Atlanta skyline
July 15-July 19, 2014
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Atlanta, GA

Living in the ATL

By Volkan Topalli

I’ve lived in some of America’s most interesting cities; Boston, New Orleans, St. Louis, and visited countless others, but Atlanta has been the most pleasant surprise of all. For many people there is Atlanta (the city) and forFox Theater photo the rest of us there is “The ATL” (which is more a state of mind). The difference is subtle but important. Of all the cities I have traveled to in the US and the rest of the world – and the list is quite long – none has demonstrated the feverish growth and rapid change I have witnessed since moving here in 2000 to join the faculty at Georgia State University (the second largest university in Georgia, with over 32,000 students and 55 degree programs in 250 areas of study). Atlanta is known as the  “City too Busy to Hate” – a reference to its reputation for moving beyond the racial controversy of the civil rights era of the 60s and looking forward to progressive development and unified progress. It lives up to its name in many ways. It seems as though every day there is a new restaurant, every week a new music venue, and every month a new skyscraper, museum, or park. The progress here has been eWoodruff Arts Center photoxciting to witness, particularly because so much of it has emphasized development in the center of the city itself rather than on the outskirts, as is the case with many other cities. The majority of this development has in fact taken place right where our conference will be held – Midtown Atlanta. Midtown is a vibrant and charming part of Atlanta, it is known for its mixed-use developments and more importantly, mixed income housing, creating neighborhoods with character, charm, and diversity. Add to the blend a touch of southern hospitality and the city’s strong emphasis on internationalism, and you have here in the Deep South a metropolitan area unlike any other below the Mason-Dixon Line.Little 5 Points photo

Want to know the ATL? I encourage you to experience Peachtree Corridor  -- Midtown’s central route -- either by foot or by MARTA (the city’s underground transportation system). The city’s main thoroughfare follows Peachtree Street (yes, everything seems to be named Peachtree in this town) up from Morehouse University, Spelman College, Georgia State University and the Fairlie Poplar District, through the downtown district, to the new and growing neighborhood of SoNo (“SOuth of NOrth Ave”). Continue north past the Fabulous Fox Theater (a cultural and architectural jewel of our city) into the heart of Midtown with its tree-lined streets, eclectic dining and shopping. From 3rd St. to 17th St. and one block on either side of PeachCarter Presidential Center phototree, there are 64 restaurants to choose from serving everything from “chicken and waffles” (Gladys Knight’s restaurant) to Sicilian wood stove gourmet pizzas (Baraonda) to Southern fusion cuisine (South City Kitchen). Truly, Atlanta is the gastronomic capital of the American South. Famous chefs from all of over the world have established restaraunts in Midtown with fare available from delicious and cheap “foodtruck” mobile restaurants to the elegant offerings of STK, Ecco, and Bachanalia. Continue north and you will eventually pass Piedmont Park only two blocks to the east of our magnificent Loews Atlanta Hotel. This park is a magnificent 189 acre meeting pInman Park photolace for the residents of this city to jog, bask in the sun, attend music festivals, and enjoy their families and pets. Further north along the corridor, a mere 3 blocks away from the hotel, the city has a number of excellent museums and performing arts centers, including the High Museum of Art, the Woodruff Arts Center, the Atlanta Ballet, Atlanta Opera, and the Atlanta Center for Puppetry Arts. Beyond that is a world of shopping and eating to be found at Atlantic Station and Buckhead areas.

Outside the Corridor but only a short cab ride away are wonderful historical districts and neighborhoods like VirgGeorgia Aquariuminia Highlands (near Emory University), Little Five Points, Inman Park, and Freedom Parkway (where you can visit the Carter Center and learn about the 39th President’s work on human rights and international peace), as well as Sweet Auburn, one of the city’s traditional centers of African American heritage and culture. The city is home to a number of attractions that are “must-sees” including Zoo Atlanta (a 40-acre home to all manner of wildlife, most notably a family of Pandas and the Ford African Rainforest habitat), the Cyclorama (for those interested in the American Civil War), the Coca Cola Museum (Centennial Park photowhere one can sample as much Coke and soft drinks as one likes) and the Olympic Park. Atlanta’s newest attraction, the Georgia Aquarium, is the world’s largest at 12 acres and 8 million gallons, famous for being the only facility to house four 30 foot long Whale Sharks and a family of Beluga Whales. Finally a visit to Atlanta would not be complete without a tour of the CNN Headquarters.

Most near and dear to the heart of Atlanta though, is its rich past as a center of the civil rights movement. With its history of progressive attitudes toward issues of race and integration and most importanMartin Luther King Home phototly its status at the birthplace Martin Luther King and home of his nonviolent civil rights revolution, the city stands apart from others in the US in its ability to teach us the lessons of the past. Every visitor to this city owes it to themselves to visit the Ebenezer Baptist Church where Dr. King eulogized, and tour the adjacent King Center, which houses many of his important works. Given this ISRA’s emphasis on reducing and understanding violeEbenezer Baptist Church photonce, I can think of no better place for our esteemed organization to meet and engage in the tradition of intellectual exchange. We look forward to seeing you in the ATL.

To learn more about Atlanta and its many attractions, please see the 50 Fun Things to See and Do in Atlanta.