As Atlanta historian and former city reporter Douglas Blackmon said in a June review of the book in The Wall Street Journal, Pendergrast tries to cover too much, bogging down in details.
Blackmon, now a scholar at the University of Virginia, also pointed to Pendergrast's contradictions in analyzing the issues of gentrification, affordable housing and the revitalization of poverty-stricken neighborhoods.
Pendergrast pushes the Beltline's potential in revitalizing the inner city, while asserting that the trail system will help those mired in poverty. But he doesn't delve deeply enough into how poorer residents will be able to afford to remain as property values rise, especially when the Beltline Corporation is falling short of its original aim of increasing affordable housing. He gives a superficial account of Beltine originator Ryan Gravel's resignation from the corporation over this issue.
Blackmon also questioned Pendergrast's assertion that the Beltline holds the power to solve Atlanta's long-entrenced problems of economic disparity, racism, automobile dependence and shortage of urban amenities.
While Pendergrast overstates the Beltline's power to transform the city, the system of trails encircling 45 Atlanta neighborhoods looks like more of a significant historical force than Blackmon acknowledges.
The Eastside Trail has brought remarkable changes to Poncey-Highland, the Old Fourth Ward and Inman Park, although those communities had been revitalizing for years. The Presidential Parkway also was a catalyst.
Adjacent to the Eastside Trail, the beautiful reservoir and surrounding park in the Old Fourth Ward stands as one of the city's best aesthetic enhancements since Centennial Park downtown.
The Westside Trail now nearing completion goes through neighborhoods with fewer prospects for renewal than those along the Eastside Trail. More entrenched in poverty and blight, those communities will have to overcome higher barriers.
A native of Atlanta and the author of a number of successful nonfiction books, Pendergrast undertook an impressive amount of reporting for "City on the Verge," as Blackmon mentions.
Pendergrast visited Beltline neighborhoods from the richest to poorest, spending nights with residents and walking streets, through woods and along creeks.
While his peregrinations grow confusing, Pendergrast gives vivid portraits of Atlantans seeking to make a difference with grass-roots efforts to improve their neighborhoods.
He sees those small efforts as more effective in the long run than massive "top-down" projects funded by corporate leaders like Falcons owner Arthur Blank, who gave money to aid impoverished neighborhoods affected by his Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Yet, in one of his contradictions, Pendergrast praises such corporate largess as necessary for Atlanta to carry out projects such as the Beltline.
Pendergrast makes the questionable claim that Atlanta lacks the tax base for such projects because of its low-density development. While Atlanta has less density than other major cities, its weak tax base is more the result of too many poor neighborhoods and anti-tax attitudes in wealthy areas like Buckhead, which has successfully resisted paying too much for social programs.
Shifting course from his account of the Beltline, Pendergrast toward the end of the book gives mini profiles of suburban counties and cities. While he displays substantial reporting, the connection of the suburban communities to the Beltline is weakly established. For some reason, he ignores Cobb County, whose metro importance has risen with the move of the Braves to the county.
With the suburban profiles, the history of the Beltline, and accounts of Pendergrast's childhood growing up in Buckhead, "City of the Verge" is like several not fully developed books stitched together.
Among the book's strengths is Pendergrast's look at the debate over Beltline mass transit. The Beltline Corporation is providing for rail lines in its trails construction, while others wanted the trails built without space for the transit system, which is to sometime in the future connect to the downtown trolley that Pendegrast rightly calls "a disaster."
While marred by bureaucratic language and clichés, "City on the Verge" gives a valuable history of the Beltline's development and a good synopsis of the challenges to its completion by 2030, when funding runs out. Despite its flaws, "City on the Verge" will serve as a good first draft for those excited about the Beltline and Atlanta's future.