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Atlanta's emergence as one of the dynamic cities of the United States had its genesis in the "New South" philosophy expounded by Atlanta Constitution editor Henry Grady. He was one of the leaders in the International Cotton Exposition (1881) and the Piedmont Exposition (1887), both of which served as patterns for the Cotton States and International Exposition (1895). These enterprises showed the impressive progress that both Atlanta and the South had made in building a more diversified economy on the ruins of the old cotton kingdom. The Forward Atlanta campaigns of the 1920's and 1960's promoted the city as a site for business and industry.
Atlanta, the capital of Georgia and the trade, transportation, and communications center of the southeastern United States. Atlanta, known as the Dogwood City for its flowering trees, lies in north-central Georgia, in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Situated 1,050 feet (320 meters) above sea level on the Piedmont Plateau, Atlanta's climate is equable, with a mean annual temperature of 61°F. (16°C.) and an average annual rainfall of almost 50 inches (1,300 mm). The city has a total land area of 131 square miles (339 sq km), partly in DeKalb County, but mostly in Fulton County, of which it is the seat.
Atlanta is in a state of transition. Few pre-Civil War buildings still stand. The city was laid out as a circle with a two-mile (3.2-km) diameter, its streets radiating from the center. Rapid growth modified the plan, but Atlanta still centers on Five Points, where the main thoroughfares converge. Surronding Five Points is the central business district. Peachtree Street, once the site of Atlanta's most fashionable residential district, is the main north-south artery. Today it is lined with skyscraper offices, hotels, and apartment buildings. Construction in downtown Atlanta in the 1960's proceeded so rapidly that building machinery often seemed to be a permanent part of the landscape. Atlanta's northside residential area, however, is still a woodland whose gently rolling terrain is a dazzling vista of white when hundreds of thousands of dogwood burst into bloom each spring.
Redevelopment during the 1960's and 1970's did not prevent a flight of population from the city. Atlanta's population, after having grown by 11 percent in the 1950's and stabilized during the 1960's, declined in the 1970's and 1980's. By 1990 the city had only 394,017 inhabitants, as against 495,039 in 1970. Growth continued, however, in the metropolitan area, which encompasses 18 counties and had 2,833,511 inhabitants in 1990. In the city, blacks constitute two thirds of the population, but they make up just over one fourth of the metropolitan area population.
Atlanta is governed by a mayor and a city council elected every four years. Under the administrations of William B. Hartsfield (1937-1961) and Ivan Allen, Jr. (1961-1969), Atlanta experienced unprecedented growth and prosperity. In 1973 Atlantans elected their first black mayor, Maynard Jackson. In 1981 he was succeeded by Andrew Young. Jackson was once more elected mayor in 1989.
Atlanta is the home of Georgia Institute of Technology, Emory University, Agnes Scott College, Oglethorpe University, and Georgia State University. The six institutions affiliated with the Atlanta University Center make the city a leader in higher education. Atlanta's public school system was peacefully desegrated following the U.S. Supreme Court Order of 1954.
Cultural organizations in Atlanta include a symphony orchestra, a ballet troupe, and several theatrical groups. There is a spring season of performances by the Metropolitan Opera Company. Since 1968 cultural events have been held in the Robert W. Woodruff Arts Center, which surrounds the High Museum of Art. Recreational facilities include 2,300 acres (930 hectares) of municipal playgrounds and parks. The Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium is home to professional baseball and the Georgia Dome to professional football. The Omni Coliseum is the site of professional basketball games.
Points of interest in the city include the Cyclorama Building, housing a life-size mural of the Battle of Atlanta; the "Eternal Flame of the Confederacy," one of Atlanta's original street lamps, which was badly scarred during the Civil War; the Atlanta Historical Society; the grave of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.; and the State Capitol.
Atlanta has, from the time of its founding, been an important transportation center. Commercial air travel increased greatly in the city in the 1970's, and in 1980 the city opened a new international airport, the nation's largest and busiest. Railroads, however, remain a major factor in the city's role as a distribution center. The city is also the focal point of three major interstate highways. Atlanta is also an important communications center and is the hub for CNN. It has two major daily newspapers, seven television stations, and 20 radio stations.
Atlanta's economy is based on transportation and communications facilities, on banking, insurance, and retailing businesses, and on industries that manufacture automobiles, textiles, chemicals, and pulp and paper products. With the opening of several new hotels and a huge new convention center in the 1970's, Atlanta also became one of the nation's busiest tourist and convention cities.
Settled in 1837 as the terminus of the state-owned Western & Atlantic Railroad (and called, appropriately, Terminus), the site soon became a trading center for the area. The settlement was incorporated in 1843 as the town of Marthasville and was reincorporated in 1847 as the city of Atlanta. The scene of heavy fighting late in the Civil War, the city was ordered burned by General Sherman in 1864.