Future City Series: Atlanta ~ Center of the South

Future City Series

Atlanta ~ Center of the South, by Han Vance:

-EDITOR’S NOTE: I wrote this some years ago and several of the steps, like no smoking in restaurants and bars, have been implemented since. I’d love to see all of it play out, eventually, especially my idea to double-deck the Atlanta BeltLine. It’d be way more awesome that way and with trains a rolling.

     Han Vance from his home city, Atlanta: The trees, buildings, people and neighborhoods forming the identity of the American urban forest should be put forth as her best asset and attraction. Atlanta is beautiful. And, I love living in Historic Druid Hills.

     While the people of Atlanta proper I know are as energetic and vibrant as any I have met – and I have been around – the region remains stymied by personal interests over public benefits. Well over half of the 10 million Georgians live in Greater Metro Atlanta and it is the light that shines out of and for the South in the whole world.

Baker’s Dozen:

  1. Highline and Zoom the BeltLine – The 22-mile loop of post-industrial rail corridor has so much more potential than any of its leadership has ever understood. Original idea generator Ryan Gravel expressing to me, “The belt line has always been a transit concept.” Many years after first hearing of then-his concept I’d say, “show me the transit.” By completely connecting formerly disconnected neighborhoods encircling the urban core of Atlanta and including light rail mobility, the inner-metro area will be able to revolutionize how the world views the epicenter of the South. Shaking off a past that includes: 1. dissolution of America’s original major streetcar system and 2. consistently funding poorly thought out unchecked suburban highway sprawl. Misuse of the wide lay of the land has literally brainwashed its citizenry by numbing it in so many hours of manmade traffic, which works way against healthy living on all levels. Attracting growth in terms of both money and people pushes the shameful socioeconomic dynamic needle in the right direction only if it is toward less inequality, only when all geographic directions of the plan are implemented and serviced nearly equally. As the finished transportation path flows through poorer neighborhoods, they will inevitably see an increase in real estate values, commercial and residential. Negative impacts of this pending boom are very real, can be minimized by legally mandating affordable housing minimums and enforcing rent controls in the connected district, and more effectively, by creating good local jobs and putting local-only people to work at them. The lack of good work options and the disconnection to resources are the numbers one and two reasons for poverty in these areas. Increase both. It has to be a complete circle or nothing is gained.
  2. …Continuing…Other major world cities would have had this whole thing fully built and up and running by now, if they had half of Atlanta’s amazing resources. Chattanooga would’ve built it out, folks. “It’s cute and all” (more Gravel) but what we see today is a small portion of this visionary urban revival. Keep visioning and act. A healthy, in every sense of the word, urban core spirals out to a healthy and wealthy robust region. Recreationally, the path along the Atlanta BeltLine is already, currently, not safe for pedestrians, especially at peak volume times. As the Velodrome-like speeds of bikes approaching in all directions from behind is a real danger I unfortunately experienced firsthand when a bike plowed into me dislocating my shoulder, while I was out walking and looking at public art. It will only get busier as the city blossoms to maturation. As a former regional parking manager and planner for Lanier Parking and before that General Electric, who helped develop the BellSouth portfolio before its ma$$ive sale, it is quite obvious to me that an additional level would be most beneficial. Building an additional level, on anything, is never nearly as major a cost as the original structure or path, which has innumerable obstacles that burden the minds of any project’s construction and limited-thinking ops management. Faster flowing non-motorized vehicles – I ride a mountain bike for my primary transportation, by the way – could be on one level and the meandering masses on another. Adjustable signage points with basic metallic flip signs could indicate which level was for which and when, so no one group had to do one thing. Volunteers or employees willing to staff the BeltLine could flip signage. Lower level would be shielded from intense sun rays and rain on uncomfortable days, and everybody, even small children, could use the BeltLine much more safely. Bikers (again, like me) could ride even faster while pedestrians (like me) could be freer to walk. Build up not out, so the trains can have room to flow. …TRAINS!
  3. Connect Neighborhoods/Encourage Exploration – I use almost every part of Atlanta and am saddened that myopic insular neighborhood-views are so pervasive in ALL areas of my city. Cultural exchange between neighborhoods and increased mobility options would change this, some. Area leaders should be out and about, sharing, promoting the whole city. Great cities are about more than your neighborhood, no matter how good.
  4. Streetcar Down Peachtree – My former employer at Lanier was an idea guy. That’s why I worked for Michael, leaving the biggest company in the world for a lateral position. He first publicly proposed a streetcar for central-not-downtown Atlanta, right around the time folks were catching wind of this belt line concept. It would go down the middle of Peachtree Street and would have helped the inner city become an urban beacon of excellence. There is MARTA rapid transit train connection between the Arts Center area and the southern part of our uptown Buckhead but no get off points. City buses will never be a viable solution because of regular-lane traffic and their stigma as serving the urban poor and moreover because they suck. The three jewels: Midtown, Buckhead, Downtown, have their own skylines and vibes. They need complete and user-friendly non-bus, non-car connectivity in and throughout to shine brighter. Please shine. 
  5. No Smoking in Restaurants/Bars – There is no smoking in little Athens, Ga., in New York City, in all of the state of California. Stop it here if you want to be a world class public environment and a dominant F&B town, which benefits all. Go outside to smoke.
  6. Braves Shuttle – The Battery is Atlanta. The most popular sporting interest in this region, outside of being the World Capital of College Football – a so-true moniker I first created – is Braves baseball. This is a recreational unifier in a city too busy to find many. The region across the river is actually more urbane than the old stadium site’s, neither connected well, at all. Other stadiums in the region do not face this unacceptable issue, which encourages drunk driving arrests and wrecks. Uber to-and-from the stadium is minor nightmare, which I have experienced. How about a fun, dedicated and wrap-decorated mini-fleet Braves Shuttle “CHOPPER” from Arts Center to Cobb County for games? Express busses run in and out of that station already.  
  7. Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry Statue – Speaking of sport, the Georgia-Auburn rivalry was first played in Piedmont Park. This should be commemorated by a nice statue that would be a major tourist attraction. It could be funded by the College Football Hall of Fame, and each could then cross-promote. I recommend Stan Mullins of my old hood Pulaski Heights Historic District of Athens, already of the Herschel Walker and Vince Dooley statues. 
  8. Better Bike Access and Safety – Pointed out to me recently that Atlantic Station is not bike friendly because it does not have many places to store your bike safely. Ponce De Leon Avenue, the former racial dividing line between old Black-and-White Atlanta, is a cultural touchstone we should all appreciate. It has unsafe bike lanes that should be physically segmented and made much more visible. Car drivers must be forced to watch out for bikes (and pedestrians). 
  9. Arts Ambassador – A strong cultural leader who understands the myriad levels of high-middle-low culture in the capital of the South should be in place and have power to effect real change now. Other cities have this important role, especially tourist cities and large urban centers – like us – and it is not lumped in with a one-note parks manager. This is a major tourist city, and the South’s large urban center. I can think of 10 independent people right now – in my opinion – who’d be better than any city employee ever at doing their jobs on this front. I’d do it if I was asked nicely. …You have opinions? ok  
  10. Birdland – Those electric scooters everywhere are a definite public health safety nuisance, and a helmet ordinance should be implemented immediately. Want to scoot without a helmet, pay a $100 fine. Do it twice, you are disallowed from their use permanently. Trust me, I grew up a street skater: you softies can’t handle the taste of pavement. It’s too salty and mineralic. 
  11. Regional Trains – The relatively ancient Georgia versus Georgia Tech football series was founded around fun partying train travel. The protagonist of Gone with the Wind took the train from Marietta to Atlanta. Decatur is a train town. Woodstock is a train town. Atlanta is a train town, with their hearts ripped out. I’d like a train to Savannah, to Chattanooga. …Super radical new idea.
  12. Observation Point  – Similar regional center North American cities Toronto, Dallas and Seattle each have a high-above-it-all observational structure, a great tourist attraction that represents their whole city well. While I adore the far-flung rocket ship architecture of Atlanta more than any of those skylines, Atlanta also has the tallest buildings on the continent not in NYC or Chicago. An Atlanta Apex viewpoint would set it all off.
  13. Pedestrianism – Atlantans who can should walk their city. I love the art(s) and sports scenes. I’d like to walk there.
  14. Bonus: Real Dance Club – Millennials can’t dance (FACT!) but give the people more of a chance. At no point in history has Atlanta had such a glaring hole in its major-danceteria nightlife itinerary options. Since forever, we got down. I still want to get down.  

