You can still feel the Old South in Atlanta, but be prepared for a 21st-century veneer: The city boasts three distinct skylines — Downtown, Midtown and Buckhead — along with the world's busiest airport and dozens of neighborhoods to keep city lovers happily exploring for years.
Atlanta also anchors a vast metro area — 8,400 square miles, an area just slightly smaller than New Jersey — with nearly 5.3 million residents (2010 census), a 24 percent increase from 2000.
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This expansion has wrought monumental traffic congestion. Atlanta's traffic jams often flow in both directions for hours on end, Los Angeles-style.
But encouraging signs abound for a greener, more livable city. The nonprofit PATH Foundation is turning abandoned rail lines and other routes into a large regional trail network. Urban planners rave about Atlantic Station, a reclaimed industrial site in midtown with housing, offices and enough shopping and entertainment that residents will never need to get in a car.
In 2007, AARP gave its Livable Communities Award to CollegeTown at West End, a mixed-use development designed for older adults that is within walking distance of two colleges. Many of Atlanta's older neighborhoods are pedestrian-friendly and the region's light rail system, MARTA, is heavily used. Even the mega-mall at Perimeter Center opened an outdoor, pedestrian friendly shopping area.
Atlanta is the fourth most literate big city in the country with a wide range of schools, including Georgia State University, Georgia Tech, Emory University and the largest consortium of historically black colleges in the country, Atlanta University Center. The metro area's median household income is high, and housing costs are low for such a big city. Generous, well-built houses on attractive lots are the rule.
A long list of museums and exhibit halls includes the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site and the massive Georgia Aquarium (more than 8 million gallons!). Performing arts venues include the Fox Theatre, a Moorish-style 1920s movie palace; a metropolitan ballet; and two symphony orchestras.
Atlanta's economy is feeling the recession. Housing foreclosures in the region are very high, and Atlanta was a center of the banking crisis, with an abnormally high percentage of bank failures. But the city and its residents are working hard to shore up the economy.
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