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who forgot to call the city planner?
trading in sprawled-out suburbia for the real deal
by alicia coleman

Damn! 9:25! Missed the bus by about two minutes, which means another one isn’t due to arrive for at least, according to the schedule (though custom assures me the schedule is rarely, if ever, accurate) – damn! – 38 minutes. Thirty-eight minutes!? What kind of public transportation system is this? Where do I live? Some small rural town, the central square of which has since been replaced with a Dairy Queen run by kids from the one high school? A town where the folks don their best Tony Soprano-looking warm-up suits before auditioning for the annual town-commemorative play, directed by none other than the flamboyant “big shot” imported in from the city?

No. This is not the set from a Christopher Guest movie. This is Atlanta. Hotlanta. Land of the free-floating dot-com fledgling companies, home of the Braves and, well - not much else.

Before you native Atlantans (though you’re probably as few and far between as Hollywood-born babies) jump on my back and tout your city’s many attractions – including the Margaret Mitchell house and World Wide Theater – allow me to concede that, yes, this area teems with its fair share of music venues and bars. Not to mention restaurants and sports arenas. But, in all fairness, this is no city. Rather, it’s a sprawled-out suburbia, having at its center a loosely-defined downtown area from which veins, congested with bumper-to-bumper traffic, spiral outward and coil around to the outer skirts of Georgia, leaving you nowhere to escape to but – yikes! – Alabama.

That’s right, this is no city – this is a heart attack waiting to happen. And happen, it will. In a heavily-populated area where few people live in immediate proximity to their workplaces, urban developers have been called on to expand highways and improve public transportation, thereby facilitating commuters in safely traveling from their cookie-cutter style apartments along porn-ridden streets to their downtown, “one-of-twelve,” high-rise office buildings. Only they haven’t pulled through. And they won’t. Instead, construction companies keep building gated communities along two-lane roads, while the state refuses to expand highways and continues to overlook much-needed improvements to MARTA, the pathetic excuse for a metro. Wow. It’s no wonder Atlanta has been voted one of the worst cities in the States. Someone started building without first calling the city planner.

“So,” you born-and-raised Atlanta dwellers ask, “if you’re such an expert in the field, why don’t you create your own big city?” Glad you asked. Expert I’m not, but that never stopped me before. Following are the characteristics – some fictitious and others gleaned from my favorite northern towns – I would design my ideal metropolis around:

1. Efficient public transportation. Admittedly, improvement of a mass-transit system requires the use of hard-earned tax dollars. But so do schools, parks, and roads. Unlike certain welfare programs (which you may or may not approve of) or pork-barrel spending measures, transportation expenses are not unduly extravagant. Efficient metros, covering a wide expanse of both downtown and surrounding suburban areas, enable good little worker bees to clock in on time and, thus, put in their collective two cents.

2. A densely concentrated, and diverse, downtown area. I’m not talking over-concentrated Hong Kong. I’m thinking more along the lines of New York or, to a lesser extent, Washington, DC. Downtown sections with buildings one on top of the other hovering over Ethiopian restaurants and blues bars and photography galleries, not to mention swarms of different people, are the stuff that gets my blood going. Extend the pavement vertically and horizontally! Toss me into the maze! Toss me in with the other rats and some cheese, and let me get to work!

3. Wide variety of music venues. Montreal takes the cake for this category. Catering to fans of everything from Chicago blues to hip-hop to “angst-ridden, balls to the wall, metal-laden, post-grunge, pre-whatever hits Seattle next” tunes, this Canadian town offers something for everyone. Venues the size of stretched-out living rooms tarted up with velvet couches and dim lighting concealing the cigarette stains – where college professors and punk squeegie kids mingle over 12 year-old scotch and cheap brews, where the audience insouciantly taps its feet to Medeski, Martin, and Wood or Fugazi – keep the crowds rocked day in and out. Yes, the perfect town deserves intimate musical clubs. After all, how else will the individual become inspired unless she believes that Ben Harper is crooning in her ear, that Ani DiFranco is urging her to collect her closest friends and abandon her gun-loving nation to cross the northern border into – oh, right, she’s already there.

4. Laid-back bars. Few things make me angrier than Miami life. Drop the clubs with lines studded by leopard-clad, hip-hugger wearing, stilletto-sporting gals shivering for over half an hour outside in the cold before being beckoned inside to a warmer, yet empty, smoky joint charging $10 for martinis. Give me a bar where the kids are loud but respectful, where they buy you drinks but don’t “rate your rack” (which, incidentally, is the catch phrase at one Atlanta bar), where they serve you actual mickeys of liquor alongside bottles of coke. Give me Dan’s Cafe in Adams Morgan.

