Friday, July 17, 2009

Big D vs. The ATL

So, you've always wanted to live in a sprawling Megalopolis? I know about two of them: Dallas and Atlanta. I've lived in neither, but travel to both regularly for business, so turn off the TV, put on your slippers, and read this outsider's comparison of these two weirdly similar American cities:

• Both cities barely existed before the Civil War. Atlanta was incorporated in 1847, Dallas in 1856.
• Both cities are southern, with temperate winters.
• You'll need an air conditioner most of the year in both cities.
• Dallas and Atlanta are both landlocked. This has allowed suburban expansion in all directions, which makes for cheaper homes further from the city center (and subsequently, longer commutes).
• Both cities have separatist history: Dallas is in Texas (once part of Mexico), a cocky, obnoxious state with an ad campaign that brags about being a different country; Atlanta is part of Georgia, which was part of the Confederate States of America, which fought to break free of an Lincoln's oppressive United States of America, so they could maintain their "way of life" (i.e. whipping black folk while sipping mint juleps).This slave never learned how to obey.

…Or we'll secede from the Union. We're like a whole other country.

• Both cities have glassy, postmodern skylines, with a similar number of tall buildings.
Atlanta has 32 buildings over 400 feet tall. The tallest building is just over 1,000 feet, and 4 others are taller than 700 feet.
Dallas has 28 buildings over 400 feet tall. The tallest building is 921 feet, and 4 others are taller than 700 feet.
• Both cities have clusters of tall buildings dotting their metro areas. Some of these areas (Buckhead in Atlanta, and Las Colinas in Dallas) boast more tall buildings than many American states.

There are a few architectural points of difference, though. The Atlanta skyline doesn't really have an iconic "vanity" tower, like the Reunion Tower in Dallas (that big, sparkly ball thang west of downtown).

Reunion Tower, Dallas, 1978.

Atlanta architecture, while postmodern, pays a bit more homage to the past. Witness these retro-inspired gems:

The Four Seasons Hotel, 1992. The only 5 star hotel in Atlanta.

191 Peachtree in Atlanta, 1990. This building really impresses me as I travel through the city. It looks like something you might find in one of Thomas Jefferson's long-lost sketchbooks.

Look at that neo-Classical gorgeousness. This is a tower that screams "Hey, Dallas, we're one of the Original 13 Colonies. Top that!!!" It's Monticello on stilts, y'all.

Meanwhile, I've always compared Dallas' architecture to its women: unsubtle, glitzy, and with a big 'ole "check out these boobs" factor. Like Houston, much of the skyline is a Johnson/Burgee-inspired collection of glass-encased monoliths, but there are a few gems worth a second (or third) look:
The 738-foot JPMorgan Chase Tower (1978) is probably my favorite postmodern skyscraper.

I keep saying "postmodern." What does that mean?

I guess I'd put it like this: modern architecture said "let's build a simple box of a building with no unnecessary details, because details are silly." Think Mies van der Rohe.

Postmodern architecture said "the simple box is nice, but it's been done. Let's add some witty detail." Think Michael Graves.

The JPMorganChase Tower has the witty detail of a keyhole opening at the top. Why? Who cares? It's fun! Modernism was the big idea. Postmodernism was the reaction to the big idea. It's much less important, academically speaking, but still figures heavily in the skylines of our two cities under discussion.

The Bank of America Plaza (1985) is my guilty pleasure. By day, it's the tallest building in Dallas. But by night, it's that building with the green argon outline. This simple element makes the building a Dallas icon. It somehow says, "look, everybody, we've got so much energy down here that we're gonna burn a green argon light all night long until Jesus comes again."

• Think fake-churchy. Both are outwardly religious, conservative cities. Dallas is a way more Catholic (due to a large Hispanic population) than Atlanta. Both are full of corporate-style megachurches that seem to spend most of their tax-free contributions paying their ministers and improving their campuses (as opposed to helping the poor).
• Don't forget: Martin Luther King, Jr. was a prominent Baptist minister. TD Jakes is based in Dallas. It seems everybody in both cities goes to church, and they tend to mix church with business. Care to meet at Denny's for an executive men's prayer breakfast? No? OK, then, you can forget about that promotion...
• Despite the outward show of religion, Dallas loves her strip clubs, which are everywhere. Remember, the infamous Jack Ruby operated a Dallas strip club, catering to the dudes who went wild on Saturday night, but turned pious on Sunday morning. Atlanta has her fair share of "gentlemens" clubs, but they're not quite as in-your-face as the clubs in Dallas.
Dallasites tend to be married (50%), while Atlantans tend to be single (64%). 45% of Atlantans have never been married, while only 34% of Dallasites have never experience marital bliss. I suspect this statistic owes to the racial makeup of the city: Atlanta has a large African-American population (a demographic currently disinclined to walk down the aisle).

• Basically, Atlanta is way-Black, and Dallas is way-Hispanic.

It's wonderful to visit Atlanta and see a thriving African-American middle and upper class. While the city has a long way to go toward achieving perfect racial harmony, I generally detect a positive vibe between the races in Atlanta.

