I grew up in a family that traveled a lot. My dad worked for an airline and my mom worked for a global hotel chain. We were off on adventures all the time, seeing what the world had to offer. I ended up working for an airline for 12 years myself, benefitting from free flight benefits and seeing cities around the world. When my flight benefits ended in November of 2008, I focused all of my extra time and energy right here in Atlanta — and what a terrific place to be at exactly the right time. I’ve seen the great cities of the world, but I’ve never felt so at home as in Atlanta.
I had been following the unfolding plan for the BeltLine since 2004, but in January of 2009 I started to walk the entire BeltLine corridor, much of it still trash-strewn or kudzu-choked. I became friendly with some of the homeless living there. I became friends with Ryan Gravel, whose master’s thesis inspired the 22-mile loop. My job as a CSX train conductor took me parallel to part of the future path. I became an enthusiastic advocate for the BeltLine, which I saw as a way to revitalize Atlanta, and I changed my answering machine to say I was “Angel of the BeltLine.” As Mark Pendergrast wrote in his book, I bought a derelict house right on the BeltLine in the Adair Park neighborhood and fixed it up, and I hosted Mark there for a night during his research.
But I was never fully aware of Atlanta’s history. I grew up in Miami, Florida, and it’s not the easiest thing in the world to find out what happened in a place before you got there. Reading Mark Pendergrast’s book, City on the Verge, was an eye-opening experience for me. I am not a big reader, but I couldn’t put the book down. There is so much about the past of our city that I just didn’t know, and as someone who has been following all things civic for over a decade, getting the complete backstory on how we’ve become the city that we are today was beyond helpful, though sometime painful.
If you only read one book this year, make it this one. As our city-wide elections are coming up this November, there is no more important time than now to become familiar with our past and to use that knowledge to inform the decisions that we will be making come election time. We are indeed a city on the verge, and we need to choose leadership that will help us move forward into an amazing future.