5. Capri-free zones! Speaking of fashion, pedal-pushers will be expressly prohibited in my town. Unlike Virginia, where one is EXILED for possession of illegal weaponry, chicks wearing clam-diggers will kindly be asked to leave. If you want to wear flood-anticipatory gear, move to a New England coast.

6. Lively zoos. With the exception of the groundhogs at the National Zoo in Washington, DC, few animals in zoos across the country continue to excitedly pace their cages with the ferocity of ritalin-deprived children. Maybe they’re being sedated by park officials. Maybe they’re tired of putting on performances for the same old tourists wearing “Our nation’s capitol!” t-shirts. Or, maybe their morale has plummeted due to an inactivity encouraged by catered dinners. In lieu of a subdued animal kingdom, the perfect city should have at its center a zoo housing sufficiently energized beasts. Cages segregating animals from each other, according to species, should be replaced with recreated individual ecosystems, where locale-specific monsters interact with those of their native jungle or plain. Knowledge – or instinct – that an animal must vie for its life daily, defend itself against predators and bring home its own bacon will, if not kill the animal, at least awaken it! Let the animal rights’ activists say what they will, creatures require a good old beast-on-beast battle to feel worth a damn. Besides, there’s something beautifully Hobbesian about creating a city around the true state of nature. Reminds us of our roots.

7. A “Compliment man.” Every good city needs one. One good city’s already got one. He who carries the burden of reminding folks on the street of just how beautiful, how sharply-dressed and how “fiiiine” they look in heeled snake-skin boots – all for the low fee of a couple of bucks – deserves an honorary spot in society, mine included.

So, there you have it. The bare bones of my perfect town. Throw in free roller coaster rides – providing the perfect jolting substitute for coffee – and bodegas selling beer 24-hours a day, and you’ve got my utopia. Now if only I could get there on time....


more about alicia coleman


you think you're so smart!
so maybe you should start acting the part
by alicia coleman
topic: general
published: 12.30.99

another plane story
cracking the code to a fun life from within the mile-high club
by alicia coleman
topic: general
published: 12.30.99


alicia coleman
4.1.01 @ 6:41p

author's note: "world wide theater" should read "whole world theater." W words mess me up. My bad.

juli mccarthy
4.1.01 @ 10:55p

Sounds to me like you really ought to think about moving to Chicago. We have all you are looking for (except for the compliment man), PLUS nine months of slush followed by three hot and blissful months of construction... oh, wait! We have a whole UNION of compliment men. Of course, they're prone to rating your rack, too.

alicia coleman
4.2.01 @ 2:08p

Good point, Juli. Weird how I appreciate a compliment when I have to pay for it but find it utterly offensive when offered for free, accompanied by cat calls. In all fairness, though, the Compliment Man in DC praised men and women alike ... and does away with the cat calls.

jael mchenry
4.2.01 @ 2:22p

Having spent Saturday night in Adams Morgan (although not at Dan's) and being frequently buoyed by the compliments of the Compliment Man. He tends to say good things about my shoes or my hair, or if I'm walking with a man of some sort, the his compliment to the man is to say good things about me.

DC is filled with catcalling construction/joyriding unfortunates, to be sure, but The Compliment Man is of a different sort. A better sort. Classier.

adam kraemer
5.14.01 @ 10:03a

I used to see a guy in Harvard Square who always held up a sign that said, "I'm not asking for money; I just like holding signs." I miss that guy.

michelle von euw
5.14.01 @ 11:30a

The guy who sells "Spare Change" near the Harvard Square T stop is definitely a good compliment man. I am not familiar with the "I'm not asking for money" sign guy, but that's too bad he's gone -- apparently, he's been replaced by these psuedo-punk 17-year-olds from the suburbs whose shoes cost more than my entire outfit asking for change.

adam kraemer
5.14.01 @ 12:06p

Yeah. I used to get really pissed at that. Or people begging for change who own a dog. That's just a mean thing to do to a dog. I've also been curious as to how that really obese woman in Harvard Square can afford to "keep" her figure when she's panhandling on a daily basis. It might be a glandular thing, but I would still imagine that it takes a lot of food to keep her so large.

jeremiah iacovelli
5.14.01 @ 7:19p

I think an ideal city would have moving sidewalks, nice people that give you money instead of ask for it, and streets made of old romance novels. I think also that a “compliment woman” would be nice. Gosh, I can’t remember the last time a strange woman said to me “Nice pants” in the subway. Maybe there’s something wrong with my pants.

alicia coleman
5.15.01 @ 1:10p

Hey, Jeremiah. Nice pants. That one's a freebie.

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