The other Southern city’s growing fascination with being more like Charlotte
ASIDE FROM when Sherman burned it to the ground, I’m not sure there’s any point in which Atlanta really wanted to be another city. I don’t see it as the jealous type. They have CNN and Lil Jon, and their Georgia Aquarium has whale sharks that are longer than a bus. Go ahead. Brag on your city, but it doesn’t have a building with an aquarium in it big enough to hold a damn whale shark.
Back in January, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution sent a reporter up here to Charlotte see what the hell’s going on. That reporter talked to the full monty of Charlotte booster muckety-mucks—Center City Partners President and CEO Michael Smith, former Mayor Pro Tem Lynn Wheeler, Hugh McColl (!)—and reported back to his people in Atlanta: Charlotte’s growing faster than we are! Millennials are moving there! It’s not laid out like a guy who’s playing SimCity for the first time! Atlanta, the story said, could learn a few things from Charlotte.
This couldn’t possibly be how Atlanta felt, I thought. So I asked Atlantan Spencer Hall, editor of the college football website Every Day Should Be Saturday and noted Outkast reunion proponent, if he felt any twinge of envy over Charlotte. “I moved here because it was ragged around the edges and dirty, but in a Southern way,” he said. “In comparison, Charlotte felt like an office park.”
Having Atlanta look up to us feels weird. For a long time, we’ve seen that city as our overweight older sister, one that, despite its flaws, is stupidly successful. We could be like her, but in a better way. Like, we’re the guy who’s methodically fighting his way up the corporate ladder, and Atlanta’s the guy who opened a chain of go-kart tracks on a whim last year and is now gettin’ PAID. But then one day Atlanta comes to us, sighs, and says, “I wish I had the life you had,” and we’re all, “Where did that come from?”
Consider just one metric: Reality TV shows. Sure, The Bachelorette shot one season here. Atlanta got Hard Knocks, The Real Housewives, and a Vice documentary about rappers. (Non-sequitur counterpoint: We still have posters from Juwanna Mann on display at the airport.)
On the flipside, let’s not forget January 2014, when greater Atlanta got two inches of snow and its patchwork of surrounding suburbs coordinated about as well as former Yugoslav republics. The entire region shut down—most notably, some people were trapped in their snowbound cars for nearly a day. A month later, Charlotte got six inches of snow and traffic backed up on Independence Boulevard for a couple of hours, and by the time people got around to asking whether this was our “Atlanta Moment,” we were all at home drinking Starbucks French Roast from our Keurigs.
The problem is with the comparison. Saying one city is a bigger/smaller version of the other is selling them both short. “I don’t think you can even can compare the two. I hope Charlotte’s a better, well-planned Charlotte, not a baby Atlanta,” Hall says. “Charlotte’s kind of boring but works. Atlanta’s a mess but is very fun. You can’t be both.”
He’s right. At some point it’d be nice if we’d have the confidence to stop trying to be like someone else and try to be ourselves. To look inward instead of outward. To be comfortable with who we are. Although, full disclosure, I think it’d be great to have some whale sharks around here.