With Hull Street closed, and Hancock on the list to be abandoned, there has been much hue and cry about a ‘death a thousand cuts’ to Athens’ historic street grid. It’s become a concern among some Commissioners, such as Ed Robinson, and a rallying cry by Flagpole’s Kevan Williams. Here’s a bit of historical perspective – and maybe my two cents.
Here’s Athens’ street grid in 1852, 1873, 1893, and 1930. Click to enlarge.
As you can tell Athens’ street grid was never one of beauty for foresight compared to say, Savannah. Rather, it was of a small, frontier, company town meant to serve the University. The only area of foresight and natural annexation is the Cobbham area. In addition, a lot of the growth was driven by geography and railroad. Downtown never went to the river because, unlike most towns, the river was not the focus of Athens.
However small and discordant the Athens street grid was, it was slightly bigger back then than it is now. The North and Eastern boundaries were Strong St and Foundry St respectively. The grid has been said to have suffered death from a thousand cuts – but really it was dealt a major blow in the 60s urban renewal, and has since been poked and prodded.
From what I can tell, Foundry and Strong St have been vestigial ever since Doughtery St was bent through away from Foundry and toward North Ave, slicing through Strong St in the process.
Quick aside before I move into Hancock, Hull St was never really part of the grid south of Broad until UGA expanded. The minor kerfuffle a few months ago over its abandonment to UGA seemed a bit overdone, considering UGA is rejuvenating the infrastructure in the area.
Hancock is proposed to be abandoned so that the Classic Center can be moved across the street. Its loss is said to be the death knell for Foundry St. Ok, I think that already happened back when Clayton got blocked off, not to mention Washington, and Doughtery. To defend it know is just to defend a lost cause. Why not try to rejuvenate the area, rather than defend a vestigial street. Here’s a few ideas.
Try bending Hancock around the Classic Center. It couldn’t connect the to Hickory anyway, without demolishing the Warehouses, preventing an expanded MMC, and going down a really awkward landscape. So abandon it in its current fashion to allow it to function in a more adept way with an expanded Classic Center.
Turn Foundry into a bike/pedestrian/service road. It would be a parallel route to the Greenway, but at the top of the hill. If the Classic Center and The News Building parking decks were made more pedestrian or bike friendly, it would be a nice way to keep it from a soulless ‘concrete canyon.’
Anyway, my point is that Foundry St is dead already, and maintaining the status quo will not change it. The Classic Center may be a super-block, that seals Downtown from the River, but the Downtown grid never did and never was going to make it down there. That’s a job best left to the future River district, and Foundry St could instead be the Western edge of that district. There could still be three connectors between districts and have a new Classic Center. And that would good compromise to me.