Great new public spaces 

Last weekend, my wife and I went to a movie and felt transported to another city -- even before we entered the theater. It was our first close look at Atlantic Station.

There were downsides. It seems that only major corporations, rather than homegrown shops, can afford to rent the shops surrounding the theater. And the stairways down from street corners lead to a parking deck rather than a subway.

But the developers who transformed Atlantic Station from a decrepit steel mill have created the kind of urban commercial district Atlanta sorely needs. You actually can get out of your car, walk around, shop, eat, and find entertainment in a way that disappeared from downtown decades ago. Better yet, you can live or work nearby.

These are heady times for those of us who love the inner city. The Woodruff Arts Center's cultural village opens this weekend (see cover story, p. 35). Later this month, the Georgia Aquarium takes its place as the flagship of growth around Centennial Park.

Atlanta's core hasn't had such a leap forward in public space since the Olympics. This week, City Council capped it by approving financing for the Beltline, a transit line/greenway that would encircle that core.

It's easy to go gaga over bricks and mortar. How well will such projects pan out over the long term? There are unresolved problems: Very little's been done to help people move around the inner city. And the development surge will continue to generate tensions over homelessness and housing prices.

For now, however, there's cause to celebrate: A city that has much catching up to do with its urban peers finally seems to be gaining on them.

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