If you don’t appreciate what you have in Marietta, visit my hometown of East Point, south of Atlanta. It is a ghost town, full of empty buildings, vacant lots and airplane noise; a city with no soul. It hasn’t always been like that. Growing up, my mother and I would walk to the grocery store, the dry cleaners, and the local ice cream emporium and maybe even take in a movie at one of the three theaters in town. We walked because it was usually difficult to find a parking place, especially on the weekends. Today, it would be hard to even locate where the buildings had been located. Most of East Point looks as though it has been bulldozed and no one seems to have an idea of what should be done with the ground that is left.
Someone told me years ago that this would happen to East Point (and College Park and Hapeville) because none of them had a town square. As I recall the story, a square such as Marietta’s tends to congregate people, whereas a highway gives them a pass-through. When people have a town square, there is communications, familiarity, a sense of community. Without it, the residents can simply move away from the problems and on to another place.
I don’t remember who shared with me the theory of the importance of the town square, but I tend to believe it. Drop in on Marietta’s town square on a weekend and see the people sitting on park benches deep in conversation, strolling with the kids or in and out of the nearby restaurants. You can go through East Point and – assuming the traffic lights cooperate – never slow down until you reach the city limits.
Maybe it is the square; maybe it’s not. All I know is that Marietta has a heartbeat and East Point does not. What else might it be?