When city planners and strip mall developers got together two decades ago and made it their goal to rid Atlanta of its charm, many a naysayer said it couldn't be done. They claimed that one day downtown would bounce back. They said the character of the city's neighborhoods would persevere. They hinted that there were too many rolling hills to flatten, too many oaks and pines and crepe myrtles to cut down.
Boy, were they wrong! It took a lot of work, but Atlanta now sits near the top of every list that ranks the unattractiveness of American cities.
Atlanta's out-of-control growth devours 50 acres a day, replacing forests with Wal-Mart Supercenters, Home Depots and 300-home golf course communities where yards are the size of postage stamps and houses cost a million dollars (that's six zeroes, pal). As a result, we're the fourth most sprawling metro area in the nation and home to two of the 10 ugliest streets in America, according to a group of urban designers.
When it comes to the lowest percentage of park space in major cities, Atlanta ranks at the very top. Less than 4 percent of land in the city of Atlanta is devoted to parks. The national average is just under 9 percent. Well-planned cities like San Francisco have devoted close to 20 percent of city land to parks. Wonder what that's like.
In May, The New York Times Magazine asked Martha Schwartz, owner of one the country's most prestigious landscape design firms and an adjunct professor at the Harvard Design School, what she thought was the least attractive city in America. "Atlanta has got to be on top of the list," she answered. "It is so sprawling. And 60 percent of surface area downtown is surface parking."
Hell yeah! Congratulations developers, you did it. And a special thanks to county and city officials for not getting in the way. Wouldn't Sherman be proud?
Whether it's strip malls or subdivisions, cheap uniformity in the outlying suburbs has been mass produced like Yugos coming off a hyperactive assembly line. The trouble is that the city itself is now falling victim to the very same, um, sameness. The suburbs are coming to town, and they're bringing their disposable incomes and dismal chain stores with them.
But even in Atlanta's sea of mediocrity, some buildings, streetscapes and places are so heinous that they stand out like a Target in Little Five Points.
Creative Loafing has enlisted the help of our readers, as well as a distinguished panel of ugliness experts, to track down and expose the worst of the blight, the blemishes and the bad designs that have wrecked this town. We scoured intown and the 'burbs, commercial and residential, the misguided and the intentionally offensive, to narrow it down to these seven god-awful eyesores.
Check 'em out. They're really, really fugly.
Is it art? Is it crap?
Sol LeWitt, the artist who thought up the cinderblock rendition of a big city skyline pictured on CL's cover, is famous the world over for his minimalist, highly conceptual art and, um, stuff.
Anyway, CL reader Carol Christman calls it "the ugliest artwork in America" and "an embarrassment to our beautiful city."
Ouch. We theorize it's actually a monument honoring the ugliness of our constantly under-construction city, so of course LeWitt had to make it out of bare cinderblocks. Genius!
Some artsy-fartsy people actually praise this piece in the Old Fourth Ward, called "54 Columns" because you can walk through it and feel like a giant walking around downtown, you know, like Godzilla.
To that, R. Land says, "Oh, brother! I played that game when I was in elementary school with cardboard boxes. If Sol wanted to be more accurate in representing Atlanta's current architectural trends, he would've made those towers out of particleboard and that fancy faux stucco. But at least it doesn't challenge the sewer system, that's for sure."
CL: Now you're defending it.
R. Land: "Alllrrright! I LOVE IT!"
CL: No, we must burn it down.
R. Land: "Yeah, soak them in kerosene.
CL: Would that work? Kerosene?
R. Land: "No, you can't burn it."
Boulevard to consumerism hell
It's ironic and shameful that Jimmy Carter Boulevard, the Gwinnett County waking nightmare of suburban sprawl, is named after Georgia's king of country living and wide-open spaces.
Block after block of fast-food chains and big box strip malls have turned this ribbon of asphalt into one of the nastiest streets in the country. No, really. Some members of the New Urbanism movement got together earlier this year and named Jimmy Carter Boulevard one of the "10 Worst Streets in North America."
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