Thursday, July 31, 2008

Saporta out at AJC?

This is no good, if it is true, especially for Terminal Station. Like, half our posts originate from a Saporta article!! She's just about the most connected journalist in town, and has been a tireless voice for smart growth. I hope she land somewhere and keeps on writing.

Beltline bomb throwing

Thomas Wheatley's latest doesn't cover a whole lot of new ground on the Beltline - Atlanta Beltline, Inc. still owes its soul to Wayne Mason, who still eats children for breakfast, preferably with a little maple syrup on the side. Everyone not living in the northeast quadrant of the city is still pissed at ABI for this deal. [This isn't a dig at Thomas - I think he does great work.]

My take is that ABI made the deal with Mason when it expected to be getting a lot more TAD money to spend on other projects. So the criticisms of how much is getting spent in what area of the is a little unfair - its not like ABI planned it this way. I mean, they screwed up, but they didn't intentionally set out to spend most of the money on Wayne Mason.

There is another issue, though - whether the deal was a "good deal":
The larger issue, according to the Beltline advisory committee, was the Beltline's decision to purchase the entire Mason property rather than just the railroad easements. They argue that it was an unwise business decision in today's real estate market.
The AJC recently published an opinion piece arguing that the Beltline needs to control more of the development around the parks - well, this deal does just that. It gives the Beltline control of the area most ripe for development. From that angle, I think it was a good deal. I also think that the current market shouldn't dictate the conditions of the sale since we are still several years out from any development actually occurring. The numbers you are projecting are still like 5 to 10 years out. If the deal itself was a good deal before the TAD got stripped, then the numbers should still hold up internally.

Mason is still being,um, difficult, of course. Mary Norwood thinks she can win him over by "appealing to the philanthropic side". What in the entire sordid history of Mason's interactions with the city makes her think that he has the warm and fuzzies for the city? He basically refused to negotiate, and hasn't given any inclination that he'll help out so far. He has the city up against a wall and he knows it, and for a guy who does what he does because he loves closing deals, that's about as good as it gets. He's got all the leverage, so I don't expect him to budge, appeals to his better half or not.

Personally, I'm very frustrated with the Beltline. The great appeal for the Beltline originally was transit. Then it got hijacked with all these parks and stuff, which are great ideas, but also great examples of scope creep. The core of the Beltline has always been about transit and better connectivity for areas that are currently under-served by rail. We need to get the right-of-way as soon as possible, not over the next 25 years. The priority should have been on getting the transit line up and running within 5 years. In the current climate that is fantasy land stuff.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Absurdities

Light posting today, because I have a test. I don't do much "drive-by blogging" where I just link to stuff and don't comment, but I wanted to pass along this great line from CL highlighting the absurdity of our gun laws (and also of MARTA ticketing policy):

Imagine if someone with a firearms license walked onto a MARTA train with a shotgun. He couldn't be arrested, even though someone can be ticketed for eating on a train.

"So I just want to be clear," I asked MARTA police Chief Wanda Dunham. "If I had a turkey sandwich in one hand and a gun in the other hand, MARTA police would ticket me for the turkey sandwich?"

"If you're eating it," she replied. "Only if you're eating it."

Monday, July 28, 2008

Attention mayoral candidates

In my opinion, one of the top issues in the race will be the state of the police department. We need a) more cops; and b) better cops. But thats not anything new.

Hopefully the mayoral candidates don't need me to tell them that, or to bring this audit to their attention. But this is my blog, wherein I rant about these things. So I'll highlight the key points, from my perspective:
About 9 percent of the 1,600-member force left last year ... In 2004, the departure rate was nearly 7 percent...

Auditors found the staffing problems have resulted in fewer officers on patrol. During one day in August, each of the city's six zones had one beat uncovered during a shift....

The auditors wrote that police commanders should focus more on why officers are leaving. One-half of the police officers who left in 2006 took lateral or lower-paying jobs, according to exit interviews reviewed by the auditors.
For starters, we need to pay them more. The fire fighters pitch a fit every time the city tries to increase cop salaries, but the cops are simply more important. The next mayor needs to be able to rally the council to stand up to the firefighters and give the cops a real pay increase (i.e. more than a 3% cost of living increase) to the cops.

Next, we need to clean up the fucking department. If people are leaving to take lateral or lower-paying jobs, there is something seriously wrong with that work environment beyond the pay scale. In my experience, that sort of attrition suggests systemic management failure. It's not just dirty and incompetent cops, although I'm sure there are plenty of each.

Requirements like this
probably aren't helping:
... several police officers have told CL that Pennington has placed an alleged quota system on officers. Though it's not on the books, insiders say officers must churn out arrests and warrants in order to receive outstanding performance reviews.
While Ceasar Mitchell is trying to score political points with Fire House 7, can a mayoral candidate please start throwing out some ideas to reform the police department? I want more than a citizens' review panel with no teeth.

Because I feel obligated

There is an article in the AJC concerning the Central Library. Seeing as I've been following this issue:
Szabo and other library supporters say a new facility would draw people downtown, much as the Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coca-Cola museum have done. A building with "architectural significance," Pitts said, could boost economic development.
Well, I've ranted about this enough, but here are a few more reasons these statements don't hold water:
  1. We have a Central Library with architectural significance. It just offends Rob Pitts artistic sensibility. Perhaps declining traffic has more to do with the increasing obsolescence of libraries in a digital age. The library in part exists to make information available to low-income residents of the city. Moving the library further from a rail station is not the best way to serve these residents.

    And really, people don't pay that much attention to the Central Library. In the two-year public planning that went into the Library Master Plan, not one citizen said, "Hey, we need a new Central Library." They focused on better uses of the debt - more branch libraries closer to their homes.

  2. I've said it before, but libraries are not economic drivers or tourist destinations on par with the world's largest aquarium or a museum for the most recognizable brand in the world. I have been to numerous tourist destinations and convention cities, including: London, Paris, Dublin, New York, Chicago, New Orleans, and San Antonio; in NONE of these cities did I even consider going to the public library.

    Of these cities, only the New York Public Library is perhaps an example of a tourist destination, because it is historic and has been in a ton of movies. It's not a good example of what we'll end up with.
Further, Where are the matching public funds going to come from? Atlanta has a few higher priority public-private partnerships, including:
  • The Center for Civil and Human Rights
  • The new Symphony
  • The BeltLine
  • The annual Woodruff Arts fundraising drive
  • The Health Museum
When there are so many urgent needs for funds, who exactly is going to put forward $85 million for an unnecessary library?

Also, there is no plan for the library beyond Rob Pitts idea that it be "futuristic" and focus on "technology". They haven't procured any land, have no architectural renderings - nothing. We are supposed to support $85 million in debt without a clue as to what it will be used for? You couldn't get a project at this stage financed in the private market in a million years.

What a colossal waste of money. No wonder nobody likes the Fulton County Commission.

Please contact me if you are interested in organizing to oppose this bond referendum for the fall. While the rest of the bond may be worthwhile, public officials should not be rewarded for acting so capriciously. Email me here.

