Category: Reflections

An Urbanist Walks Into a Bar…

“Has anyone ever told you that you look like Jane Jacobs?”

This is probably the first and last time anyone has used that line to greet a stranger in a bar. But today, during my break from gathering data at the train station in East Point, Georgia, it was an exceptionally adequate greeting.

My new friend, Michelle, is a regular at Chairs Upstairs, a local bar on Main Street. In her fifty something years of life, most of which she’s lived in East Point, she’s witnessed the town gradually change to become the place it is today.

Jane Jacobs, the mother of the Public Life study. Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Bike Fed:

East Point is a working class town roughly 9 miles south of Downtown Atlanta.1 Its dense downtown contains several locally owned businesses, a post office, a CVS pharmacy, and a Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) train station. The train station has been my focus for the last two weeks while I’ve collected data about pedestrian movement and stationary activities and watching and listening closely. Very often, I am the only white person at the station.2

Meeting Michelle tonight was so special, because while I’ve been in East Point, I’ve felt very much like an outsider. We chatted about her favorite karaoke music to sing (“Fire and Rain” by James Taylor), how East Point has changed since the MARTA station was built, and the trials and tribulations of living without a car, which she’s done for ten years. She recounted being mugged while walking to the bar from Chick-Fil-A, what it was like growing up in the South during integration3 and our mutual frustration with MARTA’s lackluster level of service. Though she was a perfect stranger, I think our conversation was one of the most meaningful and personal I’ve had since leaving Chapel Hill in May.

I am glad there are perfect strangers in the world like Michelle. They have stories to tell. Just listen.


Atlanta is Thriving

Atlanta is a city at center stage in a defining moment in its history. Will it continue to be defined by its sprawled metropolitan form, or be known instead as a poster child for sustainable infill urbanization?

Today was an indication that the latter vision is alive and well among the citizens of this city and region. Atlanta Streets Alive, an initiative spearheaded by the city’s Bicycle Coalition, closed 4 miles of Marietta Street and Howell Mill Road to car traffic. The result was a festive day of cycling, human scale street activity, and a series of inspiring talks with a central theme of the role of community among Atlanta’s cyclists. I was very glad that I happened to move to Atlanta for a two week stay on the day of Atlanta Street Alive. It was a resounding celebration of public space.

Below are some assorted photos and videos of the event.

eyes on the street
street seats hosted by Atlanta’s Planning Department
details of a pop up pit stop

Puddles and Connectedness

Yesterday was my first day in Charlotte, one city I’ll be studying this summer for my research project. To get acclimated to the city, I decided to go for a run. I left the Airbnb, a beautiful cottage built in the earlier 20th century when this neighborhood was a mill village. The run was refreshing, and helped me to gain my bearings in this new place. I braved the pouring rain, bringing my smartphone in case I got lost.

About halfway through my run, I passed a man wearing jeans and a polo shirt.

“Can I run with you?” he called out to me. At first, I thought he was joking, but soon enough he was matching me stride for stride.

My new companion was on a mission to pick up gas station beer for his friends. Just as I was telling him I didn’t know where the nearest gas station was, that despite my neighborhood running garb I didn’t know what street we were on, *SPLASH*. My knees scraped across the semi-paved gap next to the train tracks. I had managed to take a nice bath in Charlotte’s largest sidewalk puddle.

Though my pride was damaged, I trudged on, reaching home about twenty minutes later. Foolishly, I immediately plugged in my phone after drying it with a towel. I was perplexed when it didn’t immediately begin to charge. An hour later, coming to the frustrating realization that it had something to do with the train track puddle bath, I googled “iPhone water damage”.

The most important thing people forget is to not use the device when it gets wet. They get impatient and try and turn it on.


Right now, my phone is sitting in a rice bowl, and I’m praying the last 8 months of photos, videos, and audio recordings I’ve made are not lost forever (yeah, I haven’t backed up the data on my computer since September). But if nothing else comes of this silly accident, I hope I can at least observe this city with a more interesting perspective given my lack of access to ubiquitous information, geographic and otherwise. Perhaps, as my girlfriend wisely imparted when I explained what happened.

“Maybe you’ll gain a unique perspective on the urban form, without all the noise.”