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Here Now, Big-Picture Takeaways From ATL Urbanism Chat

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At last month's Creative Mornings Atlanta, Aaron Fortner, city planner and co-founder of urban design firm Market + Main, gave a 20-minute talk on what makes for truly great and livable cities. Short but sweet, the monthly breakfast lecture series installment was part resource and part call-to-action for Atlanta's most active city dwellers. The early-morning event, held at the High Museum, packed in a 50/50 mix of alums and newbies, many of whom wore name tags boasting their respective neighborhoods while munching on "ATL" shaped donuts. Word is that tickets sold out in under three minutes. So if you didn't snag yours, here's a full recap.

(1) Urbanism = People + Community.

Fortner kicked off his talk by delivering the bare-bones definition of "urbanism" — more sociological than academic. In his experience of building communities and bringing together neighborhoods (Market + Main has developed Edgewood's Master Plan and Suwanee's 2020 Vision) he says living, breathing city centers are the most telling indicators of a "great" urban landscape.

Note: In case you were wondering, there were Keith Urban slides to prove that he does not, in fact, embody urbanism.

(2) Great cities are built around life.

Whether it's walkability, accessibility or bike-ability, the best cities are built around the natural heartbeat of daily living. Instead of plunking down concrete high-rises or extending the sprawl, Fortner encouraged developers to immerse themselves in the communities where they build. How? By observing how people walk to work, access fresh food or socialize on any given weekday — and plan accordingly.

(3) Great stories are how we know there's life inside our cities.

Perhaps the most climactic — and Tweeted — line of Fortner's talk was this one: "Cities are the greatest form of storytelling; you get to carry on someone else's story when you live in one." Pretty profound, huh? Whether it's decades-old architecture or unique threads of local fiber (a la King of Pops), great cities give opportunities to keep oral history alive through local customs.

After all, what would Atlanta be without its Clermont Lounge or Baton Bob?

(4) Great cities connect people.

Great cities, in Fortner's opinion and experience, exist to help people serve and thrive alongside one another. A local example? The Free Little Library, as seen in Atlanta's various neighborhoods, like Decatur and East Lake. Where there are chance encounters for delight, there's a culture of service and serendipity.

(5) Great cities preserve the past.

As famed urbanist Jane Jacobs once noted, "New ideas need old buildings." Fortner's talk pointed to New York City's High Line, and of course, the burgeoning Beltline project. To Fortner, breeding old spirits with new blood is a meaningful way for urban designers to pay homage to the original bricks laid by planners past.

(6) Great cities tell the truth.

"Great cities tell true, compelling stories that invite you to explore their character," Fortner said. "The dumpy apartment complex signs you see in the suburbs— in actuality — are not the 'Village Square' or 'Town Center.'" He went on to solidify his point with photos of fake shutters and comical artist renderings drawn to ridiculous scale distributed by tourism organizations and local chambers of commerce. Bottom line: Great cities inform outsiders with accurate representations of their buildings and social centers.

(7) Great cities tell stories about justice.

To Fortner, the best cites in the world redeem people by offering hope. In his talk, he mentioned Plywood People, an organization that brings impoverished farm workers from neighboring towns to Atlanta's metro area in order to make sustainable goods like bags made of billboards. Where cities can offer hope — a new job or a new home — they can also help neighbors within champion good causes together.

— By Curbed Atlanta contributor Amanda Serfozo

· The lowdown [Creative Mornings]