Saturday, October 20, 2012

Live, Park, Drive - Or Why ATL Redevelopment Plans Still Don't Work

     Recently, various sections of Atlanta have been threatened with massive Walmarts.. Buckhead just fought off a proposed store at Lindbergh/Piedmont. Decatur is still in a fight with developers over a proposed super-store, and now Glenwood Park, a very expensive new-urbanist planned community is threatened with a Walmart based shopping center at its backdoor.
   Good news: the same developer was recently defeated in Denver. Since I live in Reynoldstown now and was thinking about moving to the area near Glenwood Park, the possibility of that Walmart has become a burning issue to me. Currently, Glenwood Avenue, where the Walmart proposed, is a two-lane road with ample sidewalks and bike paths in both directions. It connects the funky East Atlanta Village to Grant Park, so it's a useful pedestrian or bike pathway. The major shopping center being proposed there would likely turn it into a choked and noisy thoroughfare. While I would oppose Walmart in any situation because of its labor policies, I also am opposed to the overall plan of development for this neighborhood - no matter what thing they put in that space. I'm not alone. When one commenter on Creative Loafing's recent discussion of the plan suggested a Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, Publix, or a movie theater instead of Walmart, I initially thought "yes, a grocery store! Perfect."
      Then, another person pointed out that anything on that scale would bring more traffic to the neighborhood. One of the major features of the proposed development is 75,000 square feet of surface parking. The plan could be tweaked by creating a storied parking garage instead, but still....there would have to be more cars coming into the neighborhood to make that work - and where would they come in and go out? The Beltline is supposed to come into the neighborhood via an expanded Bill Kennedy Way and extended Chester Ave, but even if the Beltline proposal were to happen and some kind of bike lane appeared, without public transit, the whole thing is still a bust.
    Look at Glenwood Park. it's a beautiful area with great housing and retail, including some less expensive rental housing. But - it looks a bit like ghost town. I read somewhere on the web people comparing it to a movie set - right, because the streets are empty. In the meantime, some neighbors in Inman Park are exorcised about a development plan for Elizabeth Street near N. Highland that would add rental housing & retail space to the already bustling and walkable three-block area.  That particular region of in-town Atlanta is one that I like, because it is walkable. Still, you have to drive to get there, and park when you do. This is what the neighbors don't like; urban density in this area has increased the traffic.
     All this hubbub points to the major problem that is holding Atlanta back. Despite the claims to the contrary as far as I can tell Atlanta's new urbanists, including the Beltline Inc and its supporters are focused on two things - bike trails/green spaces and retail/ upscale housing development. The Glenwood Park area, Inman Park and Atlantic Station to a lesser extent, all suffer from the same problem. All these places are islands that people have to drive to. For people living in these areas, new urbanism = more traffic, not less. 
     When Jane Jacobs was writing about the West Village, she wasn't just advocating bike paths and parks; she was fighting freeways and living in a city that had a long history of major mass transit. While it's a lovely idea that people will bike to work, it's extremely unlikely that they will bike to a grocery store. I did that in Minneapolis, but I was shopping mostly for one person. In ATL, it's still unlikely that people would even bike to and from the movie theater. Why? There aren't enough places in Atlanta where people are on the streets to make the streets feel safe at night. And the reason for this is the absence of adequate mass transit. Mass transit and pedestrian culture go together just like cars and parking lots.
   This city's transit hubs are not well connected enough, and often are not themselves pedestrian friendly. A new MARTA CEO has just arrived in town, and, like a principal in a troubled public school, he'll be saddled with the responsibility for structural problems beyond the scope of the institution he manages. For those who don't know, MARTA is the only major public transit agency for a metropolitan area of this size that doesn't receive state funding. As the article linked above indicates, it - and our city's growth have been hobbled by racist suburban politics. The other big problem with MARTA is that it still is not designed for pedestrian safety or convenience. The most striking example of the problem is the tragic case of Raquel Nelson.
  I've experienced less dramatic consequences from the unwalkable distances between transit hubs. Recently, I had a coupon for a discount hair salon near Buckhead; I was told by the salon staff that I could get there by walking from the Lindbergh Center MARTA station along Piedmont. It was an uneasy and hot trek along a heavily trafficked street, but I didn't turn around and give up (and took a cab that cost $10) until I hit the unprotected freeway entrance and saw the long walk under the dark underpass immediately after it.Sorry, but if you have to run across the freeway entrance, that's not walkable.
    Other MARTA stations are similarly positioned. Another problem is that the stations are massive and rarely staffed, making them dangerous at night. (I recognize that this is not MARTA's fault, given budget & financing problems) . I look at the size of the MLK center station and imagine walking through it alone at night and think "forget it." All you need is one small corner not visible from the street and you're in the proverbial dark alley.  The same is true for the station that serves my current neighborhood. The station includes a huge bridge to the neighborhood from which there is no exit if someone is following you. It abuts a dead end street with boarded up houses on one side and a residential neighborhood with little foot traffic on the other. It's a considerable walk to the retail district that most people would take it to get to. The MLK MARTA station is only accessible for pedestrians coming from one side of the area via another dark underpass.
     MARTA doesn't have enough regular passengers to guarantee a crowd for safety in numbers at various times of day. For that reason, I decided that taking the bus downtown would make more sense than the train, even though it would take longer. I agree with the Metro-Atlantan Transportation Equity Group (MATEC) that wants the new MARTA CEO to meet regularly with MARTA riders. The biggest obstacle to using MARTA, and then producing the critical mass of pedestrians needed for a feeling of safety is making the areas around the stations and bus-stops safer, more accessible, and more logically positioned relative to housing and other destinations. Until then, the dream of new urbanists will fail and fail again. If you build it, they will car.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Would You Buy a Used Essay From?....

