During the mid-twentieth land use mapping became an increasingly common tool used by urban planners to provide an overview of the density, character, and function of land parcels either throughout a city or in specific neighborhoods. Atlanta’s Planning Commission prepared this hand-colored example at the start of a period of spectacular growth. This growth was fueled by the city’s emergence as the de facto capital city of the New South and was shaped by its embrace of automobile transportation—typical of the “Sun-Belt” of the second half of the twentieth century. The land use and street patterns delineated by the map clearly show how Atlanta’s urban morphology was shaped both by changes in transportation technology.
Atlanta was founded in 1837 when the Western and Atlantic Railroad chose the undeveloped location seven miles east of the Chattahoochee River as its southern terminus. Within ten years, two additional railroad lines converged at this site, creating an urban layout consisting of gridded streets that paralleled the three crossing railroads. The city’s irregular and dense downtown, known as “Five Points,” gives way in all directions to a north-south grid marking the city’s growth in the later nineteenth century, including some patches of curvilinear streets laid out in the 1890s and early 1900s as suburban communities, served by the city’s first street-car lines.
Georgia was not surveyed under the auspices of the U.S. Public Land Survey, and the topography of metropolitan Atlanta is not well-suite to the grid. Accordingly, the street pattern most of the city’s outlying neighborhoods (as well as the suburbs beyond) followed the curved lines of roads and rural lanes overtaken by automobile-oriented suburban growth. Large single family homes set in attractive wooded lots still characterize much of the city’s north side, which was developed from the 1920s to the early 1950s. This large swath of suburban development was annexed to the city in the very year this map was created, at least partly as a tactic designed to preserve for the time-being a white majority within the city limits. The shading of the map shows how the dense core of commercial land (in red) is surrounded by and irregular belt of apartment buildings (in orange), with a wide and dispersed outer belt of single family homes. Industrial areas (in brown) mostly line the city’s railroads. Additional commercial areas may be seen along the former rural highways and at crossroad settlements, such as Buckhead, lately incorporated into the city.
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City Planning Commission of Atlanta, “Map of Atlanta: Land Use 1952.” Georgia State University Library Digital Collections, Planning Atlanta Collection, G3924.A8 G4 1952 .A75