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Monday, April 9, 2012
The Problem With Atlanta...
... is that it doesn't really want to be a city. It hasn't in decades and it has no sign of changing this attitude. For purely logistical and geographical reasons not of its own choosing, the status of a city was thrust upon it. Today, as I return, I see it continues, ever futher, to unravel.
The great disintegration perhaps began just after the civil rights movement as whites fled the city limits for tax havens and whites-only school districts in the suburbs. The newly independent status of Sandy Springs as its own city consumates the success of this process, which began long ago. Yes, the whites still drive to town because they also like making money and having jobs. Yet to a disturbingly large extent, they don't seem to care about most of the people who live elsewhere in the city, particularly if their skin is a darker color. They vote with their dollars and their feet and these things consistantly choose to keep train tracks and highways and distance in between their neighborhoods and black neighborhoods. Cheap gas prices in the 1980s and 1990s allowed a completely unsustainable, and absurd infastructre of roads, highways, interstates, perimeter interstates, strip malls and big box stores to develop and serve this idea, of seperate and thuroughly unequal Atlantas.
Now the gas prices are crashing it all down. Flight of any kind is difficult at $4 a gallon. MARTA planners struggle with decentralized and spread out population centers just as much as they do with budget shortfalls and operating costs. But no technocrat elected or otherwise will be able to wave a wand and solve the transportation- or any other problems- of this place. Not while people have their present mind set.
Because the present mindset is not that of citizens in a city thinking about how they ought to live and structure their affairs. The mindset is a blend of selfishness and apathy. Absurd monuments to unproductive wealth are constructed to house the well to do while the less well to do struggle along with dead end, low paying, and unfullfilling jobs, as well as completely inadequate education. The city does not look itself over in a mirror for blemishes in need of a remedy. It deliberately conceals its sepsis. It spends millions hosting the olympics. It builds the largest regional aquarium in the midst of a water famine. It plants grass, then burns fossil fuels to mow this grass. And then fertilizes the grass so it will grow faster. And it allows 65 year old men who have worked all their lives building the city to spend their golden years begging fellow riders on a late and broken down train for spare cash to help pay for their heart medicine.
Religious hyprocrisy of the most disgusting and abominable sort blares from the radio, news, and print. Emotional appeals to hate and condemn, wage war, punish, and imprision has completely taken the place of journalism, much less humanity. Lungs choke on idled engines. Teeth rot from Sweet Tea and Coca Cola. Humidity bears down oppressively soaking the skin, driving all away from public centers of gathering, citizens stumbling back for their own private air conditioning.
Until this changes, until enough people around here are able to stick their heads far enough above ground, over the oaks and poplars and pines and past the smokey haze of ozone and carbon monoxide, beyond the reach of the hate preachers and the flag wavers the billboards, liqour stores, cigarettes, and overpasses, until people voluntarily drag themselves from their private suburban asylums and reach this lofty height and see, yes, we are all one city... until they are convinced that it is a good idea to actually go to one another's neighborhoods and learn for themselves what problems, needs, talents, and resources, actually exist there... Atlanta will in all its glory, continue to burn.