A Streetcar Named [Monetary] Desire: The Effects of Corruption in the Atlanta Streetcar Lines, 1870-1900

Wright Kennedy, Columbia University

This paper examines the spatial history of the formative years of public transportation in Atlanta and the impact of the streetcar routes on the residential patterns of the city. Streetcar lines gradually changed the entire fabric of space and time in Atlanta. Space, and the time-expense to travel these distances in the city, were gradually compressed to a point that it radically shaped the city for the centuries to come. Geographically, Atlanta was less constrained by natural features and more by space and time. It was one of the only large U.S. cities at the turn of the twentieth century that was not located on a navigable waterway. Because of this, the city was and remains a flexible, but easily manipulated urban organism. This study used historical geographic information systems (HGIS) to map residents’ daily journeys to and from work. A comparison of these routes to the early streetcar lines highlights a seemingly irrational siting of the first streetcar lines. Yet, when the streetcar routes are compared to the home addresses of city officials, another story emerges. The spatial patterns of the city, uncovered through the HGIS, reveal corrupt dealings between city officials and streetcar companies. The development of the streetcar network in postbellum Atlanta created demographic patterns that still persist today, and as such, the efforts of city officials to benefit themselves caused wide-reaching effects within the city’s spatial arrangement. This presentation details these findings.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 120. Urban Historical GIS