Tag Archives: rural



it has taken me a surprisingly long time to get down to Serenbe. V too, the two of us kept saying let’s go! and never going, goodness knows why, it’s barely 40 minutes from our houses! So on Saturday, just days before she moves to the Netherlands, her, J, me and N went to visit this little dream community in the country.

the MAP

A New York Time article in 2009 touted Serenbe as “the new south” really, a sort of new new new south, but in essence it seems pretty true. new development with a little green, or a lot of green consciousness thrown in, southern home-cookin’, organic farming, farm animals and woods—and all this with your shirt tucked in. By living here you are doing good!

Serenbe was begun as an idealistic and hopefully realistic answer to the ever increasing suburbanization of the huge metro Atlanta area. From a 2004 article in USA Today:

As the nation’s metro areas expand ever outward, the forests and farmlands at their edges are rapidly disappearing. From 1982 to 2001, the amount of developed land in the USA increased by 45% to 106 million acres, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Brookings Institution, a research organization in Washington. and About 70% of residential and commercial construction is still occurring in woodlands and rural areas instead of areas that are being redeveloped.

At the same time, homebuyers increasingly are expressing a desire to live in a way that protects the natural landscape, and developers are responding. One of the fastest-growing segments of the housing industry is conservation subdivisions, which usually have compact lots clustered together and open space that is shared by all homeowners. These developments are designed to accommodate the maximum number of homes while protecting much of the adjacent farmland and natural resources.

Steve and Marie Nygren saw this happening and took it to heart. They did some really revolutionary work in their community, getting neighbors together to discuss what they wanted for their community in the future. Something done less in rural than in urban areas, but definitely needed in both.

Serenbe’s beginnings in the 1990s were, if not humble, at least somewhat organic: wealthy Atlantans bought land which became their home, then a B&B just in time for the ’96 Olympics, (she being the daughter of Mary Mac’s co-owner presumably meant good food was in the equation at an early date), more guest houses were added and eventually, in the early 2000s, this experiment in suburban planning.

If there is all this good, why was my first impression that, pleasant a place as it was, it felt all wrong??

Serenbe_residencesSerenbe feels manufactured, like a movie set, everything, EVERYTHING feels fake. Even at the farmhouse (which has some historicity buried in the walls that haven’t been removed)—I had a vague feeling of walking into a set, were we all participants in a play? Later on I would feel that the shop proprietors must receive a paycheck from “Serenbe, Inc.” like working a store at Disneyland, probably managers, not business owners (note: I don’t actually know for sure how this works but I’ve seen that the details of most establishments are in the plans long before they exist).

We didn’t take any pictures until we were about to leave, and I realized we needed to document. The manufactured-picturesque landscape had not been inspiring, CREATED to be photogenic, like Miss America on stage, it didn’t need me to capture it’s beauty. In the end I took a picture of the map, which saysit all, because ultimately Serenbe is just one big plan, a stage, and we’re not talking Shakespeare here.

There are other communities like this in history, Sunnyside Gardens, Radburn, and Atlanta’s own East Lake Commons. I’ve been trying to figure out what they have that’s different, accessibility, interaction with their surroundings, even if shops are part of the community its commercial space that’s not dictated by the creator but by an entrepreneur. Idealism is tough, and perfection comes in many forms.

Maybe it simply hasn’t grown into itself. The economy downturn occurred shortly after liftoff which may account for the lack of residents? maybe they were just all inside their fab [environmentally friendly] climate controlled houses on this rainy day, maybe they were… I have doubts, this community has nothing for the average homebuyer, and the more I think of it the more it frustrates me, with all the talk of affordable housing in the community the only thing one woman who works in the village was able to afford was a 900 sq. ft loft space WITHOUT A KITCHEN, without a KITCHEN?? I used to live in a 600 sq. ft brooklyn apt WITH a kitchen and that was roomy.

But still, all the businesses cater to tourists, there was nothing real about them. I mean, what town actually needs 5 boutique shops with local or handmade-by-African-women-and-children-in-need scarves, coasters, vases and jewelry? and that’s about it for general retail. You can also go to the Bosch showroom which may be the most useful commercial space, or MAYBE the General Store where you’d run for one or 2 ingredients if you lived/stayed at Serenbe but impractical for actual grocery shopping, plus, you’d deplete their supplies in one go. I assume residents grocery shop at Whole Foods in Atlanta, because goodness knows they wouldn’t be caught at Bradley’s Big Buy or DJ Grocers in Palmetto.