Politics of development

My friend Rob, blogging on the ULI's The Ground Floor, notes some interesting statistics from a national survey regarding neighborhood opposition to new developments. As someone (admittedly selfishly) interested in seeing Atlanta grow, I am fairly disappointed about the findings:
Among the findings, 78 percent of Americans think there should be no new development in their community, 44 percent oppose new apartments or condominiums (up from 34 percent in 2006), and 69 percent say their local government is doing a fair to poor job on planning and zoning.
However, he notes some good news:
The significant changes in the Saint Index support the belief that views can shift according to information available to them. The complex character of development, especially in existing urban areas, means a proactive strategy to engage community members and build support is more important than ever.
Community interest and activism against development is strong in Atlanta, enough so that my recent post regarding the development of 315 W. Ponce in Decatur was one of my higher-traffic posts. I think in Atlanta developers often under-estimate the power of neighborhood groups. Consider the Georgia Tech Foundation story so far, or Wayne Mason's ill-fated tower at Piedmont Park.

I think this is overall a net positive for the city because it forces developers to interact with neighborhoods and often improve their projects. For all their business acumen, a lot of developers really misread the market for certain neighborhoods. I have been in NPU meetings where community members (correctly) told developers that their project was mis-priced and that it'd never sell, that the buyer they were going after wasn't going to move to the area.

The downside to community activism is that it can quite often be overzealous. In my neighborhood, I got a flyer one day warning about a new development, The Mix. While I think the architecture is a very bad fit for the neighborhood, overall I think the location on North Highland across from the Dark Horse is a good fit for a mixed-use condo building. I woke up one day to find a flyer on the door talking about the new "high-rise" building with untold numbers of parking spots in the ginormous parking deck.

The flyer really misrepresented the development, which met existing code for the commercial lot it was in, and was replacing a large surface parking lot. The five-story building is tiered away from the street to meet the height requirements, and only has 12 residential units. Calling it a high-rise was dishonest.

When a neighborhood takes an overly aggressive approach, it can turn a developer off from even trying to negotiate. I've said it before, but we need to encourage good development in neighborhoods that can support a pedestrian environment. This means areas like the commercial district in Virginia-Highlands, downtown Decatur, and yes, Monroe and 10th Street. In that case, neither the neighborhood, the city, or the developer was interested in negotiating. I still think a workable alternative was possible for that site, considering that there is an 8-story condo building on a hill half a block away.

The key, and the take-away from Rob's post, is that developers and communities must be willing to engage each other in dialogue. It is the only way a city can grow responsibly.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Development Tracker - Ansley Parkside

I tend to avoid high-traffic areas if I can, which means it had been quite a while since I drove down by Ansley Mall on Monroe Drive. I did so this morning, and noticed that Ansley Parkside townhomes are well under construction.

I think townhomes right there are a good fit, in terms of density and neighborhood character. I could actually imagine walking to a lot of stuff from there. Another reason to like Lane Co. - and it looks like they are going with a traditional architecture, so well done.

I am ambivalent about their site plan, however. These criticisms are not a reflection of the quality of the project, but reflect my continued frustration with Atlanta's suburban road structure. This site plan is pretty typical of in-fill townhome communities, where you most of the homes are on interior lanes. It is the only way you can get the density needed to make the project economical when you are dealing with suburban-style lots.

I'm not sure what the solution is, but in my view the only appealing towhomes are the ones fronting the street. The rest just feel very suburban to me. It is part of the limitations of in-fill development. From an urban planning persepctive, I'd love to carve up the whole block from Monroe to Pelham into smaller lots. (I think the exisiting families on Pelham might complain.) As it is, these 41 units all feed onto Monroe, right at the mall.

What do you do about the schools?

Among the big issues Atlanta needs to do a better job with is our public school system. For all the folks moving into the city, not many of them have kids. I think a decent number plan to have kids - why else would you buy a four bedroom house? Well, Americans do have a lot of junk these days, but that's a different topic. Most folks I talk to who moved into town after growing up in the 'burbs plan on staying even after they have kids. Where will they send their kids?

If we can get APS up to snuff, I think Atlanta's population would absolutely explode. And we certainly owe it to all the kids currently in APS. I am not an education expert, so its not like I have any great ideas. I just wanted to direct your attention to Kevin Drum's post on poverty and education:
There's nothing wrong with writing about the efforts of school districts ... to integrate their schools and improve performance. But the elephant in the room is that by far the biggest problem with poverty-stricken schools is in big cities, and in big cities there's simply no way to do this. No amount of busing, magnet schools, charter schools, carrots, sticks, or anything else will reduce the number of low-income students in each school below 40% when the entire school district is 80% low-income...

If the effect of concentrated poverty really is "one of the most consistent findings in research on education," and if there's no plausible way to reduce concentrated poverty in our biggest school districts, then we're stuck. We can play around the edges and make small gains here and there, but in the long run nothing will change.
76% of APS students get free or reduced lunch (pdf). Anyone got any ideas? While the School Board handles the APS, I'd really love to hear the Mayoral candidates weigh in on this over the next year.

I spent 10 years in Atlanta Public Schools, and finished the last three years in a private school. The biggest difference was in discipline - the b.s. I got away with in public school just didn't fly anymore. I don't blame the public schools for this, by the way - they have their hands full. In terms of minor policy tweaks to help this, I think school uniforms are a great idea. But, like Kevin Drum said, how do you deal with the long run?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

This aggression will not stand, man

I love greasy spoon diners. In Ann Arbor, it was the Fleetwood Diner, although Yanks simply don't know how to make hash browns. And I'm long-time devotee of the Waffle House - being able to retreat to the WH almost daily (sometimes more) helped me survive high school. The all-time sentimental favorite, however, is the hometown hero -The Majestic.

The appeal of the Majestic is pretty straight-forward. It's as close as Atlanta comes to a living embodiment of Nighthawks, and the glowing neon is a beacon for restless souls. A friend who recently moved to town drove past the Majestic for the first time and said to himself, "That is a place for people like me. I must go there." The neon facade defines Ponce de Leon Avenue.

The interior feels like it hasn't changed since my father would come in from Stone Mountain 50 years ago with his grandmother for a double-matinee at the Plaza Theater. They would cap off the trip to town with a meal at the Majestic. The sign proclaiming "FOOD THAT PLEASES" - SINCE 1929 is a promise - Atlanta changes, but we'll always be here. 24 hours a day.

I have so many memories of this place. Countless breakfasts with friends, at all hours of the day. Chain smoking in the Majestic at 2 am, when one of the ceiling tiles fell square onto an unoccupied booth. (Like myself, the Majestic is now non-smoking.) Hours quietly studying in the booths. Before all the hipsters started working there, the Majestic easily had the most colorful staff in town. The customers used to be more colorful, too. I have been a loyal customer for a decade, and I'm not that old.

Lately, the place has begun to change. Some of the changes are for the better - the quality of the food has definitely increased, and I don't think the ceiling tiles will be dropping from the sky anytime soon. I'm pretty glad it's no longer cash only - the convenience offsets the nostalgia in this case.

But I'm not really down with other changes. They are mostly small things. The food isn't cheap anymore - it'll cost at least $10 bucks to eat there. Yeah, food prices are up, I can deal with it, but it looses some cache. They got new waffle irons, that make smaller and thinner waffles, and kept the price the same. Fine, I don't order the waffles anymore. You have to pay at your booth. Whatever, not that big a deal. They got new menus. They look fine, but I liked that the old ones seemed like the they could be the same ones my dad held when he was 10. They started putting fruit on my plate for breakfast. WTF? They once tried to bring me the check on a little red plastic plate. Huh?

