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Little Five Points' Scruffiness: Community's Charm or Shame?

One longtime Inman Park resident asks why Atlanta's hipster 'hood can't keep its vibe and shed some of its shabbiness?

Editor's note: Bob Eberwein, a longtime Inman Park resident, posed a question to his fellow neighbors on the neighborhood listserv regarding Little Five Points and its worn and rough-around-the-edges look. Namely, he asked if it could retain its hipster appeal while cleaning itself up aesthetically? Mr. Eberwein shared his piece with the greater East Atlanta Patch community.

I would like to open up a serious conversation about Little Five Points.

There are many things I can like about it: whimsical building colors, murals that are (sorta) meaningful or artful, a neat skull, fanciful clothing. I can appreciate funky. I don't mind weird people much (being one myself). I fill some business needs there.

But why must the place be so scruffy? I have a feeling that some of the local merchants may operate on a "we live lofty existentialist lives and disdain bourgeois values like neatness."

The streets are lined largely with busted up trees or stumps, surrounded by broken or no grates, knee-high weeds, beaten earth where the weeds aren't, trash, tattered flyers on poles that sport what must be millions of rusted staples, tape strips dangling, crumbly curbs, the ubiquitous and noisome graffiti.  Some stretches are appalling. There are occasional efforts at manicure such as the row of plant urns on Gregory Davis Plaza and Junkman's Daughter's desperate effort to make a couple planters work (thank you for trying!), but generally it's a mess.

I have lived in Inman Park for 38 years, and L5P has improved in no significant way in that time, as have all the surrounding neighborhoods. I don't really consider it "my neighborhood commercial district." I have to forewarn any out-of-town guests what they will find there because, frankly, I am ashamed of it. I have long stopped being ashamed of anything else in this part of the city.

I realize any large city has at least one quarter devoted to the dis-(under)-established and rogue ragamuffins (my favorite - the sock man, who deserves kudos for persistence and consistency). I also realize I am immediately placing myself in somebody's "snob" category. (Go live in Va-Hi if you don't like the local color!). Well, piffle to that!

I understand there is a L5P Business Association (I think) that, other than sponsoring a well-received Halloween parade, does nothing serious that I know of on the matter of making L5P inviting and pleasant. I also imagine there are many L5P property owners who enjoy significant incomes from the overall mess which somehow demands and gets high rents. I'm guessing they live well elsewhere.

In truly worthwhile commercial districts there is a pride in offering pleasing surroundings (yes, VA-HI). In L5P it appears there is pride in offering grubbiness.

I AM NOT SUGGESTING that we must get rid of the counter-culture, which frankly thrives on this sort of disorder. But they live the "broken window" syndrome. "If it's trashy, it doesn't matter if I trash it some more."  We might be surprised at improved behavior if they found themselves in a prideful civically respectable district. I AM SUGGESTING that the business association, the property owners, and the merchants, have failed themselves and us, who live adjacent, in being responsible neighbors and creating a squalor-free milieu in our midst. We are reasonably prosperous kempt communities 'round about L5P, yet that business district spurns our presence and our ethic in the manner of appearance.

Most locals take the attitude, "Oh, you know Little Five Points. It is what it is. It may be a carbuncle, but it's our carbuncle!" We're used to it, which is part of the problem.

We have tiptoed around this spectacle for decades, afraid to offend or of being accused of "class-consciousness."  That doesn't wash any more. It's time to say, "the emperor wears no clothes."  L5P needs to reorganize and upgrade its brains.

So what do you think? Am I rocking the boat? Should I just sit down and shut up?

Mr. Eberwein is a 38-year resident of Inman Park.

