Buckhead and the CBD

a CBD (Central Business District) is, while usually a city’s downtown, not always. It is often defined in bigger cities by an upsurge of skyscrapers plotted on the horizon like some economical bar graph. Many cities, with the advent of the car and suburbs have developed a 2nd CBD which may work in sync with or simply leave behind the old downtown. In Atlanta for instance the business district walked itself up Peachtree St to Buckhead in the mid-20th century, and in the 21st century has walked farther north and spread itself in office park pockets along the perimeter to accomodate their employees and have cheaper rent. As a CBD moves, it has ahead of it the “zone of assimilation” and leaves behind it a “zone of discard.” As it evolves, we see the center tighten and the frame go through a variety of changes as it learns to support or is excluded by the core. Residential neighborhoods like what was once Buckhead evolve to accommodate the incoming business and eventually bow to destruction. The following is a class blog post on the subject.

Buckhead hasn’t always been the mass of office buildings, condos, and shopping centers it is today. It was once a home for the wealthy who planted their estates on the picturesque hills just up the road from Atlanta’s center, followed by middle class neighborhoods like Garden Hills that emerged as Atlanta grew outward in the early 20th century. Buckhead wasn’t even annexed by Atlanta until 1952, but it didn’t take long for this jumble of major intersections to lure business from downtown and become Atlanta’s 2nd CBD. The construction of Lenox Square mall in 1959 and Lenox Towers in 1966 led the way and Buckhead has been constantly evolving ever since. This constant construction and evolution has created pockets of zones of both assimilation and discard as the skyscrapers and widened roadways leave shops behind only to re-envelope bits of the frame later. Funnily, despite all the destruction and construction Buckhead has never completely obliterated it’s past, making for some dramatic juxtapositions in the landscape.

Even in the core of the CBD, bits of architectural history remain, this fancy home sits next door to the original towers of Buckhead (Lenox Towers). The front lawn has long since been paved and The Mansion (condos), along with other glass office buildings, now towers over it.

Just a few blocks from the core, one finds a confusing mix of architecture. Quaint cottages remain, standing alone amidst condos and modern shopping centers where they were once part of whole neighborhoods. Oddly, some neighborhood streets have remained intact, but zoning has made them solidly commercial.

It’s not just homes from the first half of the century, but even mid-20th century single-story shopping centers that sprang up to feed the growth are now dwarfed by parking decks and loomed over by the ever-present construction crane, evidence of Buckhead’s constant evolution.

Finally, my favorite juxtaposition is of the streets and neighborhoods that remain residential, walled off from the highway and still in the shadows of skyscrapers. Middle class and wealthy neighborhoods alike were not spared the jarring the imposition of these towers on their vista.

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