What is Atlanta?

I recently discussed Atlanta with a couple of friends. Two of us are native Atlantans, and one is from out-of-town. During the discussion, one of us Atlantans mentioned the term OTP and the out-of-towner said, “What’s that?” And the debate began!

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, OTP is an acronym for “Outside the Perimeter.” Its polar opposite is ITP, or “Inside the Perimeter.” For those of you who really aren’t familiar with Atlanta, the perimeter is I-285, the Atlanta Bypass, a large circle of highway looping all the way around the metro Atlanta area.

The interesting part of the discussion came when my suburban friend and I began attempting to explain the differences between the two. It quickly became apparent that ITP and OTP mean quite different things to us. Atlantans speak of locations as being ITP or OTP. ITP is “intown” and OTP is “suburban.” OTP is commonly used as a derisive term for locations outside the perimeter. For example: “No way was I going to take a position with that company. They are way too far OTP for me to commute everyday from my Midtown loft.” Or, for those in favor of OTP living: “I hate riding MARTA, because ITP, it is so dirty and crime-ridden.” These, of course, are generalizations, but you get the idea.

I began to think about how Atlanta means so many different things to so many people. To many transplants from other parts of the country, it is a warm place with relatively low housing prices. “You can have a McMansion on a postage stamp for next to nothing!” For some it is an African-American mecca, with a storied civil rights history and historic black universities. It is a Gay and Lesbian-friendly city, full of vibrant modern diversity. Some people think of it as the shopping hub of the South, while others find it a professional sports-laden city in the midst of states with very few professional sports teams. To some it is Gone with the Wind and Margaret Mitchell. To others it is the New South. It is a dichotomy of tradition and modernism. And to each of us it is something different.

My Atlanta of memory is the city where I was born. It is the memory of horse farms where housing developments now stand. It is an early-1900’s elementary school with one classroom for each grade. It is the Crabapple Fair, and pony rides, and cakewalks, the rope swing on the Chattahoochee, and playing in the pines. It is Rosebud the cow and the Pink Pig on the rooftop of Rich’s downtown. It is Braves games with Chief Knockahoma and his teepee, and season after season much like their current one. It is seeing shows at the Omni. It’s Mary Mac’s and “y’all” and “Yes, Ma’am” and little bottles of Co’Cola. It is going downtown despite our parents’ instructions not to, just to ride the elevators in the big buildings, which at the time only included the Westin, the Hilton, and the Marriott, and to buy vintage clothes and records in Little Five Points.

Today, Atlanta is the city where my children were born, the city I came back home to after realizing I truly loved the South, the city where I met my husband in an East Atlanta village bar. It is the kids playing in Piedmont, Candler, and Grant parks. It is fun festivals in intown neighborhoods. It is Freedom Parkway, the Ted, and a totally different skyline. It is a suburban landscape that is so different from that of my childhood that I get lost in my own hometown. Atlanta, to me, is a city without a definite identity, at one turn forward-thinking and at another, feet planted firmly in the old ways, haunted by the past, but looking towards the future. But most of all, it is home.

What is Atlanta to you?

4 Comments so far

  1. A. Non (unregistered) on June 27th, 2006 @ 6:32 pm

    i love this post so much. kudos to your nostalgia and for reminding me of why i love atlanta as well.

  2. Daniel (unregistered) on June 28th, 2006 @ 9:17 am

    I’ve been a strict ITPer all my life, but I’m willing to grant some OTP into Atlanta for booster purposes (i.e. when something good happens out there). Otherwise, I feel like I need a passport to leave the perimeter

  3. kevin (unregistered) on June 29th, 2006 @ 6:04 am

    Interestingly enough, Chief Knockahoma lived OTP. I went to school with his daughter and he would always come to our school carnival, once I remember in costume, but most of the time in jeans and a button-up.

  4. Jula Jane (unregistered) on July 10th, 2006 @ 11:42 am

    Please stay clear of Jula Jane. She will to anything to backstab you in Atlanta. Please check out the Jula Jane Blog

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