The Drama of Urban Design

Inside the pristine City Hall elected officials, board members, community leaders, and concerned residents passionately engage with each other, turning droll meetings into surprisingly lively and sometimes contentious discussions. On June 14th, the Urban Design Commission Office of Design heard numerous requests from Doug Young, Assistant Director of Historic Preservation, for several locations throughout Atlanta to be marked for protection as historical landmarks. Protection of these buildings is of vital importance, especially for Atlanta. Alongside the recent surge in economic growth, we have seen increased desire for new construction to take place of historic buildings. Therefore, preservation of the city’s historic buildings is essential to maintaining its identity.

The process was very straightforward: Mr. Young would spend no more than ten minutes describing the location and emphasizing its historical, cultural, or architectural importance. Individuals in the public would then have an opportunity to speak in support of Mr. Young’s request. For example, CCI’s own Kyle Kessler stepped forward to explain the historical importance of one particular building with regards to its ties to the film industry in Atlanta during the 20th century. After these ten minutes, anyone is given the opportunity to express why these locations should not be marked for protection (again, allotted ten minutes of time).

Though the meeting procedure was simple, the dialogue was not. There were dozens of people at the meeting who had vested interests in one property or other; they were lawyers, city employees, and neighborhood residents. Even I, an intern who was unaware of what was on the agenda, found myself eagerly listening to the discussion. Civic engagement is truly contagious, especially when residents are given the time and space to express themselves. City Hall meetings like these do an excellent job of making sure the citizens are heard, and ensure that the history of Atlanta will persevere.