A piece over at Salon examines the pitfalls of overly planned, inorganic real estate development, an issue that Atlanta knows all too well. Whether it’s Underground Atlanta, Atlantic Station, Lindbergh City Center, or perhaps even the upcoming Buckhead Atlanta, people sense that something’s “off” when the urban experience is a little too programmed. Of course, we’re not alone in this dilemma. Dallas’ Arts District and Kansas City’s Power & Lights District are offered up as two more instances where the mark has been missed as far as creating lovable places. The former, while at times aesthetically stunning, is often creepily empty; the latter is a chain-filled selection of “personal consumption experiences.” It’s no surprise that economics play a large part in the blandness of new mega-developments, given that chain shops and restaurants are typically the ones most able to afford the higher rents.
The private property laws of such places also tend to extinguish any chance of spontaneity; for example, Atlantic Station’s code of conduct contains a line that prohibits demonstrations and taking photos on the property. The author’s words of hope seem straight out of a Jane Jacobs piece: cities should take a minimal approach to building regulation; smaller, older buildings are the best incubators for unique businesses; and areas of benign neglect often hold the best hope for becoming truly exciting places. When you think of Atlanta's greatest hits/places that are developing into such (Edgewood Avenue, East Atlanta Village, North Highland Avenue, etc.), it seems like a reasonable argument.