But that brings us around to the inherent anti-environmentality of a secluded subdivision that is not supporting itself (despite dreams). At least you only use a little gas to get around in the village, maybe none if you use your golf cart. On fun days you might pull out a bike, but we didn’t see any of those in action.

It was weird, I mean REALLY WEIRD. I’m hoping a second trip on a sunnier day will yield better results, and a chance to visit the farm (which I suspect is cool no matter what), some real people, and a chance to really enjoy my favorite part: the in-ground trampoline in the park!!

Now I better go see how N’s cookie-making is going (they’re for V, but maybe we’ll get some?).

a shot-crete mansion

“uh uhh-h! no photos of my house!!” she hollered as she appeared in the doorway. I was still setting up the shot to include her mailbox and the entirety of the batting cage roof structure. I obediently put the camera down (remembering how threatening it can be) and headed across the road.

The house was a typical small house, but a bay window built of 1x4s had been inserted in the front and a craziness I can best describe as a batting cage covered the entire roof. Parts of this were coated in corrugated plastic and seemed destined for the same shot-crete treatment as the mountain-like mailbox. Concrete pillars anchored an extended front bay to the left of the door and from what I could tell, the inside had some work going on too.

For the next 10 minutes or so I tried to assure her I was not ill-intentioned and to get her to tell me more about her house and vision. Mostly in response I got that she was “just thankful God let me have a roof over my head” and “what’s so different ’bout my house? I don’t like all the attention, my home no different from the other homes. Some black folks in old houses, and white folks nice houses, folks don’t take pictures of they homes,” (well yes ma’am I do) “why they gotta take a picture of mine!”

I tried to make her see that what she was doing here was special, it was NOT something everyone does, it was not ‘just a normal house’ and the attention was GOOD. Maybe she knows that, J had an interesting perspective, that perhaps there was a little bit of shame, especially maybe the in-progress state of it. I have seen this surprisingly [to most of us] aggressively defensive attitude before in small towns and poorer neighborhoods. Folks have been put upon so long, they are used to the Man taking without giving back or even asking. Stories abound for anything deemed suspicious, in one neighborhood in Covington, rumors abounded that Miss L is redoing her house with money from the City since she was on the City Council. Naturally, these folks are untrusting of historic regulations, that their property value will automatically go up, their own homes will be condemned and the long-time residents forced out. Maybe my crazy house lady was worried I would report her home unsound (it probably is, case in point being the Broken Angel in brooklyn), I could be the first step toward a condemnation. Whatever her nebulous fears were they were untrue in my case if not unfounded. This attitude flabergasts me and I have a hard time not posting stolen a photo here…

Broken Angel Just to note, the Broken Angel artist-owner had no problem having his photo taken in front of his palace despite current and on-going attempts by the city to condemn his home. Very similar people in so many ways, but what a difference in attitude, their perception of art and understanding of their own creation and its affects on people.


all roads lead to Rome


B (that is to say Bill) was game enough to come along with me on a pretty awesome road trip this past Saturday. So far, not one of these easement inspections has been dull. Finally, a witness to the wonderful affability of folks in small-town Georgia. We breezed through Mae’retta with a stop for lunch at Dave’s BBQ—which is kin and exactly like Community Q down in Decatur so i can highly recommend it—and found our way into Rockmart where we had a nice chat with Mr. _ of the house there, took some pictures and moved on to Rome. He attempted to use his phone, but really, i’d mapped out the way old school (with google you know) and a back-up highway map so there was no need for fancy gadgets, besides, we remembered, all roads lead to Rome right? at least the straight ones?

Rome, it turns out, has an acropolis, I noticed it right off, towering over the western end of downtown, just across the river that looked so good and cool and ready for an intertube. But first we had to step off the downtown blocks, surprising in the commerce they displayed. At the very last stop on the list the owner of the building was sitting outside and made a point to stop us. We soon were getting a whole history lesson on Rome (which we’d been speculating about for the last hour or so), the trade, industry, and recent years in the city’s life. Mr. W showed us historic photos and postcards and then we hit him with what we really wanted to know, where could we find some ice cream or a popsicle around here?? Well, he said, I’ve got fudgesicles. and up he went to his apartment to grab us 2 each, PERFECT! he’ll get a very good report.