After the little red plate I wrote a note to the owner - "stop changing everything. It's the Majestic - it's supposed to be a dump." A server last night told me they photocopied it and hung it up in the back room. Then he told me the owner was planning to renovate, aiming to be like some of the other Greek diners around town. Goddammit. If I wanted to go to the Landmark, I'd drive downtown. And the City Cafe fucking sucks.

All this may come off as petty and silly. Maybe it is. But the Majestic is a special place, and I can't bear the thought of it changing any more than it has already. I do mind, the Dude minds. This will not stand, ya know, this aggression will not stand, man. (And for the record, the designated hitter is an abomination. And I haven't been to the Waffle House much since they moved away from the ugly faux wood interior.)

I'm thinking of starting a petition. Or maybe I can convince the Silver Skillet to start staying open later.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

315 W. Ponce in Decatur

It is has been a little while since the last Development Tracker post, and I saw an article in today's AJC that is the sort of situation that prompted me to start this blog in the first place. JLB Partners is planning a 218-unit, mixed use residential development on the surface parking lot of the Wachovia building in Decatur. The neighbors have some concerns, including the traditional cries of "not enough parking and "too much density".

Several Decatur blogs have been following the story, namely DecaturResidents.com, which is devoted to stopping the development, and Decatur Metro, which has compared the project's density with other Decatur mid-rises.

For unbiased info, please see the City's Planning Commission site for the project. You can find site plans, design studies, parking studies, and more. From this site, I found two conceptual site plans at right. It suggests several things relating to density:
  1. The West Ponce fronting building height is entirely within existing character for the street, and street-level retail should be a vast improvement over a surface parking lot.

  2. The developers have attempted to make the back-side building, which fronts single family houses, the appropriate scale by staggering the building height down to a three-story height.

    The developers have compiled a character study (pdf) suggesting that a three-story building can fit in with family-scale areas quite well, although in my opinion it is very dependent on good architecture.

  3. The project is indeed very large (half a city block), so neighborhood trepidation is understandable. Considering what I will say next, it is important to acknowledge the legitimacy of their concern.
I think the residents are overreacting. Decatur Metro's density comparision is patently unfair, because it suggests that the 315 W. Ponce site will be taller than Decatur Rennaissance, when it won't be. The 315 site is bigger than any of the comparison sites, and so the density doesn't appear that different. In fact, it might be less (I'm too lazy to research lot sizes for all these developments).

Residents concerns about parking are more understandable, but the developers have a very good point concerning shared parking decks. Go drive around some condo or apartment buildings, and take a look at their parking lots during the day. I used to work in a unit at the Ponce Springs building, and their parking deck is about 80% empty during the day. This is one of the beauties of mixed-use projects - better utilization of land.

I'm glad I've posted previously on saving historic buildings like the Crum and Forster Building. Otherwise I'd sound like an a-hole when I say that critics of this building need to move on. This is exactly the type of development that the metro region should be fostering, and that the City of Decatur has been a leader in guiding.

We will never move towards sustaining car-less living and pedestrian friendly environments if neighborhoods protest mixed-use, context sensitive redevelopment projects. There are plenty of bad developments that are objectionable. This does not appear to be one.

I'll be really upset if JLB partners design some god-awful stucco monstrosity that doesn't fit in the neighborhood, though. Mostly because it will make me look like a dunce.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Someone finally gets the story right

While the recent Wall Street Journal heralding The End of White Flight gets all the attention, it mostly rehashes points I think readers of this blog already know. For a much better article, Thomas Wheatley directs my attention to a fantastic story in Governing magazine on the changing racial demographics and politics in Atlanta. It's a veritable dorkgasm for a blog focused on real estate and local politics, and should be mandatory reading for anyone interested in city politics.

The article is jam packed with great info. Part of the reason that the City of Atlanta is getting whiter is because many middle class minorities are settling in the suburbs. Ever wonder just how much the 'burbs are changing?
Of the 10 counties in the nation with the largest declines in white percentage of the population from 2000 to 2006, six are in the suburbs of Atlanta.
This is one reason that a guy I knew laughed when Sandy Springs incorporated. "They'll have a Democratic mayor in ten years," he said, simply because the demographics are changing. I don't think it'll be that soon, but it will be sooner than a lot of folks think.

What I like most about the article is that it manages to capture the depth and nuance that is Atlanta and race relations:

"Old-timers are hopeful about what change means, because for the first time they've got a grocery store within walking distance and don't have to take a bus five miles to get food," says state Representative Stacey Abrams, a young African-American Democrat who represents a racially mixed — and gentrifying — district that includes Kirkwood. "On the other hand, when white folks come and start talking about how bad things are and how we have to fix them, it seems patronizing."

But if disagreements are inevitable when you bring together whites and blacks, old-timers and newcomers, poor and prosperous, suburbanite and urbanite, what is just as striking is an emerging Atlanta in which those distinctions are being set aside in favor of addressing basic concerns about quality of life. After a period of racial division, for instance, the Kirkwood homeowners' association has coalesced around the issues of public safety and improving the neighborhood's public schools.
It is too often that race relations and politics in the city get stereotyped and glossed over by the national media. Not in this article - although mostly because the author found knowledgable locals and let them do the analysis:
It's not that it has become unimportant, Bookman and others argue, but that the significance of race has changed. In Atlanta now, a citywide politician, black or white, can win only by talking to the electorate in all its current diversity. Winning requires the building of coalitions based on issues other than race.
Despite the fact that my previous handicapping of the Mayoral race focused a lot on race, I definitely agree with Bookman's take. Consider my previous handicapping as a starting point.

The author also interviews many of my favorite local politicians and activists: former state Senator (and my former employer) Sam Zamarripa, GALEO director Jerry Gonzalez, City Councilman Kwanza Hall, and State senator Nan Orrock. All of these folks are they type of forward-looking, results-based politics that Atlanta needs.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

So that went well

Almost five years after installing them, Seattle is removing its pubic toilets. Why?
Users left so much trash behind that the automated floor scrubbers had to be disabled, and prostitutes and drug users found privacy behind the toilets’ locked doors.

“I’m not going to lie: I used to smoke crack in there,” said one homeless woman, Veronyka Cordner, nodding toward the toilet behind Pike Place Market. “But I won’t even go inside that thing now. It’s disgusting.”
What does this have to do with Atlanta? We installed five public toilets earlier this year. I honestly haven't heard anything positive or negative about the toilets. I was not a supporter of the idea in the first place, but like most things I have no control over, I hope that I'm wrong.

Can any of my readers enlighten me about how the public toilets have fared? Better than Seattle?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Priorities

So this should be fun to watch - Glenn Richardson is being challenged by another Republican for Speaker of the House. There seems to be a fundamental disagreement within the GOP caucus concerning the Speaker's role. Rep. David Ralston, the challenger, wants to pass legislation - "transportation, trauma care, a property tax reform plan".

Glenn Richardson's written statement:
“Speaker Richardson is focused on the job he was elected to do. He is working with our caucus members to protect our Republican majority in the House and with the Governor and Lieutenant Governor to elect John McCain as our next President as we face one of the most pivotal elections in our nation’s history.”
Well, at least we know what his priorities are. But I'm pretty sure "elect more Republicans" is not the job of either a Representative or of the Speaker of the House. It is certainly a goal of elected representatives to elect more members of their party, and I'm not suggesting that Rep. Richardson shouldn't attempt that. But the job he was elected to do is to pass legislation and to lead the House in passing legislation. What is the point of having a majority if not pass legislation? (Okay, don't answer that, cynics.)

