Mark Pendergrast

"Pendergrast is an affable guide on a wondrously labyrinthine tour. He explains complex phenomena with remarkable clarity, in a relaxed tone, and with a sense of humor." —Philadelphia Inquirer
"Mark Pendergrast, the ultimate free-lance journalist with an eclectic mind, writes about deceptively narrow topics that in fact have figured in world history for millennia." —Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Mark Pendergrast speaks at universities, schools of public health, business conferences, management seminars, and psychological meetings. His presentations are tailored to his audience but are always entertaining, thought-provoking, and challenging. Contact him to arrange an event. Click here for links to speeches, TV, and radio appearances. Click here for comments on his presentations.

City on the Verge: Atlanta and the Fight for America’s Urban Future

Link to a special website for City on the Verge that includes audio excerpts from interviews, blog posts, and more.



Atlanta is on the verge of tremendous rebirth — or inexorable decline. A kind of Petri dish for cities struggling to reinvent themselves, Atlanta has the highest income inequality in the country, gridlocked highways, suburban sprawl, and a history of racial injustice.  Yet it is also an energetic, brash young city that prides itself on pragmatic solutions and its ability to rise Phoenix-like yet again.

Today, the most promising catalyst for the city’s rebirth is the BeltLine, which the New York Times called “a staggeringly ambitious engine of urban revitalization.” A long-term project that is cutting through forty-five neighborhoods ranging from affluent to impoverished, the BeltLine will complete a twenty-two-mile loop encircling downtown, transforming a massive ring of mostly defunct railways into a series of stunning parks connected by trails and streetcars.

Mark Pendergrast presents a deeply researched, multi-faceted, up-to-the-minute history of the biggest city in the fast-growing Southeast, using the BeltLine saga to explore issues of race, education, public health, transportation, business, philanthropy, urban planning, religion, politics, and community.

An inspiring narrative of ordinary Americans taking charge of their local communities, City of the Verge provides a model for how cities across the country can reinvent themselves in the twenty-first century.

What the Reviewers Say:

City on the Verge is a must read for city-builders, urbanists, and anyone who cares about our future.  Sunbelt cities like Atlanta are booming, attracting people from across the country and remaking themselves from sprawling suburban areas to more dynamic urban centers. With a journalist’s eye for detail and a writerly knack for great story-telling, Mark Pendergrast takes us inside the forces and actors that are transforming Atlanta and the urban world we live in.  —Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class, The New Urban Crisis, and other books

Atlanta colleagues used to joke that Atlanta was the “Public Health Capital of the US” because it had CDC, the Carter Center, and good hospitals. “No,” I would argue, “There aren’t enough sidewalks, scarcely anywhere to walk, and parks are too few and poorly accessible. The place seems built only for car drivers and country club members. In Pendergrast’s excellent book, we see how Atlanta is going from a fat city to a healthy one with the help of the BeltLine and good leadership.  – Dr. Richard Jackson, former Director, CDC National Center for Environmental Health, and author of Designing Healthy Communities

The story of this era’s American renewal is mainly being played out in its cities. And the story of Atlanta’s effort to remake itself, around its ambitious and visionary BeltLine project, is one of the most significant and evocative of today’s urban dramas. Mark Pendergrast does a wonderful job of connecting the details of his native city’s successes–and struggles–with the implications for cities in the rest of the country and around the world. – James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic

In the late 20th century, metro Atlanta became the fastest growing human settlement in world history; the poster child of sprawl. With the building of the rail-and-trail BeltLine it will once again lead the country, but toward a walkable urban future.  Every metro area in the country will consider building a BeltLine. Pendergrast’s book is required reading to understand the future of metropolitan America.   – Christopher Leinberger, metropolitan land use strategist and author of The Option of Urbanism

Atlanta is creating something unique among American cities: a green network of more than 20 new or expanded parks occupying 1,300 acres, connected by multi-use trails and new transit lines, encircling the entire city and connecting 45 neighborhoods. City on the Verge describes how this BeltLine, for which I prepared the initial master plan, overcame financing problems, litigation, power struggles, politics, property rights, and topographical reality, to become a major recreational resource that is already enhancing the daily life for tens of thousands of Atlantans. –Alexander Garvin, architect, city planner, and author of What Makes a Great City

City on the Verge tells the story of the many Atlantas that are coming together through the creation of the Atlanta BeltLine.  While this convergence is at times painful and uncomfortable, it is also long overdue.  Thanks to Mark Pendergrast for presenting his insightful observations about our past, our present and the opportunity before us as we approach the future. –Michael Halicki, Executive Director, Park Pride

Atlanta is indeed a City on the Verge, as Mark Pendergrast observes — it aspires to remake itself into a vital, sustainable, livable mecca. Pendergrast weaves together lessons in urban design, local politics, history and human nature that pull the reader in like a mystery. His book reinforces the famous Margaret Meade quote about the ability of a small group of dedicated people to bring about change.   —Dennis Creech, co-founder of Southface Energy Institute

In the published version of the book, there is a “Note on Sources” but not a full bibliography and endnotes. For those, click here.