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Regional Profiles – South – A Closer Look at Atlanta, Georgia

Cost of Living
Compared to other cities of its size and stature, Atlanta is cheap. For example: Two roommates and I shared a 2,000sq-ft multi-level loft for just $1,400 a month (that’s $0.70/sq-ft compared to the $3.75/sq-ft I pay for a One Western Avenue apartment)

History/Culture
Much of Atlanta’s history is tied to the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement. Though Atlanta was founded in the early 1800s, it has little to show for those early years of development. The city was burned to the ground during the Battle of Atlanta in 1864, an event later described in the book, and subsequent movie, “Gone with the Wind.” Throughout modern day Atlanta, you will find commemorative plaques marking important landmarks from that Civil War battle.

After the war, the city underwent slow reconstruction, and with it came mounting economic and racial tensions. Atlanta was home to Martin Luther King, Jr., and played a significant part in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. The city still bears some scars from its segregated days, namely socio-economic disparities that have been playing out in newly gentrified neighborhoods like East Atlanta and Kirkwood. But the city has also made great strides in becoming a diverse, international metropolis, particularly after hosting the 1996 Summer Olympic Games.

Today the city is a patchwork of eclectic neighborhoods, each one with its own personality. Many even have their own festivals (my favorite is the Chomp & Stomp Chili Cook-Off and Festival in the historic neighborhood of Cabbagetown). This offers something for everyone, even the punks, who frequent the outdoor plazas of Little Five Points. In 2008 Atlanta was named “The Best City for Singles” by Forbes, which is no surprise, given the number of job opportunities in the city, and the vibrant nightlife it offers. Atlanta also has one of the highest LGBT populations in America, and hosts the popular Atlanta Pride Festival each spring.

Things to do
Atlanta is a very social city, whether you are the type who frequents country clubs or the kind who prefers nightclubs. The warm weather invites people to gather in parks and on patios all year round. Head to Piedmont Park, where you always find people playing Frisbee, softball, kickball or soccer, even in the winter. And for those who would rather watch than engage in sports, there’s plenty to choose from. Hold onto your student ID and you can get 2-for-1 tickets to Atlanta Braves games. Atlanta also plays host to various championship games throughout the year, including the Peach Bowl (college football) and March Madness games (college basketball).

“Foodies” will love Atlanta for its many eclectic eateries. You’ll have a hard time finding chain restaurants, besides Chick-Fil-A and Waffle House, which were founded in Atlanta. I recommend the plethora of Thai restaurants in the Virginia Highlands and fantastic steakhouses in Buckhead. But then again, you can never go wrong with some Southern-style grits, sweet tea and a “Flying Biscuit.” At night you have your choice of hundreds of bars with outdoor seating. Stay awhile and share pitchers of Sweetwater 420, a much-loved Atlanta-brewed beer, with friends.

In addition to its famous hip-hop and urban music scene, which gave us Usher and Outkast, Atlanta has jumpstarted the careers of singer/songwriters like John Mayer and the Indigo Girls, who used to play small local music venues. The city also has a growing alternative and indie scene, thanks to the national success of bands like Deerhunter and The Black Lips.

Additional Info
Had you asked me ten years ago if I would live in the South, I would have laughed at the idea. I was a Northern girl, one who liked rock-n-roll and fast-paced things, not country music and slow Southern drawls. I thought of the South as it is too often stereotyped: a place for Southern belles, rednecks and hip hop stars.

But as fate would have it, I spent seven years exploring, and subsequently loving, the city. Minus my occasional usage of “y’all,” there was nothing stereotypical about my experience. Now that I am at HBS, I especially miss the good life-work balance I had in Atlanta. When I compare my experiences living there and in New York City, it seems that Atlanta professionals are better able to slow down and enjoy life when the daily grind is over. So long as you don’t mind the terrible traffic and terrible public transportation system, you, too, will find Atlanta to be full of pleasant surprises.

February 2, 2009
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