Perhaps Rep. Richardson is confusing Speaker with Chairman of the Georgia Republican Party.

Ceasar Mitchell's tin ear

What in the world possessed Ceasar Mitchell to try and allow bars to stay open later? He wants to let bars pay extra to stay open later. He is right about the economic benefits:
Atlanta's night life needs to improve to make the city more appealing to meeting planners who book major conventions and tradeshows, he said, and Atlanta is at a disadvantage to all-night meccas like Las Vegas.
But Ceasar is running for Mayor. Courting the business interests might help raise money, but that's not who votes. Neighborhoods vote:
Erica Pines, the president of the Castleberry Hill Neighborhood Association, which campaigned hard to close bars at 3 a.m., said her group is still pressing the city to force bars within the neighborhood to close even earlier.

"We would scream bloody murder," she said. Castleberry Hill residents are trying to close the bars inside the community at midnight Sunday through Thursday, and at 1 a.m. on weekends.
Not an auspicous start for a mayoral race. Ideally, there could be some sort of 'bar district', like Temple Bar in Dublin, or the French Quarter in New Orleans. Atlanta's used to be Buckhead. The difference is that in Temple Bar or the French Quarter, you kind of know what you are getting into when you decide to live there. Buckhead was a rich residential neighborhood, so the relationship didn't work.

As most readers know, the city tried to make Underground the party district, but that hasn't worked out so well. These things have to happen organically. Ceaser's proposal might work if NPUs got a veto over which bars get extended hours. Most of the stuff immediately around Compound is industrial, why couldn't they be open later?

I honestly haven't noticed Virginia-Highlands feeling any different than it used to, and would have no problem letting Fontain's or Moe's and Joe's stay open an hour or two later. Atkins Park residents might felt differently, since they live right across from a commercial strip full of bars.

Library shenanigans

Time for an update on the Central Library. No thanks to the AJC, who have still yet to write anything regarding the Fulton County Commission meeting Wednesday. Much thanks to Max Eternity and the AFPLWatch, who have followed this issue better than I.

From what I can gather, the FCC stripped the Library Master Plan of the $34 million line item for renovation the downtown library. They then added $50 million to the budget, for a total of $84 million intended for a new Central Library. The library intends to raise $85 million in private funds to compliment these public funds. The existing Central Library will be sold, and proceeds would also go toward the cost of a new Central Library.

From AFPLWatch.com:
Commission Chair John Eaves noted that none of the citizens attending the meeting were in favor of a new Central Library; he also reported that he had not received any comments from the public praising the idea.

Commissioner Lynne Riley reminded her colleagues that the two-year process of asking the public for input about the library system's Facilities Master Plan had generated no proposals for a new Central Library.

Eaves and Riley were the only commissioners who opposed the resolution to include in the November referendum the cost of a new - rather than a renovated - Central Library.
Needless to say, I'm disappointed for numerous reasons. Max Eternity is, um, pissed. The most obnoxious thing about the FCC decision is what Commissioner Riley mentioned - there was a two year master process involving public input, and then that process gets circumvented at the last minute. Why go through the process in the first place?

The AJC coverage of a $275 million bond referendum is atrocious. I'm still not certain how much money in the bond referendum is intended for a new Central Library, $50m or $84m. There will probably be one more article before the election that will inform people just enough about the issue so they are confused. There is an excellent op-ed today about the Central Library in the AJC, despite the fact that I can't find an article about the commission meeting. There is also a blog posting relating to the op-ed, with some comments.

One comment notes that GSU could buy the Central Library for its School of Music. GSU is probably the only realistic buyer at this point, although that certainly could change. Maybe some some wealthy benefactor will decide to start the Atlanta version of the Guggenheim (yeah, hold your breath on that one). That would at least be an appropriate use. There is an empty lot next to the Central Library that combined might make the property interesting from a redevelopment perspective, although demolition costs would be ridiculous. [update: I was incorrectly thinking of a lot one block away.]

At this point I should state that I'm not exactly irate over this issue. Disappointed is a better word. What a waste of money and real estate a new library will be. There is no plan to demolish the existing building, and if it can be adapted into something useful then that certainly takes the edge off. I just think the whole plan is half-baked, arrogant, and irresponsible. Its a shame, because I'll probably vote against the bond referendum that I would otherwise be inclined to support.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Bucking the national trend

I have heard mostly anecdotal evidence that suburban areas had been harder during this housing bubble, but Business Week has the data to back it up:
Annual price changes in most of the largest metro areas, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, San Francisco, Seattle, Baltimore, Washington D.C., and Philadelphia, followed a similar pattern: Values were most stable within a 10-mile radius of the center of the city, but generally worsened with each successive radius ring as far as 50 miles from the center of the city.
Hey, that's great news for us in-town advocates. Huh? What?
Not all cities kept precisely to the pattern, in part because of the complications of geography. ... in other areas—Detroit, Cleveland, Dallas, Atlanta, and Reno, Nev.—the opposite phenomenon seems to be in play, with real estate values actually improving away from the city.
Aw, crap. I figure this is a result of the large number of foreclosures on the west side and south side of town. Drive through Adair Park or Vine City to see what I mean. It is really depressing. Also, for all the progress that has been made in in-town areas like Virginia-Highlands and Grant Park over the last 20 years, there are still huge swaths of in-town neighborhoods that have decades or revitalization to go.

Actually, if you look at the actual numbers for Atlanta, the worst declines can be found in the Roswell-Marietta-Stone Mountain ring of suburbs, although not by much:
Atlanta

10 miles: -5.9%
20 miles: -6.3%
30 miles: -5.0%
40 miles: -4.0%
50 miles: 1.1%
Still, not so hot.

h/t: Richard Florida

Walkable Atlanta

Terminal Station previously featured a website which calculated the "walkability" of various neighborhoods. That site, www.walkscore.com, has released a ranking of the most walkable cities in the country. Atlanta, somewhat surprisingly, came in at #22. The map at right shows a much clearer picture, though. Affluent in-town neighborhoods score very well, and surprisingly downtown does too.

The most walkable neighborhood called "Five Points" could just as easily be called "Georgia State", since it runs from Five Points through the eastern core of downtown and up past the new GSU dorms. I don't believe that WalkScore can compensate for the quality of ammenities an area provides, and while downtown does have varied stores and such, the quality is questionable.

I have a friend who live at Five Points, who does not walk around the corner (literally half a block) to the CVS to get her prescription filled. Instead she drives to my neighborhood. She does this because it takes them an hour to fill her prescription downtown, even though she is the only customer.

I think areas like Grant Park and Ormewood have the potential to be just as walkable as Virginia-Highlands and Poncey Highlands, although they lack definable neighbhorhood retail centers to some extent. Hopefully the continued redevelopment of Memorial Dr. will improve this. The exact opposite can be said for some of the other areas in the west and south side. They have neighborhood centers, but no services.

