Nathan Logan, ASLA, PLA, SMALLWOOD
In 2012, the City of Alpharetta, Georgia, embarked on a journey that would transform the city for generations. Alpharetta is a suburb of Atlanta with an estimated population of around 65,000. The city had long been a popular destination for young families moving out of the Atlanta area and for a growing technology business sector but like many suburban communities, Alpharetta lacked a true identity and a place where the community could connect. Mayor David Belle Isle, the City Council, David M. Schwarz Architects, and SMALLWOOD set out on a master planning effort that could change the image of the
city and produce a "place" for everyone to
Alpharetta has always prided itself on being a "Tree City" as recognized by the Arbor Day Foundation and felt that it was important that their new city center incorporate a substantial amount of green space as part of their new identity. SMALLWOOD was tasked with designing and developing a five-acre city park, a one-acre town square, a pocket park in between the new city hall and new county library and a tree-lined streetscape to connect the new downtown to neighboring sites.
William "Holly" Whyte, an American urbanist and self-proclaimed people watcher, once stated "It's hard to design a space that will not attract people. What is remarkable is how often this has been accomplished." One of the goals for the design of Alpharetta's new city center was to create places that people would use and go to often. Urban parks were originally designed so that people could escape the harshness of city life. The best parks today also include active uses and are a driver of community development.
The City of Alpharetta wanted the green spaces in their new center to be dynamic spaces where the community could gather, neighbors could meet and children could develop memories that they would carry into adulthood and make them always yearn to return home to the city they grew up in. Variety is the spice of life and the same is true in designing outdoor spaces. The more variety and flexibility that is built into the design, the more choices end-users will have to utilize the space for their needs and the more activity is created.
The Town Green
Alpharetta has a strong community development department with a full calendar of programming and activities where space is needed. The town green was designed with this flexibility in mind. The design avoided physical obstructions to the greatest degree possible so that the city had the flexibility to use the space for whatever events they currently had or would have in the future. A balance of hardscape and turf was achieved to allow for the Farmer's Market set-ups and festival tents as well as plenty of open space for gathering and free-flowing circulation. An interactive fountain was designed at one end of the green to spur daily activity and was devised so that it could be turned off for a stage to be assembled on top of it for "concerts on the lawn" events.
The City Park
For larger events, a natural amphitheater was conceived for the backyard of the new city hall and part of the five acre city park. At the base of the amphitheater, a bandstand was placed to allow for anything from orchestras to small musical groups to singer-songwriters. The park was intentionally designed around the city hall to further create a feeling of connection between the community and their local government.
Many times, towns are arranged so that government facilities are consolidated in an area of town where people would only go if they specifically had business to do with the government. At night, these areas become ghost towns. The designer's intent was to immerse the government in the daily activities of the community so that elected officials and government employees were "living life" alongside their constituents. A city center brings communities together and, in this case, brings them together in a powerful civic way.