While Cher pondered what could happen if only we could turn back time, the Institute for Quality Communities at the University of Oklahoma has sought an answer, compiling dozens of aerial images comparing American cities of today with their former selves. The series highlights the effects of "urban renewal" in mid-20th Century American cities and the accompanying networks of interstates that so often decimated the urban cores — the very areas they were built to serve. The map shows that Atlanta, much like your parents, achieved a greatly altered state in the 1960s. The construction of the Downtown Connector, Interstate 20 and the clearing of land for what would ultimately become Freedom Parkway resulted in the decimation of the semblance of a gridded street system that existed in 1950s Atlanta. So how much of pre-renewed Atlanta is missing? Sadly, a lot.
The aerial views show just how little of Atlanta survived the tumultuous 1960s. Notably, remaining landmarks include the State Capitol and Oakland Cemetery. While Northside Drive and the railroad lines stretching through Underground Atlanta help orient, the scars of the interstate system greatly disfigure and disconnect the city. Especially transformative, though maybe not in the positive way they'd been envisioned, are later renewal projects such as the Georgia World Congress Center and Georgia Dome — which took out large swaths of Vine City just to the west of downtown — and the Carter Center and Freedom Parkway — which sliced through Old Fourth Ward to the east. One of the most striking differences between the Atlanta of yesteryear and our current city is the proliferation of vacant lots where there were once dense neighborhoods.
With proposals to snazzy up some Connector crossings, development of the new Falcons Stadium and overall renewed interest and investment in core neighborhoods, hopefully this new "renewal" can better utilize the empty spaces created to the east and west of downtown wrought by the last half century.
·60 Years of Urban Change: Southeast [Institute for Quality Communities]