen 1  – Chapter 1. Planning for Progress 31  – Chapter 2. 'We Might as Well Leave Town' 91  – Chapter 3. Black Power, White Noise 139  – Chapter 4. The Born Again Freeway 203  – Chapter 5. 'The World's Next Great International City' 254  – Conclusion. A City for Sale 335  – Bibliography. 359  – Advisors/Committee Members: Gadsden, Brett (Committee Member), White, Dana F (Committee Member), Crespino, Joseph (Thesis Advisor).