For many, an appreciation of Atlanta is acquired through osmosis. It takes time and experience. There's no Times Square, no Navy Pier, no South Beach. Instead, explorers find a bunch of urban villages, temperate winters and constant good vibes. Today, we ask recent transplants to contrast their first impressions of the Big Peach with their current ones, and to weigh in on one of Atlanta's long-held selling points: affordability. As many ATL newcomers have made clear, there's an easy-living metropolis here for people willing to seek it out. Whether they'll have the means to actually put down roots is another story. (Note: The New Voices Atlanta series will conclude tomorrow with talk of the future, magic (!) and a chance for ATL newbies who didn't take part in the survey to chime in.)
ATLANTA: INITIAL IMPRESSIONS VS. RIGHT NOW
Forty-five new Atlantans from across the country took our survey, and most of them provided thoughtful answers about their initial impressions of Atlanta — and their recalibrated thoughts after living here for a while. (On average, respondents have called Atlanta home for one year). The most interesting takeaway from this information: Not a single respondent's impression of Atlanta has declined since they moved here. (Although one former Marylander's response was basically that Midtown is too cliquish). Here's a quick breakdown:
Initial opinions of Atlanta:
How Has That Opinion Changed?
No Change: 24
Now for sample commentary. It's presented below in BEFORE/AFTER format. Names, ages and/or occupations were included when it added context to the response.
INITIAL IMPRESSION: "WAY greener (in terms of trees, foliage, etc.) and way hillier than I expected. Incredible vibrancy and constant stream of things to do."
NOW: "Same opinion, but also impressed with the pride Atlantans have in their city."
— Emily B., 31, a musician with the Atlanta Symphony from Sarasota, Fla.
"I originally thought Buckhead was downtown Atlanta until I passed it and saw the actual downtown. As someone who has lived right outside of NYC and gone there regularly I thought Atlanta was massive."
"I think it is a better type of NYC since it is more spread out and you have trees and everything isn't right on top of each other. It is a perfect blend of city and country living."
— Ryan Johnson, 26, a Realtor from Connecticut.
"Three things: references in Ludacris lyrics ("hailin from the filthy, dirty South" and "A-town down" in particular), the High Museum (which is awesome), and traffic. Lots of traffic."
"Atlanta is all those things and more. I wish the fine arts scene here would be as thriving as in other major cities ... lots of history that explains why though. :( Still, the Southernness of Atlanta is real and abiding, although in an evolving, curious sort of way. So I would say that my initial impressions were accurate, but only the tip of the iceberg."
— 25-year-old charter school teacher from South Carolina.
"Less 'urban' than Chicago — it felt more like a big suburb. Everyone is very friendly and helpful. People seem to be oddly afraid of public transit. Tons of parking — most of it free or very cheap. Individual homes have abundant green space. There's a need to drive most places."
"My opinion hasn't changed much."
"Amazing. I could see myself growing old in this city."
- a consultant from Massachusetts.
"I wasn't expecting much, but it's pleasantly surprised me. Atlanta has a whole lot of problems (mostly related to lack of density and transit from my perspective). There's plenty of room for improvement, but unlike places like San Francisco where everyone thinks they live in the best city in the world, people here are appropriately modest and attuned to things that need to improve, and invested in making the city a better place to live. There's a lot of energy in the 'intown' neighborhoods it seems. We've been most impressed by the wealth of great food options. There's also a nice amount of green space. What Atlanta really has going for it now is its relative affordability, since coastal cities are becoming unaffordable enclaves." (More on that in a minute.)
"My opinion has improved. Atlanta has potential, but it has a way to go."
— Ryan Cook, 37, an Emory University professor who relocated from the San Francisco area last summer to Reynoldstown.
"I lived in the Midwest before moving to Atlanta — more specifically in Ohio and in Michigan. The Midwest cities look like cities from the 20th century. The infrastructure looks old and abandoned. My first impression with Atlanta is that it's a city that is developing and growing every day. I see construction projects everywhere and it feels more like a modern city."
"After a year living here, I feel that I made the right decision by coming here ...
Unfortunately Atlanta does not have a good reputation around the country, or at least that's my impression based on conversations I have had with friends a family that live somewhere else. What I tell them is that they need come here to actually see how beautiful this city is."