The top ten walkable neighborhoods could double for a list of "places I would like to live":

Rank Neighborhood Score
1 Five Points 95
2 Poncey-Highland 93
3 Sweet Auburn 88
4 Midtown 87
5 Atlanta-Inman Park 86
6 Old Fourth Ward 84
7 Downtown 81
8 Virginia-Highland 80
9 Home Park 76
10 Cabbage Town 74

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Sanity on Freddie and Fannie

Krugman has been relatively sane in regards to the Freddie/Fannie situation (in comparison to say, Robert Reich). Today, Krugman notes that Freddie and Fannie may have been picking up the slack left from the Savings and Loan meltdown of the 80s:
Now here’s the thing: S&Ls are private, profit-making institutions whose debt (in the form of deposits) is guaranteed by the federal government. Fannie and Freddie are private, profit-making institutions whose debt is implicitly guaranteed by the federal government. It’s not clear to me that the switch shown here led to any net socialization of risk.
I am not going to pretend that I understand all the mechanics of the current housing/financial crisis. I am following along as best I can, and it is certainly something that gets discussed quite a bit in my MBA classes. Being dumb enough to keep a running tally of my thoughts on a blog certainly doesn't make me an expert in any of the stuff I talk about.

That being said, at present I lean toward Krugman's take that Freddie and Fannie freakout is overblown and is not the result of corruption or an exploitation of their implied government guarantees.

Election post mortem

So, primary elections are sort of over, save for a pesky run-off in the Democratic Senate nomination race. My takes on the only interesting ballot items around:

MARTA and Gwinnett: Gwinnett voters don't want a $.01 sales tax for MARTA. The AJC notes that the vote was split along partisan lines, with Dems in favor of GOP voters against. Combined, the vote was 53%-47% against expansion. You can see the breakdown of votes at right. (Click for larger image). Source: AJC

Anecdotally, there is still a question of whether Gwinnett GOP voters oppose transit, taxes, or if this is simply a matter of regional politics:
However, sentiment against the proposal seemed to center less on whether rail should come to the county —- although that was an issue —- but rather on distrust of MARTA and concerns that the agency would use tax revenues collected in Gwinnett to support operations elsewhere in its system.

Some transit proponents had worried that linking the question of rail in the county to MARTA could doom the straw poll's chances, a scenario that may have played out.

"The last thing I want to do is give more money to Atlanta," said Wharton Smith, who voted with his wife, Annette, at the Duluth City Hall.
Still, a 53-47 vote isn't that bad, considering that MARTA did virtual zero campaigning in support of the referendum. I for one would be in favor of scrapping MARTA for a regional-based government structure if it meant expanding transit into Cobb, Gwinnett, Henry, and Clayton counties. Gwinnett and Clayton actually have representatives on the MARTA board. I wish the poll had been able to differentiate between MARTA, transit, and taxes. These are really three separate issues, and the distrust of "Atlanta" is strong enough in Gwinnett to muddy the waters.

Democratic U.S. Senate race: This was generally a snooze-fest, and I did my best to ignore it. But, I'm a Dem, so I figured I'd go ahead and vote for someone. Despite my disappointment with his campaign, I voted for Jim Martin. He's the only guy I think is actually qualified to be a Senator, even though I thought Josh Lanier and Rand Knight might be better campaigners.

So, at the end of the day, it's a run-off between Martin and Vernon Jones. Primary run-offs are generally won by whoever has the best organization, so I'm tempted to give the nod to Martin. However, if I recall Denise Majette trounced Cliff Oxford without much a campaign structure. Jim already has Dale Cardwell's endorsement, but he'll need to do some serious ground organizing before Aug. 5.

I for one an completely unenthused by Martin's candidacy - I think he needs a haircut, and I think he needs to have ads that attack Saxby instead of blather about how nice and honorable Jim is. I'm sure he is all of these things, but to beat Saxby he'll need to be a lot more aggressive. He is currently playing into stereotypical "Dems are weak" cliches. If he wins the nomination, I expect he will get lost in the shuffle come November. The only way he wins is if Obama carries the state and Jim catches a ride.

While Vernon Jones comes off as a bit of a snake to me, he might actually have a better shot at the general election. He's tacking to the center constantly, talking about Reagan Democrats, etc. He voted for Bush twice. Of course, the lawsuits alleging he wanted to fire white people to create a "darker administration" for DeKalb will undoubtedly surface in a direct mailer of some sort. He's in many ways a larger than life figure, so I suspect he'd get more free press and attention than Martin. Vernon would certainly make things interesting.

The problem is I'm not sure if I could vote for Vernon in a general election. So here's hoping Jim Martin wins the right to be a sacrifical lamb.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Crum and Forster Building saved for now

The City rejected the Georgia Tech Foundation's application for demolition. The GTF can still appeal the decision. Also, this is good news:
More importantly, the city also sent the foundation a letter expressing its intent to nominate the Crum & Forster building for landmark status. That designation would provide the building greater protection from being demolished.
At least one reason to still have faith that the system works, at least sometimes.

Reasons #4,509 and #4,510 why the media sucks

Two articles came to my attention this weekend, each trying to define Atlanta to the rest of the nation. I have a feeling I'm not going to like it...

First, Galloway points the way to a Washington Post op-ed by New York-born Spelman professor Jelani Cobb, titled The Atlanta Way. The piece is focused on Atlanta's role as the center for the black middle class in this country, and mentions some of the tension that comes with Atlanta's racial history and current succes. I have a few issues with the piece, most of which are better left to those more qualified to comment on black culture and politics than I am. Generally speaking, I think the column lacks a certain depth and understanding of Atlanta history and politics. I'll just mention this little historical inaccuracy:
Atlanta's roots run much deeper than ATL. Drive through the city today, and you encounter a maddening patchwork of street names that seem to change every two miles. Heading west, for instance, you can go from Dekalb Avenue to Decatur Street to Marietta Street to Perry Road without ever hitting your turn signal. The name changes are a holdover from the segregation era, a racial grid that indicated who was eligible to live where.
Perhaps Decatur and Marietta Street isn't the best example. Monroe/Boulevard, Glen Iris/Randolph, or Briarcliff/Moreland would have been much better examples. The basic point is correct, as all those streets that I mentioned DID have separate names to separate the races. But Decatur and Marietta were originally distinct street, with origins in how downtown Atlanta was originally laid out around a railroad track. It is the same reason that Peachtree south of Five Points was originally Whitehall Street. Because of the railroad tracks, the streets were actually different streets, all meeting at Five Points.

Marietta St. and Decatur St. each run parallel to different railroad lines, and meet at Five Points. I presume that Dekalb Avenue is named that because it ran from downtown Atlanta to Dekalb County. It is the same reason I could drive from Ann Arbor, MI to Saline, MI via Main Street, to Ann Arbor-Saline Road, to Ann Arbor Street without hitting a turn signal. Also, DeKalb Ave. was and is primarily an industrial corridor; I don't think the name change was due to concerns over housing boundaries.

I don't know the history of Perry Road, so I can't speak to it specifically.

Damn Yankees

Our second article is from the New York Sun, and mostly consists of New York transplants bitching that they can't find good pizza. I can't possibly fathom why people think New Yorkers are assholes:
New Yorkers may even take exception to the way Georgians speak. Their drawl, and expressions like "y'all" and "bless her heart," grate on some newcomers.

"If my kids have a Southern accent, I will kill myself," Brooklyn native Jodi Fleisig, an Atlanta resident since 1998, said. Ms. Fleisig said she tends to socialize with ex-New Yorkers, and finds inviting Southerners to lunch can be troublesome.

