In Jane Jacobs’ iconic book, she discusses the viability of a city street by having the following characteristics: 1) having a clear distinction between public space and private space, 2) having “eyes” on the street by the “proprietors” of the street and the buildings on the street – the bulidings must not, in any way, turn their backs or blank faces to the street, and 3) as a way move through this city, there must be adequate and continuous sidewalks that are populated with a regularity that reinforces the life given to the street and to the buildings.
One of the many things I loved about living in Washington, DC was its pedestrian nature. After living in Atlanta, GA for a while – where it was nearly essential to have a car – I thought the same was true for D.C. when I initially moved there. After commuting from Arlington, Virginia into Georgetown (DC) daily for a few months, I realized otherwise and quickly sold my car in exchange for mass transit. I walked nearly everywhere, on sidewalks, to work, to the grocery store, to appointments, to parties.
I talk about these experiences not to encourage a pro/con list about the car vs. mass transit, but as a way to celebrate the engagement I had with Washington, DC – mostly on foot. It is precisely this intimate level of engagement that made me feel connected to the streets, communities and city – which I loved. Coming from a small town (Albany, Georgia), this was the first time I understood and experienced true urban planning.
After I moved back to Atlanta (with a car), the level of engagement I had with this city was present. Different, but present. My experiences in the city of Atlanta are not as continuous as they were in D.C. Atlanta over the years, however, has made attempts at being less dependent on the car and in turn, more pedestrian friendly – thus enhancing its own definition of community. Currently there are a few exciting projects, lively spaces and cool happenings within the city of Atlanta that, in one way or another, build upon the idea of a shared experience, a communitas…
Public Space – There are several places in Atlanta that are activated by the street. There are also places where buildings activate the voids between them. Most recently, after a dinner at Yeah Burger! with my family, we walked casually around the outdoor spaces of White Provisions. I noticed that the outdoor spaces were activated by the retail activity happening in the restaurants, furniture stores, wine shops, etc. The stairs, bridges and walk-ways are designed in a modern, yet restrained way that doesn’t force interaction and the buildings serve as ‘walls’ to this public space – so I felt completely comfortable to let my toddler run amuck – and he did! While this space is not directly on the street, its design encourages a specific type of community.
The popularity of Food Trucks – Serve food and people will come! These mini restaurants on wheels have been quite popular in Atlanta over the past year. While the idea of a food truck is not new, the emergence of one or several of them at specific locations throughout the city has turned eating-from-a-truck into a community event. Oftentimes the places where they are located are not always walkable, but once you’re there, its hard not to meet and talk to new people – even if they are not from your immediate community.
The Atlanta Beltline Project – “The Atlanta BeltLine is the most comprehensive revitalization effort ever undertaken in the City of Atlanta and amount the largest, most wide-ranging urban redevelopment and mobility projects currently underway in the United States. This sustainable project is providing a network of public parks, multi-use trails and transit by re-using 22-miles of historic railroad corridors circling downtown and connecting 45 neighborhoods directly to each other” – Atlanta Beltline Overview, beltline.org. What is quite cool about this effort, is that it was the concept of Ryan Gravel in 1999 for his master’s thesis project at Georgia Institute of Technology.
What are some of your favorite moments of community in Atlanta or your city?