Mr. Pat McCrory, mayor

charlotteCharlotte, N.C.

Dear Sir:

According to a published report you have visions of Charlotte surpassing Atlanta as “economic King of the South.” I take that as tacit recognition that you believe Atlanta already is King of the South.

A word of advice: Forget it. It’s not that you can’t overtake Atlanta in many ways, economically and culturally, but in one way you’re woefully outmatched: You’ll never top Atlanta’s slogan meisters, those old-fashioned civic boosters who are credited by some historians for making Atlanta what it is.

Haven’t you heard that Atlanta is “the City too busy to hate,” “the World’s next great city,” a “world class city,” “the new international city,” “home of the American Dream,” “a city without limits”?

Boosterism is to Atlanta what air is to biological organisms, smoggy though it may be at times. Surely you’ve heard of  “the New South,” an economic development campaign right after the Civil War headed by Atlanta journalist Henry Grady.

In the 20th century Atlanta’s business and civic leaders went forth in  the North  to recruit new business with campaigns known as “Forward Atlanta,” the first in the 1920s and the second in the 1960s – both highly successful.

“The New Georgia Encyclopedia” lists the “Atlanta spirit” as one of the three dominant forces in its history, the others being transportation and race relations – about which more later.

To be sure, Atlanta is by not alone in its boosterism or its sloganeering. Every city worth its freeways, including Charlotte, engages in it. But here, it’s in the genes. And it started early. The late Atlanta historian Franklin Garrett liked to cite a comment about Atlanta boosters made by Georgia low-country folks in the 19th century: “If Atlanta could suck as hard as it blows, it would be a seaport.”

As you know, Atlanta is not a seaport, which makes its growth especially remarkable, since inland cities have to have something to replace an ocean front or a major river (Atlanta’s main river is useful mostly as a conduit to take water from Lake Lanier to the fishes and turtles in Florida).

Atlanta’s water substitute was transportation, first railroads, then highways and now as site of the world’s busiest international airport (sometimes second busiest). All these transportation avenues  work together to support the city’s economy.

Atlanta’s racial history has indeed been pivotal, and its 1950s slogan, “the City too busy to hate,” has been roundly criticized by local black leaders as a white executive’s image of Atlanta’s storied racial past. Atlanta was home to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and was arguably the headquarters of the Civil Rights movement. Black and white leaders conspired together in the ‘60s and ‘70s to integrate schools and retailers. But Atlanta had also once been the national headquarters of the Ku Klux Klan, the scene of a vicious 1906 race riot and the backdrop to the notorious Leo Frank kidnapping and murder case.

atlantaI see no need to mention other achievements, but will anyway. Atlanta is one of the biggest convention centers, home to four major-league sports teams, site of a Democratic National Convention, host to the 1996 Summer Olympic Games and headquarters of 22 Fortune 1,000 corporations (with seven more in other parts of Georgia).

And I haven’t even mentioned “Gone With the Wind” and Coca-Cola (one of the Fortune companies), nor, of course, the crowded freeways, air pollution and water supply challenge.

That published report, Mr. Mayor, quoted you as saying that Charlotte, the “Queen City,” has chosen to compete with big cities such as Atlanta, Dallas and Denver rather than Knoxville, Greensboro or Richmond, which you suggested would be easier models. I’m sure their chambers of commerce will appreciate that.

I’m also puzzled by this new civic ambition on your part. As a regular visitor to Charlotte to see relatives, I have some knowledge of your city and I certainly commend you and your civic and business leaders for what’s there now. I’ve never met a pothole in Charlotte, which certainly isn’t the case in metro Atlanta. And I find your city attractive and well-groomed — where you also have some lessons to offer.

But give it up. You’ve already got the nation’s biggest bank and a large banking establishment, the NASCAR Hall of Fame, the headquarters of GMAC, the nucleus of a light-rail transportation system and architecture that compares favorably with Atlanta’s.

You won’t heed my advice, of course. So I’ll just leave you with just one more local slogan that hasn’t been used much lately but is still relevant: “Look at Atlanta now.”

With best wishes and kindest regards,

Tom Walker

Top photo: Charlotte

Bottom photo: Atlanta

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Tom Walker

Born in Spartanburg, South Carolina Aug. 11, 1935, Tom Walker graduated from the University of South Carolina and did post-graduate work at UCLA. He started work at The State newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina in 1958 and later worked for The Columbia Record, the afternoon half of the State-Record Co., covering politics, courts, police and civil rights in the '60s. After a little more than a year at the Los Angeles City News Service, a local news wire service in L.A., he joined The Associated Press in Charlotte, North Carolina. In February 1967, he came to The Atlanta Journal and was persuaded (forced?) to take the job as real estate editor. When the then-business editor left in 1970 Tom became business editor. When the Journal and Atlanta Constitution staffs merged in the '80s he became a staff writer, a post he held until leaving for a career as a free-lance writer in 2007.