Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

Roti’s “Allegory of the Human City” and Its Fate inCapitolView/Pittsburgh

Shortly after we moved to Capitol View, French muralist and street artist Roti was brought to Atlanta by the Living Walls organization, to paint a legally-approved* mural on a wall on University Avenue next to the 75 freeway. Titled “An Allegory of the Human City,” the long, highly complex and detailed piece was, in my not-so-humble opinion, a delightful addition to the urban, industrial landscape. The wall, owned by the Atlanta Department of Transportation, also happened to be right next to the “Welcome to Pittsburgh–A Weed & Seed Community” sign.

The artist released a statement about his work: “Fish symbolize people in our society – the big fish eat the smaller fish. They serve as the infinite symbol because the structure of society functions as an eternal cycle. Nonetheless, the small fish are the center of the mural, as they build and feed the city. The man in the fish mask holds a clock with a keyhole. On the other side of the city, a snake holds the key to the lock. By unlocking the keyhole, the snake could stop time, allowing for the city to morph into a utopia. Ultimately, the human body holds the moon inside the cage, because we want to control things we can’t control.”

Now, again IMNSHO, any community should take greater exception to being called “A Weed & Seed Community” than it should to a fascinating and well-executed mural, but who am I to speak for Pittsburgh? Apparently a Pittsburgh-based church was opposed to the mural, with its imagery of fish, a snake, a shark and an alligator, and felt that the image was Satanic. (Here’s a good article explaining the full story.) In broad daylight these holy crusaders painted over the mural with flat gray paint. Luckily for us heathens, Capitol View residents contacted the DOT and went out with their own rags and brushes and removed the buff-out paint before it could dry. The mural is restored as best as it could be.

There was a huge amount of community furor over this inter-neighborhood conflict, but in my opinion the most interesting thing is the very imagery in Roti’s mural. You’ll notice in the center of it, his representation of the city itself is almost completely dominated by buildings with arched Gothic construction and “rose windows“–Roti’s entire city is comprised almost entirely of churches.

Churches who wanted to remove the mural, apparently.

Before condemning any single piece of work, it’s worth it to look at the body of work created by the artist, learn about what they’re trying to communicate, and question your own reactions as prompted by the artwork. Looking at Roti’s oeuvre, it seems that he uses imagery of many animals in his pieces, creating a bestiary that acts to reflect and interpret the artist’s own ideas about humanity and the world. There doesn’t appear to be any “Satanic” message in his work (and this is coming from a gal who’s seen her fair share of genuine occultist art and religious imagery). I’m mostly caught up in the genuine beauty of the piece, which manages to sweep the cityscape into an undulant sea of scales, as of a fish, light refracting from windows the way it glimmers off a vast school of fish beneath the surface of the waves. The imagery connects our own humanity and the architecture of civilization into the raw, visceral state of being possessed by Roti’s own alligators and sharks, a way of bringing humanity back to basics, our limbs to fins in the sea, our legions of people just animals, like every other creature on earth.

 
* Apparently it was NOT legally-approved, through a tweak of red tape. The mural will be painted over shortly, I have been informed. Get your photos and enjoy the imagery while you can.

That’ll Cost You: Atlantic Station tightens up parking policy (Updated)

Parking lot: Spring Street and Luckie Street

What Now, Atlanta? reported Tuesday that Atlantic Station will end it’s first-two-hours-free parking policy next week. Here’s the new parking policy (PDF).

Making a purchase at any Atlantic Station store, restaurant or food truck will earn visitors two hours of parking validation. Validation at the movie theater will tack on another two free hours.

*Update*: Atlantic Station tweeted yesterday that the parking policy change will go into effect later this month.

*Second Update* Henry Unger at the AJC’s Biz Beat blog reported that Atlantic Station is now reconsidering the pay-to-park idea.

As you’ll observe by reading the more than 80 comments on the post at WNA, parking – when, how much and even whether it should cost – is a thorny subject around here. See also any Creative Loafing piece written about ParkAtlanta.

Coincidentally, the Atlanta Business Chronicle reported yesterday that Atlanta is ranked among the least expensive large cities in which to park. The city’s median monthly price for parking increased 2.2 percent over last year, to $95. The median daily rate, $12, remained the same.

Why does parking get so many people so hot?

