Atlanta is a bright light on the southern horizon and has certainly come a long way since it burned to the ground during General William Tecumseh Sherman's "March to the Sea" in 1864. This is the city from which Martin Luther King, Jr., launched his social revolution, and the city where Ted Turner launched his media empire. It is home to many of America's largest corporations and is one of the top convention destinations in the country.
Atlanta may be best known, however, for hosting the 1996 Summer Olympics. The city went all out in its preparations for the 1996 Games, with new parks, hotels, and sports venues. In the center of downtown is Woodruff Park, which was spruced up to the tune of $5 million. The Olympic Village, erected just north of the central business district, now provides housing for Georgia State University students. South of Olympic Village, and stretching to the CNN Center, is the 21-acre Centennial Olympic Park -- a major gathering place during the Olympics, with lawns, gardens, and the dramatic (and hot-weather fun) Fountain of Rings. The park regularly hosts concerts, street festivals, and other cultural events, and anchors the city's efforts to revitalize commercial and residential development in this once-neglected corner of downtown. The Olympic Stadium, site of the opening and closing ceremonies, as well as track and field events, has been reincarnated as Turner Field, home of the Atlanta Braves baseball team.
Since the Olympics, Atlantans have had some time to think about their future and how to shape it. They've always been an optimistic bunch, but the breakneck development that began with the Olympics and still continues has many local citizens wondering if they have too much of a good thing. Atlanta has had big-city problems such as crime, urban blight, and clogged freeways for some time now, but the overall quality of life remains high. Currently, the spotlight is not on growth and how to encourage it, but on growth and how to manage it. Of great concern is traffic -- horrendous by any standards -- and the accompanying decline in air quality. Everyone is rethinking the role that the automobile plays -- even more so now that gas prices have seen record highs -- and there's a lot of discussion about how to improve public transportation and make the metro area more pedestrian friendly. Of great significance is the recent development downtown. For years, city leaders have tried to encourage "in-town" living, but it's quickly taken hold as developers remake old buildings into attractive apartments and lofts, and home buyers are breathing new life into the city's old neighborhoods. The mark of a great city is an attractive and vital downtown area where people live as well as work, and Atlanta continues to head quickly in that direction, with in-town addresses among the most desirable of residences.
Atlanta Today -- For Atlanta, a new century has meant a new effort to spruce up its image, especially that of the downtown area, which for years was a seedy section of town where not even the locals ventured after dark. Today, attractions such as the Georgia Aquarium, Centennial Olympic Park, the CNN Studio, and the World of Coca-Cola are drawing scores of residents and visitors to a shiny new downtown area that sprouts new offerings with great frequency -- and much success. In 2004, Atlanta was named the number-one city for African Americans by Black Enterprise magazine. Former Mayor Shirley Franklin -- an African-American female -- was highly active in the quest to pitch Atlanta as a tourist destination: In 2006, the city branded itself with a spirally red "ATL" logo and the slogan "Every day is opening day." Atlanta's current mayor, Kasim Reed, follows in those footsteps to maintain Atlanta's favorable reviews. The number of visitors to this heart of the South continues to increase, averaging 36 million a year, nearly double what it was just 10 years ago. National recognition of Atlanta also continues to improve, including being named "Best City for Singles" by Forbes magazine in 2008, citing a hopping nightlife, high number of singles, and sizzling job growth among its many assets.
The Standing Peachtree -- Today, just about everything in Atlanta is called "Peachtree" something, but the first Peachtree reference dates from 1782, when explorers discovered a Cherokee village on the Chattahoochee River called Standing Peachtree. Since peach trees are not native to the region, some historians maintain the village was actually named for a towering "pitch" tree (a resinous pine). Nevertheless, the Indian village became the location of Fort Peachtree, a tiny frontier outpost, during the War of 1812; a Peachtree Road connecting Fort Peachtree to Fort Daniel (in Gwinnett County) was completed by 1813.
The Vine That Ate the South -- If you're visiting Georgia in the summer and traveling its interstate highways or country lanes, it's impossible to ignore the wild-looking vines growing along the roadside. That's kudzu, a frighteningly robust plant that upholsters billboards and fences, swallows up whole trees, and creeps eerily toward asphalt lanes, threatening everything in its path. It would surely blanket the pasturing cows if they were to stand still for a couple of days.
A native of the Far East, kudzu was introduced to the United States in the late 1800s and became treasured as a porch vine whose prolific tendrils would shoot straight up at the rate of a foot a day, quickly covering a roof or trellis, providing welcome shade from the midday sun. It was touted as an excellent forage crop (a crop used for grazing and for hay), and because it would grow almost anywhere, it was promoted as a means to control erosion.
By the turn of the 20th century, some horticulturists were having their doubts about kudzu, pointing out (to no avail) that the seemingly virtuous vine had the really bad habit of growing everywhere at an alarming rate. However, their warnings went unheeded, and the federal government continued to urge farmers to plant kudzu on worn-out farmland to keep it from washing away. It wasn't until the 1960s that the Soil Conservation Service stopped recommending its use. By then, the dense tangles had a lock on the landscape, not to mention barns and telephone poles.
Nobody's found a practical way to eradicate the stuff yet. Burning it won't work. Chemicals are impotent, unless each root and crown is hunted down relentlessly and sprayed and sprayed for years. And there are no natural predators, unless you count goats or other grazing animals -- and there just aren't enough goats to go around. For now, the only thing to do is continue to hack away at the formidable vine -- and remember to close our windows at night.
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