Category Archives: Downtown Development

Fan-taz-mic

In the book Eat Pray Love, the author says that every city has a word that describes it.  For her, Rome’s word was sex (because of the sexy people, sexy clothes, sexy art, Venice, passion, etc, etc.). I agree that places and people can be summed up in one word.

When I first came to Atlanta, I would have said that Atlanta’s word is glamour.  Atlanta and its people seem to thrive on the new, the shiny, the glitzy. Atlanta is a town that seems in a constant state of renewal. It tears itself down, and rebuilds itself into the newest thing.  I often walk through the halls of Atlanta malls and feel underdressed because so many people dress like they are on their way to a music video set or a night club or a movie premiere. Designer clothes, fancy shoes, well-coifed hair; Atlantans are beautiful.

Now having lived in Atlanta for a year now, I’ve adjusted my word for Atlanta. Don’t get me wrong, I still think that Atlanta and its inhabitants are glamorous, but I know it is more than that.  Atlanta is more than glamour.  Atlanta is about style. Atlanta is trendy in a lot of ways, chasing the newest hip “it” thing, but I’ve never known a group of people better able to transform normal shirts, skirts, dresses and pants into a fashion statement.  The city oozes artistic creativity and its people believe in expressing their personal creative style. Sometimes that means sequins and heels.  Other times that means afros, sun dresses, and colorful tattoos. Or locs, ripped jeans and chains. Or bald heads, pencil skirts and ruffles. Either way, it looks so cool!

While creativity, at times, starts with a blank canvas when it comes to clothes, you have to buy them somewhere. How hard would it be to express your personal style while wearing clothes that are sold in chains like NY and Company, Macys, Aeropostale, H&M or Charlotte Russe? Pretty hard. That’s why Atlanta’s uber fabulous boutiques, regional chains, (and those who write about Atlanta style) and online marketplaces are so important.  So when I saw my old college friend posting her unique handmade clothes and accessories on Etsy and Facebook, I wholeheartedly approved. Here’s to finding more ways to express my own Atlanta style.

Community Takes All Kinds

I had lunch last week with a friend from high school. He also works for state government, in a building a block from my building.  We decided to meet on the corner and walk to a nearby deli.  On the way to the deli, we were approached no less than 3 times by homeless men asking for money or food.  My friend is a pretty big guy, so I let him do the talking. He politely told them all, no sir, we didn’t have any money.  The men would shuffle off, returning to sit under the trees that line some of the downtown streets.

I, of course, felt guilty because I didn’t bring my Doritos.

The first thing I noticed when we entered the deli was the sign on the door that said “No Begging.”  I should have taken a picture, but I didn’t think of it at the time.

We ordered and sat in a booth by the window.  Outside the deli, I could see a small group of homeless men. I’m sure they were asking incoming deli customers for money for food because most people either breezed by them without stopping or stopped momentarily before continuing on their way. Every so often, I would see someone bring in one or two of the homeless men in  and order them food. I also saw people order food and take it outside to them.

It was nice to see generosity in action.

My friend and I had a lot to talk about.  We were heavily engrossed in our conversation when a man approached us and asked us for money for food. My friend was very polite the first few times it happened. By the fourth time, he just shooed them away.

I sat there numbly eating my fried cheese. I was frustrated because I wanted to be left alone to enjoy my lunch with my friend.  I was frustrated because, despite the sign on the door, none of the deli employees seemed bothered by the homeless people begging inside the store.  I’m sure it was an everyday occurrence for them.

By the time lunch was over, all I could think about was how  confused I felt. I felt bad because the homeless people ruined my lunch. I felt bad because of the number of homeless people wandering in and out of that restaurant. I felt bad because I couldn’t help them all. I felt bad because I realized that the few things that I do for the homeless are a drop in the bucket when compared to the need.

I should have given myself a break.  The nature of community isn’t that some of us do all the work. It is that ALL of us do some of the work.  For some that means participating in the community garden, hosting a block party or having a friendly conversation with your new neighbors. For others it means picking up the trash off the sidewalk, buying lunch for a homeless person or volunteering at your neighborhood community center.

Big or small, we each have a part to play and a need to fill. Our communities need all of us to be involved. The good thing about community is that there is room for all of us.

Redwood City Events: Downtown Done Right

On a recent trip to the San Francisco Bay Area, I had the opportunity to visit Redwood City for the first time. In the past, I’ve seldom ventured outside of San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose.  Let me tell you, my visit to Downtown Redwood City on Friday night was a pleasant surprise.

The experience:

My friend invited me to Redwood City’s Music in the Square Concert Series.  Based on some of the neighborhoods I drove through or glimpsed from the BART train, I expected to see a slightly run down town, trying to revitalize itself.  As I neared downtown Redwood City, I realized how wrong I was.

My friend and I parked on a street near the square; we didn’t even have to pay the meter because it was after 6pm. We walked around the corner into the town square, and whoa.  Hundreds of people (singles, marrieds, families); all gathered in the square on lawn chairs, at picnic tables, on blankets. I even saw a few people sitting in a fountain.  Luckily, my friend had some folks save us good seats.  According to them, an hour before the evening’s event was to start, all the seats were taken. As it was, we were about 20 minutes early and it was standing room (or sit on the ground) only.

I was surprised and delighted.  Before my eyes: A downtown strategy that is actually successful at bringing people downtown.

Redwood City

For FREE, Redwood City offers Friday night music.  And according to Redwood City’s downtown representative, Friday nights aren’t the only night that downtown pops . From my vantage point on the square I could see two theatres and several restaurants and other attractions that I’m sure pull folks into the downtown area afterhours.

Redwood City’s downtown is very nice.  Their downtown event series is one of the best I’ve seen for any city, but specifically for a city of their size. I do have a few suggestions.

1 Count Attendees. I love that Redwood City’s events are free, but I still think they should have manned entrances.  This way they would be able to count the people who attend. Give everyone wrist bands or have a turnstile.

2 Limit outside food and beverages. We were able to freely bring alcohol and outside food into the square.  That’s right. We didn’t even have to buy food at one of Redwood City’s downtown restaurants. We stopped at a corner store and bought chips, candy and wine coolers.  Our friends also brought cheese, wine, and berries to enjoy during the music.   And we weren’t the only ones on the square that night with coolers of food, as I surveyed the square almost everyone brought food from home.

3 Make sure that downtown businesses get exposure. One reason for downtown events is to promote downtown businesses.  At some point in the evening draw attention to downtown attractions.  Just because folks come downtown for music, doesn’t mean that they’ll stick around t o eat, drink and buy stuff. Make sure they know what is available downtown.

Redwood City’s Music on the Square was one of the highlights of my last Bay Area trip. I hope the residents know what a treasure they have there. Based on the crowd on Friday…. they know.


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