Library Gets Grant to Digitize Atlanta Maps

ATLANTA—The Georgia State University Library has received a $210,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to digitally enhance and increase access to a rare collection of Atlanta city planning documents.

The grant for the “Planning Atlanta: A New City in the Making, 1930s – 1990s,” was the largest grant awarded by the NEH to a university library in Georgia in 2013.

The collection, which was introduced in summer 2012, has already had more than 8,000 visitors. The grant will allow the library to enhance the collection by digitizing and georeferencing 1,550 rare and historically significant City of Atlanta and Atlanta Regional Commission city planning maps.

“We are thrilled that NEH has offered to support this project, which will benefit not only the Georgia State community, but also the broader metropolitan Atlanta community,” said librarian Joe Hurley, the principal investigator on the project. “And, because the Planning Atlanta collection will represent one of the most significant collections of 20th century city planning material, this collection will be sought after by national and international urban scholars.”

Other material, including digitized photographs, oral histories and annual metropolitan Atlanta demographic and housing datasets, will augment the maps within the context of Atlanta’s urban renewal, highway creation and city planning activities.

In addition, users will be able to view each of these maps in Google Earth, providing a historical comparison. With this innovative web-based feature, users can change the transparency of the georeferenced map overlay to reveal neighborhood and city-wide change over time by comparing contemporary satellite images with the historical planning maps.

“This platform’s interactive features, such as the ability to view historical planning maps as Google Maps overlays, will contribute to new research questions and will provide a useful tool for instructors to facilitate classroom discussions about the complex challenges faced by cities in the past as well as today,” Hurley said.

A unique resource such as “Planning Atlanta” makes Georgia State a destination of choice for students studying the complex challenges of cities. Researchers hope increased enhancements and access to material will allow a gap in urban studies to be more thoroughly explored, including how a major urban area dealt with issues such as rapid post-World War II urban growth, mass transit, civil rights, white flight and other complexities that confronted the social and physical structure of the Atlanta metropolitan region.

In order to give voice to and provide accounts from ordinary people who were affected by planning projects, the University Library will collaborate with the Department of History to collect 12 new oral histories from three Atlanta urban renewal neighborhoods.

“We’re very excited to have this recognition from NEH of the important role Atlanta can play in telling the story of urban America,” said History Professor Kathryn Wilson, the co-principal investigator on the project. “The project will be a great opportunity for Georgia State students to become involved in local neighborhoods collecting oral histories, and to bring these stories of everyday Atlantans into dialogue with some of the latest in digital mapping technology. The result, we hope, will be a unique and powerful resource for understanding urban planning and its effects on individuals and communities over time.”

To learn more about the “Planning Atlanta” collection, visit