Every time I promise to start writing regularly again, I always fail. So this time, I'm not starting with a promise. Here, though, is something amusing. Today I got this spam comment on an old blog entry:
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Inflict is right! Are these pendantic writers skillful parodists seeking to capture lazy students in the act? essay-writing bots? Please inflict your comments now.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Fact of the Day, File Under Punk Rockers

A 1991 study by Christine Hansen and Ranald Hansen found that "fans of punk rock ...were more likely to reject authority than were those of heavy metal."

cited in Lauraine LeBlanc's Pretty in Punk: Girls' Gender Resistance in a Boys' Subculture (Rutgers University Press, 2005)

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Politics and Friendship and Using the Telephone

I haven't thought about blogging in years but the other day, for reasons I'll explain in a minute, I was re-reading old emails from an old friend and he mentioned reading my blog (and even commented on it once in a very funny way).
I have been thinking a lot about politics lately, and about this particular friend.
Since I moved to ATL I've had a hard time getting reconnected to politics, despite a few lame attempts. I'd say the main obstacles have been 1) my failure to learn to drive in city lacking not only adequate public transportation, but sidewalks, 2) being exhausted by work 3) not knowing people in the ATL political scene and 4) wanting to enjoy lazy weekends at home with my husband, who works out of town during the week. Just a couple of weeks ago, I finally got past the second hurdle. I finished some writing projects and the pressure in the administrative side of my new job has gone down as I've learned how to do it better. That's given me a sense of freedom about trying again to get re-involved in political activism. It also gave me the head space to start reconnecting with my old friend, who had asked me to read a draft of some of his new manuscript about 8 months ago when I was still overwhelmed and freaked out by work, and who I'd communicated with in February about something I was writing that involved a political theorist I thought he might know something about. This friend was someone who I'd just missed seeing because of both of our busy schedules and complicated lives several times since 2008 when I last saw him at an American Studies conference. Now, unfortunately, and for reasons that make no sense, it's just too late and there is no "later" when we'll catch up.
He's someone who I knew through politics when I "used to be an anarchist" (that's the expression he teased me about above). He stayed true to that tradition, and was active in anarchist politics and political theory. Of the people in Love & Rage, he was the person with whom I most often agreed politically; actually, in an email exchange we talked about having put edits in that afore-linked L&R Wikipedia page. In the 1990s, we talked and talked about debates that were going on in the organization, both on the phone and in person. I feel like we wrote things together, at least when we were on the coordinating committee of LnR together in MPLS. Years later, he wrote the most hilarious comments in the organization's Discussion Bulletin when he edited it in Phoenix. I hope someone has collected those. It included our intense position papers and proposals about our org's relation to the "race traitor" strategy, how to organize locals, cadre etc., interspersed with Joel's top ten lists of heavy metal songs for the Revolution, and how to keep cool in the Arizona heat. I learned so much from him, and he always talked to me as if he really appreciated my ideas. He also was a true friend; I used to go the movies with him and his wife, and they always supported me as I dealt with the fallout of a number of terrible decisions in my efforts at romantic relationships. He once took me out for a pitcher of malt liquor in our neighborhood bar and offered his shoulder to cry on after I was rejected by one of his own best friends. The malt liquor turned out to be a bad idea, but the shoulder to cry on was kind and the support was always there. When I told him I was getting married he said in an email, "That is wonderful! Do I know the lucky guy?" And I heard from another friend that he and his wife had toasted my happiness along with some other folks from L&R when he was visiting NYC after I had moved to Georgia.