So, ice cream craving satisfied, we needed water, we thought about going back to our friend again, but decided we might find a faucet in the cemetery. We headed over the river, dreamed of jumping in it and the trekked on up the steep sides of the terraced acropolis. I have never seen anything like this place. The was insanely steep, you would never want to walk straight up the front side of a thing like that, the best you could’ve done is crawl, but they’d terraced the thing and put steps between terraces and had been burying people there for well over a century, nigh on 2 centuries i imagine though we didn’t hunt out the oldest markers. The trees were incredible as well and local Romans seem to enjoy the place as much as we did, or at least I, cause, as you know, i love cemeteries. One fellow was sitting in some shade near the top reading a book, looked like he’d been there all day. We filled the water bottle, drained it, and filled it again. i think we were out again by the time we got back down. It was all quite incredible.

this Friday: Gray, Eatonton, Madison and a haircut with Artee (:

terraced cemetery

Senoia Ga

I knew there was a reason i’d been looking at Moreland, Georgia, on the map a while back, planning a trip. It came to me when i passed his birthplace museum by the railroad tracks, I was in Erskine Caldwell country. This became more apparent as i followed google maps’ directions down a closed road and gravel road to the next house in Coweta county that was on my route. I could feel the hot dusty backcountry of his novel Tobacco Road, which i admittedly have not read since i was 15 or so but which i identify with Welty’s Losing Battles, and Faulkner short stories, and Flannery O’Conner tales—this was the air I breathed for a bit before i came upon my next quarry with which i fell in love.

erskine caldwell country

After inspecting my 3 houses for the day, i thought i’d go on into the town of Senoia and see what it was all about. Surely I could find some ice cream or a popsicle at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon. Senoia was your standard medium-sized RR town. More than a strip along the tracks it’s downtown ran up the hill from the tracks along a main thoroughfare and had a central intersection at which, surprisingly, new buildings had sprung up. I would soon learn that Senoia was in on the movie-money and “they” were building all these new things, reviving the downtown for sets and such and if i cared to, i could see the markers in the sidewalk. I had to ask someone on the street but eventually found a scoop of chocolate yogurt (the kind that tastes just like a Mayfield ice cream fudge-sicle) on a cake cone and i went back to my walking.

senoia, ga

Even though it was about to rain, i had a few more bites of ice cream and that church was intriguing so i went ahead and walked around one more block and that was when i met Mr M and Sparky. It was one of those moments you see someone walking ahead and most often we decide to steer around them so we don’t have to offer more than a passing hello, and i had no intention of getting caught up in a conversation but i thought i’d stick to my route around the church building and say hey to the dog. “One time,” began the man, “when ice cream was only 5 cents, I had 3 scoops for 5 cents, strawberry, chocolate and vanilla.” Really? i thought, one of these old-timer stories?? “Well, i’d just turned to walk out the door and my ice cream just fell right off the cone and that dog had it up before i could even look down! well the lady saw it and she gave me 3 more scoops you know. it wasn’t the good ice cream place, there it was 10 cents for a scoop and they had banana and praline and all sorts of good flavors but here you could get THREE scoops of the cheap stuff, the watered down ice cream for 5 cents. back then there was no contest of which to put my money down on, i always went to that place….”

One thing led to another and Mr M and I strolled on around the church stopping here and there and him telling me stories all the while. I learned all about how he met his wife, and where he grew up in Atlanta (Grant Park, then to Kirkwood, then “that no-man’s land below Little Five Points”), and he had a paper route on Ponce (back then it was lots of apartments and they’d leave his stack—came in stacks of 50 papers—at the corner and he’d get the stack, roll up the papers—fold in thirds—and deliver them). He lived in Mississippi for 30 years, and then he’d been back in Senoia for 20, retired (as a Lutheran minister—ah!) 3 times and still getting to live in the old house right downtown that the church provided him with. He also remembered signing a petition in the early 50s when he was based on Treasure Island in the bay and San Fran was attempting to get rid of the streetcars, “and you know they’re still using them!” he sounded delighted. All these stories and many more just flowed from him without my asking a thing. Every now and then he’d ask about me, but that never lasted long, just led to another tale, another memory, and a piece of that led to another. I was drawn in to talking with him, didn’t want him to stop, and we didn’t until it really did finally started to rain, we reached my car and he and Sparky turned back across the churchyard toward home.