Perhaps people who don’t live in the city are less accustomed to having to pay for parking, so when they come to attend events, the cost is a bit of a surprise. It doesn’t help that the rates at parking lots close to event venues or popular restaurants are prone to sudden, triple-digit inflation.

Or perhaps a lot of people think of parking as a public utility, like street lights or traffic signals, something that should be there in sufficient quantities for everyone’s use.  There’s also the not-insignificant issue of the shortage of viable transit options for people inside and outside the city. If driving is the most efficient or only way to arrive at a destination, maybe it seems unfair that there’s a sort of penalty for bringing a car with you.

Also, is this even an Atlanta-specific complaint? Or are parking costs and restrictions like local news – everyone, in every city, thinks theirs is the absolute worst?

Fill In the Blanks, Round 2: Downtown

 

Former BP station - Ponce and Piedmont

This former BP station at Ponce and Piedmont has been empty for about five years now. While the neighborhood apparently didn’t need two gas stations at the same intersection, perhaps it could use a coffee shop/sandwich shop/bakery on that corner. Ideally, it would be a place open for weeknight and weekend brunch and dinner. The building itself is pretty small, but once the gas pumps were yanked out, the areas underneath the two awnings could be used for outdoor seating in a setup like Brewhouse Cafe.

Parking? It doesn’t need it. A few thousand people live within a 15-minute walk of that building and two hotels are right around the corner. North Avenue Station is two blocks away, the route 110 bus passes one block away and the route 2 goes right by the door. The very limited parking that’s there could be reserved for employees and wheelchair-accessible spaces.

Empty lot at North Avenue and Peachtree

At the next intersection to the west is the empty lot where the white marble Wachovia building was demolished, also about five years ago. It was to be site of a Cousins condo project called Fox Plaza, but like other holdovers from the era of condo-mania, it’s still up in the air. So how about a couple of alternate uses?

  • Apartments: Fewer people are able and willing to buy condos right now than when this building was demolished, but people still want to live in the city, close to transit, restaurants and entertainment. The prospective residents of our hypothetical apartments could have their hypothetical weekday dinners and weekend coffees and brunches at the hypothetical BP Cafe.
  •  Leave it more or less as it is and make it park, just adding some lighting, seating and shade, maybe a fountain. There’s a pretty pronounced lack of public space for the residents and workers in this neighborhood. To prevent people staying in the park overnight, a tall, decorative fence could be erected where the chainlink is now and the gates locked between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Ralph McGill and Williams Street

Finally there’s this still-vacant parcel of land in Allen Plaza. There’s still a surplus of office space in the city, so another office building the size of the ones already in place might not do well.

An often-heard complaint about this development is that it just dies after 5 p.m. Whatever goes on this corner would need to give people who work in Allen Plaza a reason to stick around afterward, as well as drawing downtown residents, nearby hotel guests and maybe even people living in the newly-fashionable Westside.

This part of downtown is also lacking retail of any kind. Rarely does a week go by that a tourist or conventioneer doesn’t stop me somewhere between Peachtree Center and Civic Center to ask “Is there a drug store or grocery store anywhere around here?” If they’re still in the station, I tell them to just get back on the train and ride up to the Publix near Midtown station. If they’re out on the street, it’s a toss-up between telling them to take a taxi to North Avenue and Piedmont and saying “No, not really.”

Finally, although there’s a transit station barely two blocks away from this lot, there’s no rental housing anywhere nearby. Condos aren’t a sure bet any more, but there are still a lot of people who’d like to live a five minute walk from a transit station and right across from access to the expressways.

So, maybe this hole could be filled with a low-rise apartment building with a market on one side of the ground floor and a small, Churchill Grounds-sized live music venue on the other.

Are there any parking lots, dead spaces or derelict buildings in or around downtown that just annoy you every time you pass them? What would you put there?

Study ranks Atlanta fourth most literate city

Stack of fiction and non-fiction hardbacks

I just came across a USA Today story on a study that ranks Atlanta the fourth “most literate” among the country’s 75 largest cities. (The study’s author uses the term “literate” to refer to whether people do read, not just to whether they can read.)

Atlanta placed highest among cities in the Southeast. Raleigh, N.C. was the next-highest ranking Southeastern city at 13th.

2010 was the eighth year for the study, which was conducted by Central Connecticut State University. The city has seen a steady climb through the rankings for the past four years after falling from a tie with Washington, D.C. for third place in 2006 to eighth place in 2007.