"Being Southern means you wait for someone to finish a sentence," she said. "We talk really fast. They can't get a word in edgewise."
So glad you came! Most folks I know that have moved to Atlanta stay because of the people. They really are nicer here. And I don't need to tell you guys this, but Atlanta is vastly more than what these New Yorkers tend to think:
Displaced Northerners must adjust to Southern accents, a slower lifestyle, restaurants that close early, a ban on Sunday liquor sales, and a reverence for "Gone With the Wind."
Restaurants that close early? Gone with the Wind? This isn't Mayberry, and we aren't hicks. Damn Yankees.*

*The use of the term Yankees on this blog will almost always be a slur. I use the term because it conotates a sterotype of Northerners and their arrogant view of Atlanta as some provincial backwoods. It has absolutely nothing to do with the civil war. Also, it is a slur because I'm still bitter about Jim Leyritz and the World Series.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Central Library update

I hate Saturday morning class. I hope I never again have to spend five hours every Saturday morning for a whole summer in class. This is not helping my addiction to Coca-Cola, which is probably the greatest thing ever invented. I downed 32 oz. of the real thing by 8 AM.

I just finished a test a bit early, so I have a few minutes to check to aggregator and update a few items. I am a bit late on this, but I have ranted quite a bit about Rob Pitt's proposal for a new central library downtown so I feel the need to keep track of what is happening. I missed this AJC report on the Fulton County Commission meeting a week and a half ago, because the headline was about the Buckhead Library. I just can't get very excited about that topic, mostly because Buckhead is not really a stomping ground for me.

Anyway, the AJC article isn't very informative. It says the issue is "unresolved". Luckily, I found AFPLWatch.com while digging through my referring sites report. They are tracking this, and also pointed me towards another blog focused on the Central Library issue. Central Branch Libary (aptly named, sir!) had this summary:
The push by Commissioner Robb Pitts ... is losing steam fast. As today, during the Commission meeting, there were signs of a cracking solidarity between board members. This was most notable when Commissioners Emma Darnell, Bill Edwards and John Eaves expressed their concerns about the inadequate planning and bloated budget put forth by Robb Pitts.
By the way, the Central Branch Library blog is run by "Max Eternity", who AFPLWatch noted spoke at the Commission meeting. Is that a real name? It is awesome, nonetheless.

The July 16th meeting of the Fulton County Commission, which is likely the last meeting to add a referendum to the November ballot, has been added to the calendar.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Weekend round-up

A few items today:
  • If you are following the Hapeville Ford redevelopment, the ABC has a good article. I wonder if this "aerotropolis"will be similar to AmericasMart - a huge economic boon for the metro area, but one that most local folks never have reason to go to. Jacoby plans retail for the site, so I could be very wrong. But with the site's value being so connected with the airport, I have a hard time seeing other folks going there.

    Incidentally, Terminal Station is the fourth result when you search Google for "Hapeville Ford redevelopment". Yay Google!

  • Ex-urban developments are going bust.

  • There is trouble brewing over three old buildings on Juniper Street. A church wants to demolish them, some neighbors want to save them. I don't think they should be replaced with parking lots, but I have a hard time getting amped up to save these buildings. On the surface, the only reason to save them is that they are old (1905). I'm sympathetic, but I bet if there was a good redevelopment plan in place I'd feel differently. Anyone care to convince me otherwise?
Have a good weekend!

Ceaser jumps in the mayor's race

This is a day or two old, but Ceasar (sic) Mitchell is running for mayor. He's a decent councilman, but I think he'll get lost in the pack. There are simply too many dynamic figures sucking up oxygen.

My thoughts on the race at present, subject to change: right now I think Lisa Borders has the inside position, and Kasim Reed will have the best machine. Mary Norwood could do surprisingly well - she is particularly attentive to the white middle class in-town demographic. If white females go for Norwood instead of Borders, Kasim wins. The business community will gravitate to Borders, and she will do well with the African American population. Kasim will do well with blacks, too, but will get more of the local activist Democratic Party types because of his work in the legislature. Kasim will do well with the business community, too, though. I don't think Clark Howard will run, but I have no idea what would happen if he did.

A note on my breakdown: obviously issues will be important, but race has been and will always be an important part of Atlanta politics. Atlanta is a very segregated city, both based on race and income, although that is changing a little bit. Issues differ greatly depending on where you live and how much you make, and these divisions often overlap with race. Aside from these observations, electoral politics is often about demographics - race, income, marital status, sexual orientation, etc. So to discuss the mayoral race, I'll need to bring these up.

I'll have another post where I tackle what issues I think will be important. I have not made up my mind at this point, and don't plan on making up my mind for quite some time.

GBA puts out RFQ for DOT building

I'm not sure the headline will make sense to everyone, but I couldn't resist. I'm a sucker for bad wordplay. Anyway, the the Georgia Building Authority has put out a Request for Qualifications to bid on tearing down and the old Department of Transportation building next to the State Capitol.
The demolition of the DOT building and the building of new parking deck are part of an effort to create a greenway eastward from the Capitol toward Oakland Cemetery and Grant Park. It would include putting the new parking deck underground and replacing it with a pedestrian-friendly greenway.
The plan for the "greenway" has been around a while. I think it came out of the Imagine Downtown plan that Central Atlanta Progress spearheaded. The only opposition I've heard to the greenway is when people realize it runs through Daddy D'z BBQ Joint. But man, they freak out when they realize that. Anyway, the Imagine Downtown plan didn't call for demolishing the DOT building, although it did call for razing the existing parking deck across the street.

Provided the parking deck does indeed get put underground, I think this should be a good project. The last thing we need right there is an above ground parking deck, though.

The DOCOMOMO folks will throw a hissy fit, of course. For me, the GDOT building falls into the same category as 615 Peachtree (the old Wachovia building on Peachtree and North Ave.), and the I.M. Pei building at Ponce and Piedmont. Just because it is "modern" does not mean that it is worth saving.

I haven't shed a tear over 615 Peachtree, even though it is currently an empty field. I prefer the empty field to the hideousness of that building. Yes, this is an entirely aesthetic arguement for that particular building. At the end of the day, I think most successful preservation turns on the attractiveness of the building. The DOT building doesn't offend me, but I'm not sure it is special enough to warrant saving. I wish there was a way to save the Constitution building, however, because it seems more historically significant. (It isn't all about aesthetics.)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

That's gotta sting

I typically want to stay away from partisan politics here. I think it is pretty obvious where I stand on most issues, but I want to discuss politics from a neutral or city-centric angle. I am concerned with what is best for the City of Atlanta. I am quite the political junkie, but I have tried to keep the partisan vitriol away from Terminal Station. So this post on national politics will be a bit of a rarity.

Has anyone noticed how toxic Jesse Jackson has become? Well, certain political orientations have always had a problem with Jesse, but this next item surprised even me.

Apparently he made some crude remarks about Barack Obama (""See, Barack's been talking down to black people ... I want to cut his nuts off."). Well, he apologized, but the remarks prompted this:
Jackson's son, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. of Illinois -- co-chair of Obama's presidential campaign -- publicly blasted his father's comments Wednesday.

"I'm deeply outraged and disappointed in Rev. Jackson's reckless statements about Sen. Barack Obama," the younger Jackson said. "His divisive and demeaning comments about the presumptive Democratic nominee -- and I believe the next president of the United States -- contradict his inspiring and courageous career."

Jackson Jr. added that he'll "always love" his father. But, he said, "I thoroughly reject and repudiate his ugly rhetoric."
That's his son! His son has to "rejects and repudiates"! And denounces, too, I'm sure. Ouch. Also, "Rev. Jackson"?

