You asked, we answered: 34 things you probably don’t know about Atlanta

Why does downtown Atlanta have overhead gerbil tunnels between buildings?

Gerbil tunnels between Americas Mart buildings in downtown
Photograph by Martha Williams

Elevated pedestrian bridges make sense in Minneapolis, where 9.5 miles of enclosed skyways connect 80 city blocks, because the average high temperature there is 24 degrees in January. But why does Atlanta, a city known for its (usually) moderate climate, boast more than 70 overhead tunnels? Technically speaking, you could spend the night, attend a conference, and take the train to the airport without once stepping outside. Many of them connect high-rises built by architect John Portman in the late 20th century—in the wake of white flight, suburbanization, and rising crime rates. In 1960, 90 percent of the metro’s office space was located downtown; but by 1999, downtown could claim only 13 percent, according to Princeton historian Kevin Kruse. Portman did not abandon the city center. But his famous atriums—like those at the Hyatt and AmericasMart—turned urban life inward, severing its connection to the streets outside. The tunnels took this isolation to, literally, another level. What once seemed futuristic now seems more dystopian. As for the highest walkway, the one 22 stories above Peachtree that connects AmericasMart to Peachtree Center? It’s usually closed, but occasionally it’s open for special events.

This article appears in our November 2019 issue.