USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Not so lost in the ATL

Back at home. Back in the car. Back in sprawl. Back in Atlanta.

I don’t know if I will ever fully acclimate to being back home. I know I will not see the city the same as I did before I left last August. I have become so indoctrinated with the urban framework of Asia that the urban framework here in the States can’t help but feel [outdated][obsolete][inefficient][old]. But there are remnants of hope here amongst the purple mountains majesty. And yes, there are some amongst the fruited plain. It was not until a late December trip to the South, to Atlanta, Georgia that I came to appreciate certain urban elements that I thought impossible in the efficiency wasteland of Los Angeles. Who would have thought that Hong Kong International Airport would have anything remotely in common with an American airport other than the fact that they both have people and planes?

Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport, a major hub for Delta Airlines, is one of the busiest airports in U.S. and is also unique in the way that it moves its’ passengers from terminal to terminal. Contrasting to the drive around loop access of Los Angeles Interntaional Airport (LAX), travelers can access the series of parallel-organized terminals by means of an underground train.


Hold on.

Hong Kong utilized a quite similar rail system in their international airport as well. Is it POSSIBLE now that there can be a direct application of urban infrastructure strategies in place in Asia, in the United States?

Well, the high-speed rail placement in California is not looking good, but hey, that’s a discussion for another time. And there will be another time for that one.

The old mantra of globalization holds true in Atlanta as it does in much of the urban settings throughout the world: cities in the era of globalization are growing similarly and facing the same problems. Much of the downtown district is blanketed with modern high-rises, housing the financial and economic players of the city. But nestled within the high rises, often times in the near vicinity, lays the scattered remnants of the old fabric. Large and medium-sized family dwellings, fading paint on wooden sidings, gutted insides, and overgrown lawns stand next to Starbucks and Einstein Bagels. Interestingly enough, although these are artifacts of a time long gone, they are still utilized in some capacity by the local homeless population as shelter from the harsh conditions. Similar to the hutong (old city fabric) in Beijing, China, the government was faced with what to do with these remnants of previous city generation. Of course before the government discovered the real estate value of these plots, they had them bulldozed to the ground, sometimes overnight, as so it happened in the preparation for the 2008 Summer Olympics.

It seems as though the city has vanquished that of the old, yet the rotting corpses in the forms of bombed (that’s graffiti for those playing the home game) windows and walls are still strewn about the city, as if the city morgue is full. But it isn’t enough that local residents can simply zip by these bodies in lightning fast time. Atlanta has some of the worse traffic in the nation. Like Los Angeles, the city maintains a relatively decent ridership rate, utilizing the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, which averages a little less than 500,000 passengers a day on it’s rails and buses. It’s no Tokyo, but hey, this is America. They’re lucky to get almost half a million people per day. However, the system faces a problem similar to that of Los Angeles in that it’s relatively few rail lines only service a relatively small percentage of the metropolitan area, preventing it from having a substantial effect on battling the cities traffic congestion.

What is further stunting the growth of the network is the fact that the Georgia State government has contributed almost next to nothing to the operation of the network. There is a critical calling for more state and regional financial support for an infrastructural element that is severely needing it. When Los Angeles is building its’ Metro lines at a quicker pace, that’s when you know your city has a problem. It makes the situation both humorous and yet sad when states are calling for more money for highway upkeep when they are unwilling to invest in alternative infrastructural projects.

Wait just a minute.

Atlanta and Los Angeles: both metropolitan areas in the U.S. Both facing similar problems and growing in similar ways in the same era of globalization? Did I just read that correctly?

I must be losing my mind.

-Christopher Glenn




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AAU FALL 2013:

University of Southern California
School of Architecture
Asia Architecture and Urbanism
Study Abroad Program

Andrew Liang
Bu Bing
Steven Chen
Yo-Ichiro Hakomori
Andrew Liang
Yuyang Liu
Neville Mars
Academic Contributors:
Thomas Chow, SURV
Bert de Muynck, Movingcities.org
Manying Hu, SZGDADRI, ITDP, Guangzhou
Clare Jacobson, Design Writer, Editor, Curator
Laurence Liauw, SPADA, Hong Kong
Mary Ann O'Donnell, Shenzhen Noted, Fat Bird, Shenzhen
Paul Tang, Verse, Shanghai
Li Xiangning, Tongji University, Shanghai
Daniel Aguilar
Hong Au
Michael den Hartog
Caroline Duncan
Nefer Fernandez
Christian Gomez
Isabelle Hong
Jin Hong Kim
Ashley Louie
Javier Meier
Paula Narvaez
Ashlyn Okimoto
Tamar Partamian
Samuel Rampy
Luis Villanueva
Krista Won
Tiffany Wu

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