July 5, 2017

Downtown Is Awful; Let's Move It Somewhere Else

Athens, I love you. We all do—not just the members of a certain well-bumper-stickered church. But despite all of our love, we worry about what’s happening to our beloved downtown. Yes, we like to bemoan it and talk about the “good ol’ days,” but that doesn’t solve the problem. Since the high rises are, more than likely, here to stay, the solution is simple: Move downtown. Move it somewhere else. Not literally, but the concept of downtown doesn’t have to actually BE downtown. Personally, I think our new not-so-downtown needs a centerpiece, something to build around, and it’s got to be at least as interesting as a cannon. And I have two suggestions.

For example, there’s what looks like a catapult in a yard at the beginning of Milledge Extension, just past the on-ramp to the Loop. The catapult’s got a little white basket to load flaming boulders, or a box of bumper stickers proclaiming our love for Athens, or whatever it is that people put in suburban catapults. As far as I can tell, the catapulters have aimed it at their neighbors. Maybe it’s their version of home security. Maybe that neighborhood has worked out an extremely cool but not particularly efficient system for borrowing neighborly aerial sugar.  

On the other side of the road, there’s that jolly good, smashing British phone booth on the corner of Prince and Milledge—the one outside of the flower shop. I love this thing. Truly one of the best random pieces of Athenicana ever.    

Now that developers and our less forward-thinking politicians have all but destroyed downtown with their high-rises and massive lack of awareness of what makes this city great, it’s time to move away from downtown. Let’s gift it to the college kids and the revolving door of visiting troupes of Georgians meeting at the Classic Center. Thus is the story of coolness. Whenever the business people give up on a place, the cool people move in, paint some guerrilla murals, strike up the band and make it, well, cool. Then the business people, wanting to cash in on the efforts of the cool people, come back in and destroy it. Look it up. Greenwich Village. SoHo. Pretty much any neighborhood in New York.   

May I humbly suggest that we move our non-downtown to either surround the catapult or the British phone booth? Both would make appropriately Athenian centerpieces for the next center of weirdness. We could make a medieval village around the catapult, which, with some effort, could turn into a wildly out-of-place pre-pre-very-pre-colonial Williamsburg. It doesn’t have to make sense. It just has to be weird and fun. Or we could take notes from some of our larger metropolitan areas, with their Chinatowns and their Little Italys, and turn the corner of Prince and Milledge into a Mini-Britain. Dunkin’ Donuts would have to go. In its place can fit a sausage factory. The Taco Stand could scoot down a few blocks to make room for an Altoid-themed restaurant. You get the idea.

Downtown is being rimmed by awfulness—the high-rises, the giant CVS, the other chains that are well on their way to destroying first the aesthetics, then the spirit of the area. The high-end squeeze that’s currently ringing downtown probably isn’t going anywhere. But that doesn’t mean that downtown can’t go somewhere else.

I’m only half joking.