Since the late 1980’s retrofitting, in the usual top-down approach of its day, Underground Atlanta has laid relatively dormant. Despite, perhaps even because of, numerous contracts meant to revive it. Of these back-room deals, each was in search of a big idea. None involved the community in a meaningful way, and not one has resuscitated Underground Atlanta.
Yet today we are still being told about big ideas happening, yet again, behind the scenes.
“If it needs to be better, it needs a big idea. It’s got to be a big idea. And we know it. But big ideas take a long time to happen.”
– Dan O’Leary, December 31, 2012.
Three words to save Underground Atlanta: Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper. Here’s how.
- Open Lower Alabama Street to Two-way Vehicular Traffic
- Encourage Pedestrian Traffic from the Plaza Directly Into Five Points MARTA Station
- Establish a Weekly Farmers Market
- Put GA History or other State Museum Here
- Improve Programming
With the exception of a museum, each idea here seems relatively inexpensive and is certainly not a “big idea.”
Open Alabama Street to Cars
The businesses along Lower Alabama Street have suffocated for long enough. Give them a fighting chance! Adding vehicular traffic, the right way (slow speed, human scale traffic), could also improve the walkablilty of this section by adding more people to the street. There may even be room for some on street parking which would help the businesses even more and calm traffic.
Encourage Pedestrian Traffic Across Peachtree
Let’s use Underground Atlanta for as much as we can. Making it an easy route to get to and from Five Points MARTA Station is one use we shouldn’t forget. At current the cross walks are way off to either side of the station and planters actually block access to the curb. If you’ve ever walked through underground Atlanta on a brisk morning, it’s delightful. Encouraging such walks would be a great use of our cities most famous asset.
Establish a Weekly Farmers Market
Underground Atlanta sits at the center of a food desert. It’s also one of the easiest places to get to by train thus making it a natural choice for a farmers market.
Put State Museum Here
Theres been a lot of talk about investing in various museums. And since many tourists are befuddled at Underground Atlanta’s disparity, why not throw them a bone and give them something to look at? A museum could also serve as a much needed anchor for the lower level businesses.
There absolutely needs to be some better programming here. How about a yoga class, a Beach Pop-Up like they did in Detroit or Decatur, Resume Workshop, Career Fair, an Art Market, … need I go on?
Anybody with an ounce of creativity could go on. That’s why it kills me when the AJC writes that,
O’Leary remains characteristically cheerful, vowing that the next attempt to resuscitate Underground won’t involve minor tweaks but rather broad brushstrokes.
“It’s not easy but we haven’t given up,” he said. “We may be at a point where people are discouraged, but they can’t accuse us of not trying.”
It is absolutely for lack of trying! Or misguided trying. The fact is all of O’Leary’s ideas involve multi-million dollar build-outs. But why should we trust this man to build out anything in an urban context? Take a look at some of O’Leary’s other properties like the great Briarcliff Mall, or the North Dekalb Mall. These depressing suburban-nowhere-lands sadly resemble Underground Atlanta, but they shouldn’t.
So how long does a big idea take Mr. O’Leary? Because since the late 1990’s there hasn’t been much change. Only since spending millions in the 80’s we’re hearing that we need to spend millions more in the 2010’s. And families are now suing Underground for neglect. Meanwhile, O’Leary and company are sitting idly by calling Underground a “diamond in the rough.” No, Underground is the rough! And I won’t bore you by citing the multitude of projects opening all over Downtown this year.
If we really want a big idea to save Underground Atlanta let’s try these two,
- Fire Dan O’Leary / Free Underground Atlanta (88 years is such a long, long, long time; O’Leary has 88 year lease on Underground)
- Establish Underground Atlanta Non-Profit Corporation to Run, Maintain, and Sustain Underground Atlanta. (Like they did in Detroit’s Eastern Market)
Underground Atlanta belongs to the people of Atlanta. And I think they ought to have it back.
Disclaimer: These ideas are completely my own and have been posted without permission from anybody.