"Initially, I thought that everything happens slowly and inefficiently in Atlanta. That traffic is horrific, because everyone insists on driving and they're terrible at it. Also, that there would be nothing to do."
"Everything is pretty slow and inefficient, but there's definitely a Southern charm to it that I didn't appreciate before. Traffic is horrific — and everyone DOES insist on driving — but we're starting to see some evidence that there's a willingness to adopt public transportation and even biking. There's plenty to do, as long as you like good food/drink/live music (and we do)."
— former resident of Boston, San Francisco and Chicago.
"Underdeveloped, sprawling, neglected, fun, diverse, big. I loved Atlanta from the first moment, but was definitely more negative."
"While I think my initial impressions are still true, I understand the city in a much deeper and more intimate way now. I would say that my impression now is much more informed and with that, much more positive. I see and feel the progress, even in the almost two years of being here."
— Josh Lewis, 24, a church evangelist from Alabama.
"I'm a lifelong Northerner and at first I was terrified of moving down here. Then I saw the home prices and looked at my student loan debt."
— a 25-year-old attorney from Philadelphia, who bought a home in Grant Park.
"I loved it immediately! After living in NYC — crowded, dirty, a constant assault on your senses — I was very happy to be in a city with a little more breathing room, and a slower pace. I loved the public wall art and colorfully painted/decorated houses — that is something you don't find in the Northeast."
"It doesn't differ very much. Actually, I like it even more."
— Kristin Fabrizio, 39, a marketing assistant who lives in East Atlanta.
"I had heard some less than favorable stories about Atlanta during college. I was under the impression that it was a dangerous city."
"That impression quickly changed when I pulled up into my first apartment. After growing up in New Jersey, Town Brookhaven looked like the safest place I'd ever lived in."
"Large and segregated, and increasingly gentrified."
"My areas of interest have started to feel much closer as I've become more familiar with the city. I've also picked up on the real passion and excitement for the things that are happening and changing in the city."
— Tucker Godek, a Dallas native educated in Tuscaloosa.
"Nice people, lots to do."
"All positive — love it here."
— Old Fourth Ward resident from Philadelphia.
"I was in LOVE from the minute I got here. Everyone is so friendly. The pace is so much more relaxed than NY. The weather is phenomenal. Everything is so cheap. Awesome festivals. Top-notch restaurants."
"I am Atlanta's #1 Advocate. Someone should hire me as the spokesperson."
"Eh, really? Why are there so many houses for sale? Where is the 'real food'?"
"It's getting better, hoping once it warms up we can get out and explore more."
— Los Angeles transplant who moved to East Atlanta last fall.
"This place is a giant parking lot, not a city. Why aren't there restaurants and bars I can walk to?"
"Now I realize there are neighborhoods (Va-Hi, O4W, L5P). You can walk from where you live to restaurants and bars and not feel like you're in a parking-space desert."
— a Pittsburgh transplant living in Buckhead.
"That impression has not changed, as Atlanta is nothing if not sprawling. However, I have been quite impressed by the strides the city has made even since I moved here with the development of the Beltline, as well as demolishing surface parking lots in Midtown and other central ITP neighborhoods for development of multi-use developments."
— 23-year-old former resident of Washington D.C.
"That it wasn't a real city! You have to remember that I grew up in the shadow of NYC and worked in the city for a good part of my career. Lived in the Village for a short time, too. That was a city to me — that and Boston."
"I realized quickly that Atlanta, the city proper, is more like a collection of small villages with their own centers. I love that—it's what I found in the early days of exploring: all these small towns within the city. Only by walking and driving around did I realize that. Grant Park, Inman Park, Kirkwood, Reynoldstown, Glenwood Park, downtown, Midtown, Westside, O4W, Virginia-Highland and more—I wandered through all of them and came to realize that for me, what makes Atlanta unique is this collection of smaller neighborhoods, all with their own identity. Other cities have neighborhoods, of course … but they really feel more like small towns in and of themselves here."
— Kristen Max, 45, formerly of New Jersey, now of Inman Park.
RANDOM, BONUS INPUT !!!
"I also thought/think Atlanta has a serious inferiority complex. It felt like the city and people were always trying to compare Atlanta to Vegas, NYC, etc. particularly with slogans and marketing tactics: 'What happens in Atlanta, stays in Atlanta', or 'I *heart* ATL' or 'Buy this townhome in Alpharetta! It's like New York City living in a suburban atmosphere.'"