Population milestone

According to new census data, the population for the City of Atlanta has passed 500,000.
Atlanta added an estimated 20,623 people from 2006 to 2007, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released today. The city ranks seventh nationally for the total number of people added between July 2006 and July 2007.
We were pushing up on it last year, at 498,522 souls, and we blew past it on the way to 519,145 people in the city proper.

What the article doesn't mention is that the rate of growth is increasing, too. This is a bit harder to do when you are growing, since adding the same number of folks each year will result in a lower percentage increase. Basically, not only are we growing, but we are growing faster every year.

Another way to look at it is that for the previous 6 years, the City of Atlanta added an average of 12,984 people. Last year, we added 20,623 people.

Not too bad! You, too, can have fun with Census population estimate here. Warning, this probably means you are a dork. But hey, you are reading this blog, which means you are halfway there already!

*The population rate growth for the first year on my chart is a bit off, since it uses Census 2000 data as a starting point. It isn't really a full years data. So I'm a little lazy. You crunch the numbers in your free time when you should be sleeping!

Crum and Forster - the appearance of progress

Via Save 771 Spring St. comes the news that the Georgia Tech Foundation has retained architects Surber Barber Choate and Hertlein "to further study the potential rehabilitation of the building and the possibility of incorporating it into the Technology Square expansion."

I guess the public pressure has had some effect. SBCH is a good firm, and has a great history with historic preservation and adaptive re-use. I'm still not going to hold my breath that the GT Foundation will actually try to save the building, but if SBCH puts together a workable plan it will be that much harder for to demolish the building.

I also think that the GT Foundation should consult some developers who have done successful adaptive reuse projects to help with the numbers side. Architects are great for figuring out how to adapt the space, but the sticky issue is almost always about making the number work.

Hey, what a happy circumstance that John Aderhold, who redeveloped the Fulton Cotton Mill, is on their Board of Trustees! And so is the founder of Gay Construction, the company that did the construction for the Cotton Mill conversion.

UPDATE: I missed the AJC article in tomorrow's paper over the hullabaloo. My favorite tidbit:
The student newspaper, the Technique, ran an editorial cartoon that showed the building pleading, "Don't raze me, bro!"

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

BeltLine Update

There are several BeltLine related news items today, so I thought I'd just lump them all together.
  • The AJC reports on several properties with redevelopment plans in the works. Tishman Speyer, through its Archstone apartment company, will redevelop 903 Huff Road on the west side. Brand Properties has some plans for the Atlanta Dairies property on Memorial Ave.
    Plans for the dairy plant call for 345 residential units, 32,500 square feet of office space, 30,000 square feet of retail and 46,000 square feet for what the developers hope will be a grocery store.
    I don't know much about Brand Properties, although I am a little familiar with their Buford Village project. I don't think they are very big, and this looks to be their first in-town project. If they can pull it off, I don't have high expectations. I hope I'm wrong, of course. That area could use a grocery store, though, and could probably support one at this point. When I lived in Grant Park, I had to either drive down to the "new Kroger" at Confederate and Moreland or to the Kroger at Edgewood Retail. Neither was very convenient.

    Tishman Speyer and Archstone are probably a much better bet to a) actually build something; and b) build something decent. One of my favorite developments in town is 1016 Lofts, an Archstone owned property built by Wood Partners.

  • The AJC finally caught up to Thomas Wheatley and is reporting on the massive amount of money the ADA owes Wayne Mason. The article is also a good run-down of how difficult the BeltLine is, politically and financially, to pull off. I still think the timetable for the BeltLine is absurdly long - the sooner this thing happens, the better. Paging John Lewis and some federal earmarks!

  • There is a BeltLine quarterly update Thursday, July 10, from 6-8 p.m. at Atlanta Public Schools Auditorium, 130 Trinity Ave. I can't make it, but I am putting it on the calendar on the side bar.

    h/t IN The Loop.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

How's that working out for you?

I have long thought that the teeth-gnashing over how horrible Fulton County was to north Fulton residents was unfair. I'm not disputing that the Fulton County Commission is horribly dysfunctional - I've had to sit through commission meetings where everyone was bickering and all I wanted to do was pull my hair out. Everyone in the county has a right to complain about that elected body.

What I thought was unfair was the idea that the Commission was specifically trying to screw north Fulton residents. The Commission can't provide decent services to anybody, and north Fulton residents incorrectly thought that the Commission was just neglecting them. I also thought they had an unrealistic idea of what it costs to provide these services.

So I always believed that the north Fulton dream of better services with lower taxes was far-fetched. And, surprise, the new City of Milton seems to be having trouble paying for everything:
City leaders say they have only a fraction of the funds needed to maintain roads and lack money for parkland and other priorities. They say the city can't afford to build its own city hall.

"We face short- and long-term challenges," said City Manager Billy Beckett. "We have a lot of needs. I've had requests for sidewalks, but there's no money. I've had calls asking for intersection improvements, traffic signalization. None of that is cheap."
...

"There's no such thing as a free lunch," [City Councilman Alan] Tart said. "I'll do whatever the citizens want. But we can't spend more than we receive. Preliminary results of a survey show people want better services than they received from Fulton County, better infrastructure than they received from Fulton County, more attention than they received from Fulton County. But if you ask them if they're willing to pay more taxes, most said, 'No'."
Those advocating the City of Buckhead beware!

Having just blasted those new north Fulton cities, I will make this caveat. I generally support a community's right to self-governance, and north Fulton was no exception. It didn't really affect me, and a county isn't the right form of government for an urban area, anyway. If they were dissatisfied with the services provided by Fulton County, they had the right to try it for themselves. Have fun with that (and it looks like Milton is).

The real reason I don't like these new cities is that I would like to see metro area governments move toward consolidation, rather than creating more fiefdoms. I would love to see everything inside the perimeter get served by a single consolidated government. This is of course politically unrealistic for a myriad of reasons.

Monday, July 7, 2008

I kind of miss that ostrich-cart driving fool

Everyone knows that Ted Turner often says outlandish stuff - it's kind of his shtick these days since he's not much of a business man these days. Occasionally, he says something that makes you remember why CNN was great back in the day. I wish Ted were still in charge:
At today’s lunch, Turner was asked what he would do differently if he was still running CNN.

“I would make Lou Dobbs shut up,” Turner quickly responded. After he thought about it some more, Turner said: “They don’t run as much international news as I’d like.” He also said the news is “lighter” and more “frivolous.”

Turner did say he misses the sports scores on the ticker of Headline News. And then he acknowledged: “I’m an old fuddy duddy now.”
I agree 100% with Ted. Especially concerning the sports ticker. When I was younger, I always turned to CNN to see if the Braves had won. This was of course before the internets and their magical tubes. Nowadays, the only reason I turn on CNN is to catch "the best political team on television" do election nights.

Another reason I still like Ted - fond memories of TBS and the Atlanta Braves. You could always count on the Braves to be on TBS. Plenty of games are still televised, but there was something reassuring about knowing TBS would be covering the game. And who knows how many hours of Andy Griffith I watched waiting out rain delays. Also, I really miss having a home-town owner for the team. It's just not right. I'm guessing Ted wouldn't have let Skip Caray and Pete Van Wieren go. (/nostalgia. Who knew I liked 4th grade so much? Not me!)