     An Atlantan who grew up down here right in the city and is a D.C. area college graduating senior now, Perrin Brown put it, “Atlanta is already a world class city.”

     For my part, I do love Atlanta, the Greater Metro ATL area, the state of Georgia and the South. And, I deeply love America! Atlanta means too much to the U.S.A., historically, positions too closely to the edge of a bright American future to settle. It’s time for her to grow up.

~ Award-winning writer Han Vance (author-journalist-poet-blogger) hails from Austin, Texas, by way of Ft. Worth. Vance has been an Atlanta area resident since 1976 and resident of the City of Atlanta for over a decade. He’s the author of “Golden State Misadventures” (nonfiction novel), as seen in: LA Times, San Francisco Examiner, LA Weekly, Pasadena Weekly, Santa Barbara Independent, Creative Loafing and Atlanta INtown paper, plus four other titles on Atlanta-based Silver Stone Press (www.silverstonepress.com). Vance writes for media. such as: Sports Illustrated/FanSided, Writer’s Digest, eide’ magazine, LOOKBOOK, Art Nouveau magazine, F.A.M.E. magazine, Atlanta INtown paper, Reporter Newspapers, Creative Loafing, Bulldawg Illustrated and BIG HAIRY BLAWG and hosts sports talk shows. Vance is BA Speech Comm & Comm Studies, University of Georgia (1998).