Chris Murphy September 11, 2012 at 10:40 AM
If you've lived in IP for 38 years and you say that you believe, "L5P has improved in no significant way in that time," then either you have an incredibly bad memory or need some extremely strong prescription eyeglasses. You might go to a neighborhood meeting and ask who the property owners are. You would obviously be surprised to learn that there is one main owner. Get on his case, we'd all appreciate it, lessees included.
Kirkwood Resident September 11, 2012 at 11:27 AM
I like l5p the way it is from a building and people perspective. The stuff you mentioned such as sidewalks, telephone poles, grass on paths, etc. sound more like a city issue since they are on oubliette right of way. To me there are large swaths of Vahi that have looked awful for years. The empty abandoned starbucks/theatre, the ugly rundown parking lot that was going to be a development but died, the overgrown soon to be park for the past 6 years on highland ave, etc.the other area by Virginia and highland ave Intersection had substantial public money dumped into it to make it look nice. I bet the local l5p businesses would love if you drummed up the public funds to redo the sidewalks and small park there. When I bring people to Atlanta one of the areas I take them to is l5p to show them Atlanta is not some homogenous southern glop.could the public stuff be cleaned up, yes. Should the private properties change their funky appearances, no, not in my opinion.
johnk September 11, 2012 at 01:17 PM
Thanks for the getting this conversation started. I agree L5P could be improved in many way, while still maintaining it's charming "weirdness." Top of my list, why should we tolerate quasi homeless people dominating the plaza? I think panhandling should be made illegal in L5P, and it should be aggressively enforced. Also, must the outreach organizations choose such a highly visible location to serve food to the needy? Can't this be done a little more out of the way? Don't want to sound heartless but I think it's just common sense that the centerpiece of the district (the plaza) shouldn't be a homeless hangout. My $.02.
Kate September 11, 2012 at 01:23 PM
Mr. Eberwein - I agree with you. Hipsterish counter-culture and price of place are not mutually exclusive. Making an effort to keep the place clean and attractive does nothing to detract from the overall vibe. Just look at NYC's East Village; somehow they manage to do hip / cool / edgy / fun while still keeping things clean and pleasant. There's no reason L5P can't do the same.
Kate September 11, 2012 at 01:24 PM
Er, that should read "pride of place."
Mark Tinker September 11, 2012 at 02:14 PM
As long as you have to pay to park on the weekends, I'll take EAV just fine, thanks. Not much there to see after a time or two IMHO.
Sophist September 12, 2012 at 05:13 AM
"I have to forewarn any out-of-town guests what they will find there because, frankly, I am ashamed of it." It sounds like you host the kind of guests that would belittle your neighborhood and maybe even your home because it doesn't meet their preconceived ideal. Nobody comes into my house and pushes me around.
Sam September 12, 2012 at 02:21 PM
@JohnK... 100% agree with you. These people that come in every Sunday from OTP to feed the Hobos in Findley Plaza seriously need to stop. It is only encouraging the bums to take over. Here a suggestion to the guy that brings Hawaiian Punch and Sandwiches every weekend: How about having the bums come to you, don't turn our public plaza into a Soup Kitchen. (some of these people need more help than just you reading a bible verse) Isn't there no vending and no loitering signs there? I walk through Findley Plaza almost everyday and see the same people getting hammered in the park, and asking for money as the police just cruise right by. These are also the folks that leave trash everywhere. There is also not a single public garbage can on Euclid Avenue, South of Findley Plaza, no wonder the streets are covered in trash. Don't get me wrong here people, I Love L5P, and in my opinion I don't think any of the business there need to change, and I love seeing eclectic, and fun people CONTRIBUTE to the neighborhood. But I don't think L5P should let the homeless dominate the neighborhood.
Darin September 12, 2012 at 07:32 PM
This is a good topic. When I was a teen in the 1980s, L5P was the coolest place I knew of in the city and I would hang out for hours. As I got older, the scruffiness did start to bother me a little and, at this point, I rarely go to any place on Euclid Avenue. That's mostly because of the poor sidewalks (why does an otherwise pedestrian-friendly place have such narrow sidewalks?) and litter. And that sucks because I love The Porter, Criminal and Stephan's. But the cool thing now is that, for hanging out near Inman Park, there's the option of going to that Inman Village area at Elizabeth and Highland instead. That's become a regular spot for me, mostly because of Victory Sandwich Bar. It works out -- if I'm up for putting up with the grit of L5P, I can do so. But if not, there's another option nearby.
bartender September 13, 2012 at 04:42 AM
As someone who has lived and worked in Little 5 for over 20 years, I think the businesses are doing the best they can given the circumstances. We have lots of tourists who think the laws and rules don't apply there. We have many street people who prey on them in their search for drugs. We also have a number of transient railroad hoppers who trash the neighborhood. Try putting something nice outside of any business and see what happens to it. More street lights would help the area. Aggressive clearing of Finley Plaza after hours would help. It would also help if the city took some responsibility to keep up their end of the deal.
johnk September 13, 2012 at 06:56 PM
Sounds like we have the makings of a consensus to at least try to clean up the plaza from transients and panhandlers... how do we make this happen? Where do we start?
Sam September 13, 2012 at 07:56 PM
Its a shame you can't even sit outside at the porter anymore. are we really going to let these hobos rule the neighborhood. I personally am thinking about going up to Findley plaza this Sunday and telling the old guy who runs the outreach feeding program to take it elsewhere.
Deadhead September 13, 2012 at 10:34 PM
Ugh, I find most of these comments troubling. Does every block in America have to conform to the values of the middle class?

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