— former St. Louis resident who calls Buckhead home.
AFFORDABILITY IN THE ATL
As part of our 20-question survey, we asked: "All things considered, would you call Atlanta "affordable" right now?" Forty-three people respondent. Perhaps more than any other question, the replies were influenced by personal experiences and places of origin, with a lot of commentary echoing this actual quote: "OMG yes, I just moved here from New York." Here's a breakdown, followed by enlightening (and in some cases, brutally honest) input.
Is Atlanta affordable?
KIND OF: 8
"Resounding yes. For what you get, Atlanta is basically free." — 25-year-old financial analyst from New Jersey.
"Not if you want to live ITP." — hair colorist from Tampa.
"You are either wealthy or are going to an area that is in the gentrifying process. That's what makes Atlanta interesting. All neighborhoods are not like Morningside."
"When I told the leasing agent at my current, brand-new luxury apartment tower my max desired monthly rent, he told me I could have any apartment in the building. My last apartment was in Queens and it was a 500 square-foot open studio that cost 50 percent of my income. In NYC no matter my income, my apartment was always 50 percent of my income, even the super terrible ones. So in response, I think it's extremely affordable and I don't know what to do with money in my bank account every month." — L. Weiss, a 32-year-old construction executive from New Jersey living in Midtown.
"Affordable... if you have a job that pays 50-60K." — 34-year-old Brookhaven resident from Indianapolis.
"Either you pay $40K for a house with bullet holes, or you pay $600K for something outrageously large. I wish there were more options in the middle-income range. So I would say no, frankly — even though the average home price is low, everything seems to deviate so far from it, and for middle-class families, etc. the options seem limited to me."
"Overall I feel the city is affordable, but like anywhere the amount of places people are getting priced out of is growing."
"I grew up in the Hamptons on Long Island, so the fact that I can buy a new three to four bedroom house here for $500,000 is astounding. That would barely buy you a beach shack in the Hamptons ... But, I do believe that some of the new apartments (755 North, Ponce City Market) are overpriced considering the influx of new rentals. Someone will REALLY have to want to live at PCM to pay $2,700 for a 1,500 square-foot two bedroom when you can live in a house, or one of the many other new apartments, for less."
"Not Decaur. Very expensive neighborhood. We are luckily able to afford it but it's not for everyone. The overall city does have some affordable options for renters or buyers."
"In general, yes, I would call it affordable. Every time that I think my rent is a little high (and it probably is), I remind myself that I live right on the Beltline, there's a nice pool and workout room here, and I am literally in the middle of the city."
"No. Every apartment being built right now is a luxury building and the older, cheaper housing is in very limited supply. I don't need granite countertops or some fancy rooftop deck and I definitely don't want to pay $2,200 for a two-bedroom. The housing market seems relatively affordable. But being 27 with $39,000 in student loans, I don't expect to be buying a house for at least six more years."
"Coming from Savannah, we generally find local meals and shopping the same or slightly less than Savannah. The selection is much better."
"Yes. But my points of comparison are NY and SF which are not really comparable markets. It might make more sense to compare Atlanta to places like, I don't know, Phoenix or Minneapolis or something ... Some neighborhoods do seem rather expensive. We liked Inman Park, but that was out of the question. Nonetheless, it's still possible to buy houses at a range of price points that are pretty central, especially if you're willing and able to invest in home improvement." — Reynoldstown homeowner from San Francisco.
"For us, it is affordable because we planned for this time in our lives (retirement). But, with the high sales tax and other expenses, I doubt it is affordable for the average Atlantan."
MORE BONUS INPUT FROM ST. LOUIS !!!
"In keeping with the theme of enjoying Atlanta, a big part of that is limiting as much as possible the time I spend commuting, which means living close to work. Well, my office is in Buckhead and trying to buy a home for my needs and budget in a five-mile radius means that I am going to spend upwards of $450,000-$500,000 for a house that is 50 years old, probably needs a lot of updating, and will give me roughly 1,300 square feet with no enclosed garage. Yes, I am picky, and maybe a tad unrealistic, but the fact is it's extremely expensive to buy a home right now. I missed the affordability window by about two years."