In that later that's now not coming, we had a lot of promised conversations that would have been really great.
During the last ten years, he'd become really, creatively active in immigrant rights, from a revolutionary and radically democratic position. I am full of admiration for the work he did in Arizona. He's also written some of the best most critical writing on anarchism from within the anarchist tradition that I know.
Losing him is just terrible. I can't separate the Joel as a "human" from Joel as a political activist. He loved life and pursued his political vision with both passion and compassion. He was generous to friends, and as so many of my friends have commented in our conversations over the last few days, he was one person who could get along with people on all sides of big arguments in various groups, never making the political disagreements into personal grudge-matches. As a friend, he could accept people's limitations and appreciate what was best about them. If you read the linked obituary statements you'll see that was a very devoted husband and father, and if you feel so moved, please make a contribution to his wife and three children.
* * *
This experience brings me to two points beyond the fact that Joel Olson was a extraordinary person whose loss is inexplicable, shocking and heart-breaking to the people who were so lucky to know him. These two things are ONE - that friendships connected to doing serious political work are very special, and that it says something about what that political work does that is different from the routines that usually alienating capitalist daily-life puts us in - that's the concept of political miracles that my friend referred to in his piece on the Arizona Repeal Coalition's weekly meetings
TWO: If you can't afford time/money to travel to see them, call your damn friends on the phone! (and to those of you who I've been planning to call, expect a call from me for real this time.)
Facebook and email give us this illusion of being connected and of the connection always ready to be revived when we get around to it. Maybe that illusion's not true for everyone; maybe that says something more about me. There are emails of his that I enjoyed getting just because they were from him, but I often put off reading his longer pieces unless he had specifically asked me for feedback on them. Some of his mass emailed political articles were still "unread" when I saw them in my mail folder yesterday.
It's hard to live as if every day might be your last, or your friend's and I think that focusing on what I didn't do to see or talk to Joel in the last two years is, as one friend told me the other day, just a means of trying to take control of an out-of-control reality. And with that, I just miss my friend, and even miss the notion that one of these days, really soon, we're going to get in touch and really talk about all these things we've mentioned talking about later in real depth. The last email he sent me was one such promise - "I'd love to read it" he said about the thing I was writing that I'd asked his advice on. Even though I had a draft done a few weeks ago, I didn't send it to him, thinking he was busy with his own stuff and that I could send it to him when it came out this summer, but that I needed to remind him to send me that ms he was working on. Ah well.