In Dallas, I sense that whites rule, Hispanics clean the hotels and mow the white folks' lawns, and I'm not sure what the black folk do.

This leads to my next comparison:

• Both cities are business cities, not arts cities. Both cities seem to donate corporate dollars to the arts (and by "arts," I mean "white arts") in order to seem more interesting and less dry and business-y.
• Still, Atlanta has a major hip-hop scene, and is the home of many super-famous rappers and hip-hop artists. (Don't you just love you some "crunk?")
Outkast, a creative force from Atlanta, with the ever-dapper genius André Benjamin (at right).

• Dallas has a small hip-hop scene, a large country scene, and a respectable indie-rock scene.
• Both have slick, second-tier art museums (though Dallas neighbor Ft. Worth's Kimball is a top-tier institution, IMHO).
• Both have respectable, second-tier symphony orchestras and ballets.
• Conservatism rules these cities, and creative folk are a distinct, somewhat dubious minority, trotted out by the Chambers of Commerce when convenient.

• Both cities weep for large bodies of water. Don't pack your snorkel, my friend.
• Dallas has a little baby trickle of a river, the Trinity, and a big lake halfway up the road to Oklahoma. Atlanta: I didn't see much water.
• Dallas is as flat as a pre-op male tranny; Atlanta is maybe a little bit hilly?
• Dallas: dry and not green; Atlanta: wet-ish and green, with those tall pine trees.

I could go on and on and on... what's the bottom line?

• You'll never confuse these cities with Chicago, Seattle or San Francisco, but hey, for regional corporate dystopias, they're not half-bad.
• Both Dallas and Atlanta are dynamic southern cities with a large concentration of Fortune 500 companies. This = large numbers of uptight white folk text-messaging the office while driving their SUV's.
• Both are landlocked cities that seem to have been "planted" in place. Shipping harbors? Huh?
• Both cities are "pro-business." This also means "anti-union." It's why both cities have seen such explosive growth. Atlanta and Dallas are basically scab-labor towns flaunting their low wages and taxes to attract parasitical American corporations. They're corporate Shangri-Las, sucking growth away from established, pro-human northern cities like Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Chicago.

Which city do I prefer? Wow, that's a tough one.

Here's why I like Atlanta:
• Deep South history (but, hey, let's forget about that whole slavery thing)
• African-American dynamism.
• Phoenix-like rebirth (Atlanta remains the only large American city ever destroyed by a war)
• Trees
• The women are refined
• The men are gentlemanly
• CNN, Cartoon Network, and Tru TV
• Urban ghosts from the 1996 Olympics
• The brown gravy / church choir / hip hop Queen / golfing white dude / Confederate daughter vibe
• It has a great city park (Piedmont Park)
• Little Five Points, a weird little hippie-enclave
• Buttered grits
• Gone With The Wind
• The Fabulous Fox Theatre
• Mike Malloy
• Gorgeous urban landscaping
• The showy, southern-Beverly Hills town of Buckhead
• The Varsity
• The Sweet Auburn Curb Market
• It's a completely manufactured media behemoth (think CNN)
• The suburb of Decatur, slow-paced, yet hip and charming
• Jimmy Carter (a beleaguered, but FAR better president than Dallas' George W. Bush)
• Martin Luther King, Jr. and Sr.
• Ted Turner• Lewis Grizzard
• Lower summer temperatures
• Gently rolling hills

Here's why I like Dallas:
• Unbridled optimism & ambition
• Barbeque and Tex-Mex
• Big, blue skies, and gorgeous sunsets
• The charming cosmopolitan aspirations centered on scrubby prairie land
• The clear, searing heat
• That southwestern oilman/rancher vibe
• 80-year old men still called "Billy Chuck"
• The Granada Theatre, a great place to catch the best bands
• The schizophrenic, megachurch / fake tits / dry town / bible banging / blonde cheerleader / strip club / family suburban vibe
• Bottle-blondes on the escalator at Neiman-Marcus
• The Knox-Henderson District
• The 300 plus days of intense sunshine
• There are only a handful of big cities where cowboy hats are appropriate. This is one of them.
• The welcoming, "come join us" atmosphere (as opposed to Atlanta's "who was your Grandaddy and where do you live?" thing)
• The art deco Fair Park area, with the Cotton Bowl and museums
• The 6th Floor Museum, perhaps the most chillling museum in the US
• Owen Wilson
• Edie Brickell
• Lisa Loeb
• Stevie Ray Vaughan• Lance Armstrong
• The sophisticated graphic design and advertising community
• The shopping
• The Metroplex, including Ft. Worth (sorry, Ft. Worthians, but your city only improves Dallas. Old joke: What does Dallas have that Ft. Worth doesn't? A nice city 30 miles away.)
• The Ft. Worth Botanical Gardens, especially the Japanese Garden
• The Ft. Worth Kimball Museum of Art

For me, it's Dallas by a nose. Ft. Worth is Dallas' trump card.


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