The past several weeks have seen a large opposition to the proposed development between Oconee and Broad streets, and the county commissioners were right to put a hold on the development until a better solution can be made. But I want to clarify what I mean by a â€œbetter solution,â€ and I donâ€™t just mean â€œNo Walmart.â€ I will not deny that some people are against the development solely because Walmartâ€™s name has been mentioned. But to simplify the argument against the development down to â€œpro-Walmartâ€ and â€œanti-Walmartâ€ is childish. If another business came in their place, that would not change the fact that a big, behemoth box store would be sitting in full view of Oconee Street, overshadowing everything around it.
I am not just angry that a Walmart could be sitting at the corner of downtown. As a designer and builder, I am angry and utterly disappointed with the overall design itself. The proposed development is its own separate entity, completely disconnected from the rest of the city. Upon looking at the sketches of the design, I can think of many places that this project would fit into. But they are all in Midtown Atlanta, and none in any part of Athens. From the plans and images provided by the developer, there is no notion whatsoever of how this project is going to connect with its surroundings. How is the traffic on Oconee Street going to be as a result of this? What is it going to look like driving around the back from Wilkerson Street? What am I going to see as I cross the river walking up Broad Street? Right now, I see an isolated growth that competes against the downtown district rather than working with it. The people responsible for this proposal are not looking at the bigger picture. We need a development that looks to both its own success and the well-being of the city that it is part of.
I can only hope that this proposal serves as a wake-up call for the design and business communities of Athens. Our city needs jobs and development; that much is certain. A good development is not only going to give us a hundred jobs in the next few months, but provide a foundation for thousands of jobs in the next few years. I do not see any attempt to move the overall development of Athens forward in the current proposal, only a get-rich-quick scheme. I welcome any conversation about the future development of our glorious city. But the conversation has to start soon, and it must include all of Athens. Both as a resident of the city and as someone who has wanted to be an architect since he was eight, I regard Athens as one of the best cities in the South, much better than Atlanta in my mind. We have the brains, the skills, the means and the drive to take the ambitions of Athens and make them realities. We can do better, and we deserve better.
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