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What makes a city great to visit? - Curt Yeomans

Last week, I wrote about a web site that highlights the worst in travel, so it seemed only fitting that I write about a magazine feature that highlights the best in travel.

This month's edition of Travel + Leisure magazine is featuring the winners of its "World's Best Awards." The magazine's readers went on the publication's web site, from December 2009, to March of this year, and voted for their favorites in the areas of top cities, islands, cruise lines, tour operators, safari outfitters, domestic and international airlines, car rental agencies, and hotels/resorts.

While there are many areas I could delve into, I'm going to focus on what the readers named as the top U.S. and Canadian cities. They are (in order) New York City (N.Y.), San Francisco (Calif.), Charleston (S.C.), Chicago (Ill.), Santa Fe (N.M.), Vancouver (British Columbia), New Orleans (La.), Quebec City (Quebec), Victoria (British Columbia), and Washington D.C.

Noticeably absent (if you live in these parts, at least) is the capital city of the so-called "Empire State of the South" (that's Georgia). Yes, Atlanta, which has been trying for years to paint itself as a top U.S. city, failed to make the list, but Charleston is No. 3.

Ouch.

It begs the question, what do these other cities have over Atlanta? Well, it's a simple answer -- a single identifiable culture. As much as I love the city I was born in (I'm a Crawford Long baby!), even I would have to struggle to identify our state's capital city. When you think of the cities that made that list, you have an immediate picture of the city life in each town.

When you look at Charleston, you think Fort Sumter, and the Gullah culture, while thoughts of Santa Fe make you think of the whole Southwestern culture. New Orleans, of course, has jazz and Bourbon Street going for it, while Chicago invokes images of Wrigley Field.

Washington D.C., is this nation's seat of government, and it has all of the monuments to see.

And New York City, well, I think everyone thinks Statue of Liberty, big city couture and Broadway when they talk about the "Big Apple." It is America's premier city. So, what is Atlanta? Well, it's boring. I'm sorry, but let's just be honest with ourselves here. There is not much to see outside of Coca-Cola memorabilia, some pandas and a couple of whale sharks.

In a way, the city is much like the television show, "The Real Housewives of Atlanta" -- lots of shine on the outside, but not much substance.

And, that is what is so sad about this city, because it could be so much more. It just needs to figure out what its cultural identity is. Some would argue the city has a strong hip-hop culture, but one could argue "So does Birmingham," and probably a dozen, or more, other cities in the U.S.

Oh boy, Atlanta's got something that BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- the armpit of the Earth -- has got. Woop-de-do!

But, like I said, Atlanta has the civil rights theme going for it, but that's not really played up as much as it probably should be. It's got Coca-Cola, but again it's not really played up enough. It's got the Civil War theme, but that's pretty much been relegated to the city having a phoenix as its mascot.

Sports? Well, at least we have the University of Georgia, and Georgia Tech to make up for the usually disappointing professional teams.

The fact is there is no common, unifying theme in this town. No common culture that binds people from all walks of life together. It's just a bunch of high rises occupied by communities that are not meshing together.

And, probably for that reason alone, Atlanta is not a top city.

Think Atlanta got a raw deal, though? Then log onto www.TravelandLeisure.com/afc/, this month, because the magazine is currently running an online poll to determine America's favorite city.

Curt Yeomans covers education for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at cyeomans@news-daily.com.