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It Comes Down To Words-Thoughts After Another Atlanta Trip

Sign: Get Social
This sign has no words, but I think it symbolizes community. Credit: Flickr user The Waving Cat

I had the pleasure this week of going to Atlanta for work training. I had the opportunity to fly out of my home airport (Piedmont Triad International), ride the MARTA to and from the airport and hotel and stay in the heart of Midtown at the Georgian Terrace.

Before I get into my main story, I want to say again that Atlanta is a pleasant surprise as far as the strides it has taken to be more urban. While the region as a whole is sprawling out of control, those who are fortunate to live in the city proper, especially around MARTA in and north of downtown, have more transit-friendly options. Also, grocery stores, drug stores and even department stores such as Target and IKEA are marking their spot right in the middle of town. What I really loved was seeing houses of faith, trendy bars, furniture boutiques and other trendy stores several blocks around Midtown and witness houses of faith, reuse shops, furniture boutiques and a great variety of restaurants and bars mixed into these big time chains and all in walking distance. MARTA was clean and moved on-time. I’ve written before about Atlanta’s efforts to be more cognizant of TOD. With what we saw with Raquel Nelson, we need to keep working to deal with unsafe intersections, bus stops and train stations, as well as affordability of safe, village-style spaces.

I was also reminded again of how sad things have gotten in the Piedmont Triad (not really international any more) Airport. While they have put up a nice welcome sign similar to what you find at RDU, there were several gates where the chairs were gone, jetways were shut off or non-existant and no airline signage was visible. There were few restaurants and the ticket and baggage areas are very outdated. Thankfully, funding was approved to make improvements at the airport, as well as new companies coming into town to create demand. However, a new airline just went bankrupt at the airport. Only time will tell if the aviation industry as a whole and PTI can be saved.

What I wanted to get to in this trip reflection is the concept of words. I was on the MARTA heading back to the airport on Friday and they announced that at a particular stop, the Main Street Urban Renewal District or something like that was one of the attractions. I thought it was interesting to have those two concepts married together, especially in a city like Atlanta.

I had been thinking about the kinds of labels, words and terminology we use to discuss this discipline. What are we doing? Is it economic development or community development? Urban renewal or new urbanism? Placemaking or mixed-use development? All these things have different meanings, different feelings and different levels of effectiveness in conversations.

No matter what term is used, care should be taken to portray what we do as positive as possible. We should work to broaden mutual understanding of the sense of place, not narrow it so that only the select few can understand.

Some of my favorite words/phrases to describe the movement are placemaking,the return to Main Street or the return to the village. I feel these words get to the core of what we try to do when we do things like new urbanism, TOD, or even just open up a community center. This work is sorely needed now with the economy closing opportunities for the individual, but strengthening group opportunities such as co-ops, farmers markets, libraries and other places where people can share resources and build social capital.

What about everyone else? What are words that stick out to you to describe this concept? How do we use the right words?

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