The author formulated the results by comparing cities with a population of at least 250,000 based on six criteria:

  • Internet resources to access books and newspapers
  • The number of bookstores per 10,000 residents
  • Education level
  • Library staffing, holdings and rate of utilization relative to the population size
  • Newspaper circulation
  • Magazine and journal circulation numbers relative to the population size

“It’s a surprise to me, ” Chantal, a member of the staff at A Capella Books in Little Five Points, said of the study’s conclusions. Chantal declined to give her last name, but said that she’s lived in Raleigh and that she was surprised that it landed so much lower in the study’s rankings than Atlanta.

“Raleigh seems like a more literate city to me than Atlanta,” she said. Independent bookstores are more plentiful there and “People seem more into literary culture, ” she said.

Edward VanHorn, executive director of the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association, hesitated to render an opinion on the accuracy of the study results as he wasn’t familiar with the data the author used. SNPA concerns itself more with promoting literacy as it relates to the skill of reading, VanHorn said.

He did say that it was “fascinating” that Atlanta came out so near the top of the list, given that he doesn’t often see people reading books or walking around with a newspaper tucked under one arm.

If you’re interested in the study’s methodology that’s here. Data sources are here.

What do you think? Is Atlanta lower, higher, or just where it should be in the results? Or is this another one for the “grain of salt” file?

Underground Atlanta: What to throw away, what to keep

It’s the time of year when people start to organize and cull their stuff (again). The time of year when they finally acknowledge that they’re not going to spend “twenty minutes a day, three days a week” on that exercise gadget and put it in the box to go to Goodwill. Out go the fondue pots, the graphing calculator from college, the too-small shorts and the “What is that thing, anyway?”

So, what are we going to do with this?Underground sign - northeast corner

It’s not rare to hear the opinion that Underground Atlanta has outlived its usefulness, but we can’t just put it on a truck, drive it up Marietta Street and leave it at the Salvation Army across from Georgia Tech. Besides, it’s not as if it’s not serving any purpose at all. The streets right around Five Points and Underground are very active during the day and the stores and restaurants there are managing to stay afloat because people do go there.

The problem is that not many of those people are downtown residents (who would keep the streets active at night) or tourists or business travelers (who tend to spend a lot of money). By about 6 p.m. the students, office workers and shoppers are gone and the place is mostly dead, left for a variety of unofficial uses.

The attempt to turn Underground into a nightlife destination to replace Buckhead Village was less than a blazing success and the leaseholders’ proposal to create a hotel and casino complex there isn’t likely to rise from the dead. Maybe what’s needed there isn’t necessarily something unique, but just something that will work. By “work” I mean it will get people of varying ages and backgrounds down there at least 12 hours per day and that it will be appealing to people who live, work and go to school downtown, and to people who are just passing through. If it attracts people from other parts of the city and even outside the city, so much the better, but that might be expecting too much.

If you had unlimited money but only about two years to do it, how would you turn Underground around?

Atlanta: cheap and smart! and car-y.

Stumbled across this article from last month’s Boston Globe. I know we don’t have our shit together in A LOT of ways, but it makes me happy to see someone from a “real city” point out some of the good things we’ve got working for us. You’ll find a few backhanded compliments in there, but I don’t mind – I thought southerners were the only ones who insult people with compliments, bless our hearts!

One of my pet peeves is brought up here, though. I really wish everyone could chill with the car-centric-ness. Yes, you need a vehicle to get around the greater Atlanta area, which covers what, the northern half of the state now? But intown we are the littlest big city I’ve ever seen – you can get a lot done in a pretty small radius. Contrary to popular belief, some people even walk outside here to get from one place to another. Ridership is substantial on MARTA (1.3 million trips in a work week, made by students and employed people, at that!). Real-life people that wear suits to work commute on bikes. Even this swampy July I’m happily pedaling the 4 miles to work and haven’t had any coworker complaints about stinkiness.

At least with the Ox out of the Governor’s race runoff we won’t have our own version of the Big Dig running through the east side.