One final reason to like Ted - I presume he is still a believer in downtown. I mean, the guy has a condo downtown, and the headquarters for Turner Enterprises is in the same building. His name is on the building, for crying out loud. He still owns a considerable chunk of land around Centennial Park, so here's hoping he doesn't sell it to the county for a library.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Students' impact on Atlanta - Emory

So it has been a while since I have contributed to the series of posts about how the various universities in Atlanta contribute to the urban environment of the city. My apologies. I decided to spend a rainy afternoon putting some thoughts on paper about Emory University.

Emory certainly has a huge impact on Atlanta generally simply by being a top-tier research university. It has a national talent pool of students to draw from, many of whom stay in Atlanta to work. It has a top notch business and medical schools, not to mention an phenomenal hospital. I myself spent countless hours at the old Ronald McDonald clinic for painful and in my opinion useless allergy shots. Emory has a huge economic impact on the city.

Emory's impact from the standpoint of the urban environment is fairly minimal. In contrast to the other schools I have profiled, GSU and GT, Emory has followed a suburban development model. More than even GT, Emory is insular in design. If you are unaware that it exists, it is not hard to drive down North Decatur or Clairmont and completely miss the school. (God forbid you get caught on Clifton during rush hour, though! Abandon all hope...)

While GT has historically been designed around an insular campus, I remarked earlier that the student population had a large effect on the neighborhood of Home Park. Emory again differs from Georgia Tech in that Emory doesn't seem to influence the neighborhood character all that much. A community of professors have long called Druid Hills home, and perhaps this has helped buoy and stabilize the area over the years, but most Druid Hills homes are too expensive for modest professor incomes. I think Druid Hills would do just fine without Emory.

Students who live off campus either blend into basement apartments nearby, chose to live in Decatur, or live in one of the numerous Post-type apartment complexes nearby. There isn't a focal point for student life off campus. Even Emory's off-campus housing expansion (pdf) is suburban and has zero impact on what little surrounding neighborhood exists.

You might think Emory Village would be that focal point, but the little stretch of retail on North Decatur has mostly limped along for the last few years. When I cooked pizza's at Everybody's, the village was a bit more hopping, but not a whole lot. There weren't many empty retail locations, though. Emory Village hasn't really thrived off the nearby student population like you would assume. Revitalization plans have stalled over debates about density.

The insular design of Emory means that most students have to have cars to really take advantage of everything Emory has to offer by virtue of being in Atlanta. From the friends I have talked to that went to Emory, I gather that students congregate in the various retail areas north and east of Emory - Original Pancake House by the Tara Theater, Loehman's Plaza at Briacliff and North Druid Hills, and the strip mall where Wuxtry Records and Choco-latte reside.

All of areas frequented by Emory students are suburban stip malls. When Emory students do frequent urban locations, the location is the draw for students. I think Moe's and Joe's was always a more popular drinking establishment than anything closer to campus, and I know students who have studied at Java Monkey in Decatur. These sorts of establishments really draw their base customers from other communitites, and Emory students and professors simply suppliment this base.

I don't think Emory's impact on the urban character of the city is negligable, but I do wish it were less insular. I also with Emory's expansions were better integrated into the urban fabric.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Sometimes demolition is the right choice

I obviously oppose demolishing historic buildings, and I also believe that most forgotten element of good neighborhood planning is not just mixed use but mixed age developments. However, I also think that there are many times when demolition is the right course of action.

The news that the AHA has received federal approval to tear down the last housing projects in the city is one of those times. It is worth quoting Renee Glover, CEO of the AHA:
"These approvals mean the end of the 73 years of housing projects in Atlanta. We have become the first major city in the nation to completely eradicate these areas of government-sponsored concentrated poverty, crime and low educational achievement."

Glover added that AHA remains focused on serving the housing needs of Atlanta's poorer citizens.

"In the 1930s, public housing was an amazingly far-sighted approach to the nation's critical shortage of housing," Glover said. "But in the 21st Century, a new approach is necessary -- one that integrates the families into the mainstream economy. Isolating poor families apart from the mainstream is wrong. The costs, financial, human, and social are staggering."
Obviously just tearing down the projects isn't itself a solution. We need better policies and programs to help displaced residents. But this is the start of improving lives for those who live there.

I'm more skeptical than I used to be about the positive impact of redistributing poverty across a metro region, but I still think that good urban planning and better Section 8 policies can go a long way to mitigating some of the negative externalities. At the end of the day, we have to get the level of poverty in the city as a whole down, and that means education and job training programs, as well as much better public schools.

I am bolstered by AHA studies do show that the majority of former project residences are happier in their new homes, although it is certainly valid to question to the biases of AHA studies on their own programs.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Why do the bad ideas seem to stick around?

Well, I knew I'd read something that would annoy me, and that I'd be back writing sooner rather than later.

The Fulton County Commission is voting on a bond issuance Wednesday concerning a $350 million library construction program. The issuance would be put on the November ballot as a referendum. Included in this $350 million price tag is $173 million for a new downtown library, not including the cost of land. I've mentioned before what I thought about Commissioner Pitts' idea for a new library at Centennial Park. This idea, in fact, was the inaugural post for the "Stupid Ideas" tag.

So, while we haven't had any substantive public discussion about the need for a new library, much less the idea of putting it at Centennial Park, lets go ahead and start channeling money to it:
Pitts suggested the a new downtown library as a last-minute addition to the program. The current building, a boxy, concrete structure with a foreboding, nearly windowless facade, was designed in the brutalist style by noted architect Marcel Breuer nearly 30 years ago.

"Until now, I had never really focused on how ugly that thing really is. If you walk around three sides, it's all concrete," Pitts said.

Pitts hopes it can be sold to offset the cost of the new 300,000-square-foot central library. A new central library would also allow library officials to subtract from this proposal the $34 million to renovate the downtown library already in the main program.
Who, exactly, is going to buy said ugly brutalist library? I personally have grown to like the library. Sure, I wish the original Carnegie Library were still there, and sure, its a copy of the Whitney Museum (by the same architect, no less). But I've grown accustomed to the place, and it is definitely architecturally significant.

The only buyer I could imagine wanting this building would be some sort of museum. But all the museum-type folks want a Centennial Park location, so you can probably forget that idea.

We tore down the Carnegie Library only 31 years ago to build the Central Library. Presumably it was important enough to destroy Atlanta's first public library. So it seems a bit of a travesty to abandon the new building so soon.

But Rob Pitts wants a legacy, and he doesn't like the architecture, so we need a new one taking up valuable real estate that probably has a different highest and best use for the city in the long term.

Also, I honestly think the library functions fine. I go down there on occasion when I need to check out old AJCs or for community events. They just renovated the plaza outside it, too. What a waste of money if we are just going to build a new one. And likely leave an empty building.

I haven't even tackled the idea of an unnecessary tax increase when the state is heading into a recession. I've tried to stay away from partisan politics on this blog, so I'll leave this to someone else to tackle. Needless to say, though, if this bond issuance includes money for a new downtown library, I'm voting against it.

(some links and images cribbed from a CL post)

Well that's embarrassing

Georgia State University's presidential search has failed. The article implies that the final candidate withdrew his name from consideration. That makes three of the three finalists who have withdrawn their own name.

So, what's going on? Is this a situation where folks are getting a peek under the hood and deciding they don't want to tackle the challenges, or is it just an odd convergence of personal situations that made the job a bad fit? Are we not paying enough?

This is the sort of story that Maria Saporta could call a few folks she has known forever and figure out what is going on. Y'know, actually report stuff, instead of just speculate. Like me.