Atlanta is the capital of and largest city in the U.S. state of Georgia. It is the county seat of Fulton County, although a portion of the city (the 1909 annex) is located in DeKalb County. According to the latest census estimates (as of December, 2004), the city has a population of 425,000 and the Atlanta metropolitan area totaled 4,708,297, making it the ninth-largest metropolitan area in the United States and the 41st-largest city proper. Atlanta is arguably a poster-child for cities worldwide experiencing rapid urban sprawl, population growth, and commercial development. As a result, Atlanta is a common case study for college students who study Urban Geography around the globe.
The Atlanta area was originally inhabited by Cherokee and Creek Indians, and was named Standing Peachtree. In 1823, the area was opened to white settlement. It remained mostly woods until 1836, when the area was chosen as the southern "Terminus" of a railroad from Chattanooga. A local settlement called "Thrasherville" (near present-day Philips arena, home of the Atlanta Thrashers) was renamed "Terminus," and in 1843 the town was officially named "Marthasville," after the daughter of the governor of Georgia. The business community, however, was concerned that such a name wouldn't sell, and a new name, "Atlanta," was chosen in 1845 as much more marketable. Hence, from the start "Atlanta" began as a transportation hub and marketing center. The town was incorporated as the "city" of Atlanta in 1847, and by 1860 the population was 9,554.
Atlanta was largely destroyed by Union forces during the Civil War, but was chosen as the state capital in 1868, having been established as the site of command for Union soldiers and the Reconstruction administration. In the 1880's, a revival was led by newspaperman Henry Grady, who advocated Atlanta as the "capital of the New South." By 1890 Atlanta had 65,000 residents and was one of the 50 largest cities in America, a distinction Atlanta has held for over 110 years. In 1892, Atlanta's first skyscraper, the 8-story Equitable Building, began Atlanta's rise to the skies. The city expanded rapidly from 1900 (89,000) to 1930 (302,000) before growth slowed during the Depression. In the 1960's Atlanta was a center for the American Civil Rights Movement. In 1970, the city's population topped out at 497,000 before "white flight" to the suburbs dropped the city to 394,000 in 1990. However, in 1996 Atlanta served as the host city for the Centennial 1996 Summer Olympics, and the city has rallied to 425,000 by 2004, fueled in part by a new desire for shorter commutes and intown living.
One of the city's nicknames, "The Phoenix City", relates to its rise after the Civil War. The phoenix appears in many of Atlanta's symbols, including its seal and flag. In the 1940s and 1950s, former Atlanta mayor William B. Hartsfield called Atlanta "The City Too Busy to Hate". In addition, it has also been called the "New York of the South" in response to one of Georgia's own nicknames, "The Empire State of the South." Atlanta may also be known as ATL, a colloquialism for the city derived from the IATA airport code for the airport.
Atlanta is circled by Interstate 285, called the "Perimeter" by locals, which has come to delineate the interior of the city from the surrounding suburbs. This has given rise to the terms ITP (inside the Perimeter) and OTP (outside the Perimeter) to describe area neighborhoods, residents, and businesses. In this respect, the Perimeter plays a social and geographical role similar to that of the Capital Beltway around Washington, DC.
Atlanta has such a great economic impact on the state and the surrounding region that cities and towns up to 100 miles away are considered 'exurbs', defined by the fact that people depend on their livelihoods by commuting to work in the city, rapidly growing what is called Metro Atlanta. Atlanta is one of the most prosperous cities in the United States and is often referred to as the unofficial "capital of the South." The city is also an especially important cultural and economic center for African-Americans; Atlanta has not had a non-black mayor for over 30 years, and in recent decades nearly all Fire Chiefs, Police Chiefs, and other government officials have been African-American.