Late Night Edgewood

So Edgewood is the new Ponce. I mean this in the best possible way. It’s become one of my favorite streets in the city – delicious food, only the occasional whiff of fecal matter, a bar where they know my name, barber shops where they blast funk out the front door at 8am. You’ve got modern and retro with Circa and Rolling Bones. There’s high-minded good food and low-minded good food – Dynamic Dish and King Slice. New and old, with Sound Table and the Jamaican place, and, well, the neighborhood itself, a cornerstone of Atlanta history. It’s also one of the more racially integrated places in the city, in that black people and white people are there in roughly equal numbers (I’ve said it before: that’s a whole new post. Maybe more like a series of discussions. Decades-long series of discussions). But basically, it’s a good place to be at most hours, it’s bike and pedestrian friendly, and it’s about a 2 minute ride from home.

Overall I was pretty happy to see some of the coverage for the city council’s proposal to designate Edgewood and Auburn Avenues a special “Entertainment District,” which would mean later closing hours for the bars there. Businesses would pay an extra fee to cover extra security and clean-up. Since it worked so well in Underground, why not, right?

Underground issues aside, we all know the story – old-money Buckhead Betties on their morning strolls didn’t like walking across the remains of late-night thugs shooting each other, so they voted to drop back the hours of bars throughout the whole city, because there aren’t any stabbings before 2am. Oh, and then, of course, they razed the Buckhead Village, which, though I couldn’t give you directions there (um, go north on Peachtree a ways?), still affects all of us in the message it sends.

(more…)

i can dream….not that it does any good.

i’ve been in europe for two weeks and while i was there i rode around and in general observed public transportation for a bit. one day i did nothing but ride around helsinki for a bus. and never, ever did i wait more than 5 minutes for one. in copenhagen, i was standing on a road waiting on someone and while standing there i watched more than 15 buses go by in a thirty minute period.

and how does it work in atlanta. my dog wouldn’t go to the bathroom this morning. i had to walk her around and around and arounnd. because of that i missed the one bus that goes by my house every 30 minutes. because of that, i had to drive to the train station. that train got me to five points a few minutes after the north springs train left, which meant i waited there for 10 minutes on the next one. then that train waited at lindberg for 7 minutes and this ulitmatly caused me to get to north springs 2 minutes after the bus that only goes by my office every 30 minutes left.

sigh. so now i get to sit at north springs for a good 25 minutes.

it’s a stark contrast. i dream of a day when buses and trains run every five minutes. i suspect it will never happen.

Vacation or Staycation?

As I’ve been packing and preparing all week to leave for the Outer Banks on Sunday, I began to wonder if more people really are taking staycations this year. A week doesn’t go by when I don’t see something referring to “taking a staycation” (a word I hate by the way), promoting the advent of being a tourist in your own town. While I admit there are places and things I’ve never seen in Atlanta (and I’m a native), I never once thought about taking the week off and staying here. To me, a week off from work without going anywhere is a waste of time unless you have family in town or a special occasion to occupy your time. In my world, vacation = long drive or flight. I want to spend that day traveling. It’s part of the vacation.

So, what does everyone else think? Has anyone done the staycation thing? Do you have ideas you can share? Or do you all prefer real vacations? Just some things to discuss while I’m on the beach with an adult beverage in my hand.

Renters’ Revenge

You know that new apartment building that went up in your neighborhood not long ago? The “luxury” one with the Wi-Fi, workout room and granite countertops? The one you pass and think “I’d really like to live there, but I bet the rent is insane”?

Even if you’ve checked online to see how much they’re charging, go in and ask what the rent is. Chances are it’s less than you think, and maybe less than you’re paying in an older, smaller place.

I’m finally about to start working again, which means the end of my stay OTP isn’t far off. So, clutching my folder of apartment profiles from Promove, I spent a couple of days last week looking at apartments in Midtown, Buckhead, Downtown and Inman Park. The prices I was quoted by the leasing staff were uniformly at least 29 percent less than what their Web sites or expensive-looking brochures listed.

Those “administrative fees,” “leasing fees” and $300 deposits that used to be so common? Mysteriously absent. Rent concessions abound and application fees are shrinking like a pair of H&M pants in a hot dryer.

Maybe this is old news to ya’ll. But I just spent three years right outside DC, looking forward to annual rent increases on a 521-square foot apartment in a complex that was built when Eisenhower was president. The four violent deaths within 100 yards of my door during that time did nothing to keep the rent from shooting (Ha!) past $900 by the time I moved out. Things really are different “inside the Beltway” I guess.

So, if your lease is about to expire, check out some places that look like they’re out of your price range. Prices will probably go up as the economy improves (whenever that’s going to happen), but in the meantime, enjoy that rooftop pool this summer.

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