I’ve been thinking about Avalon - Alpharetta Avalon. I admit, having just typed those two words together for the first time, it does roll alliteratively off the tongue in a nice way.
It’s been pitched to us by North American Properties as a potential lifestyle center in the style of Santana Row. I did my research on both the lifestyle center concept and the place, Santana Row. To be sure, the lifestyle center is a kind of Disneyland for consumers with the goal to get you to spend money, linger a little, spend more money, and then linger a little to think about how you can spend more money. Hey. We all have to make a living so I get that goal. And I get North American Properties trying their darndest to identify the next best shopping moment. But having followed their advice to take a look at Santana Row, I must admit I’m coming away from my look at it with the thought that it’s not that unique and certainly not very organic, and no, I don’t mean organic veggies organic. I mean organic in the sense that something springs from the metaphorical soil of the place; the location, the people, the history, the current residents. Santana Row apparently is meant to be a fun replica of both Broadway and the linear plaza of Las Ramblas in Barcelona. I don’t usually associate Silicon Valley with Broadway and, even though I appreciate that California is full of Spanish architecture, San Jose is hardly Barcelona. The question is, does Santana Row feel like it belongs to San Jose and to Silicon Valley? Even shoppers have a certain territorial pride that stems from their vocations and how they spend their Saturdays.
All this begs the question - will North American Properties try to replicate some “other place” at Avalon in Alpharetta? I can’t help but to imagine in my mind’s eye slightly tudor-esque buildings and a faux Thames running through the center of the town green and climbing roses on all the buildings. All this preceding vision stemming from the name “Avalon” of course, and its associate historical images - King Arthur, Britain and all that.
But what about Avalon will express this place – this town of Alpharetta? This place - scarcely 30 or 40 years this side of being a cotton farming community. This place – with our technological build-out, our call centers and our Fortune 500 companies and their awesome corporate campuses that are themselves mini-parks. This place – with all the families that live here, mostly people who are not from here and quite of few of them from locales that are not stateside. And let’s not forget this place - with a population extraordinarily concerned with park space, walking trails, trees and all things green. Indeed, my own research indicates that may be one of the most pervasive sentiments of our Alpharetta residents and I suspect its power has been grossly under-estimated, both by North American Properties and by local politicians.
What if you were to take those elements I mentioned above and blend them together? Wow me with some high tech wonder that sits among LEED certified buildings, and LEED certified parking decks and site-certified grounds and is so awesome that it makes the covers of both WIRED Magazine and Landscape Architecture Magazine. Tempt me with walking paths and bike paths and mesmerize me with tree canopy like Cousins did along North Point Parkway 20+ years ago. And since Alpharetta is only a 3 season outdoor-enjoyable experience go learn why Opryland Hotel's indoor 9 acre Garden Conservatory works.
The site formerly known as Prospect Park is not tabula rasa because it exists here in this community and in this day and age, but the clay of this place and our history and residents and businesses is so good, so varied and so rich, there is much that can be sculpted from it without depending upon gimmickey theme park shopping experiences.