Looking for the Heart and Soul of Alpharetta

A reader sent a picture of the oak, now felled, at City Center.  Pity, but was bound to happen because it was in the way of progress,   And if progress is defined as movement toward a destination, that destination is rising larger.  That destination is the completion of City Center.  Not that we’ve suddenly grown blasé, but we shall rise magnanimously above it all and continue to search – not simply or necessarily for new trees to defend – but for something less tangible – the heart and soul of this community, which is what the tree represented with its history, its beauty and the fact that it was fought for.  This sense of place, of community, of a place having a heart and soul, is not acquired from sitting in traffic with the same people or shopping the same grocery or paying property taxes to the same local municipality. All of those things can be done with little or no strength of connection to one’s neighbor.  True community involves a connection that only time and real experience can bring.  Alpharetta is sadly lacking in it, and not for any lack of trying.  It’s just that new “stuff” keeps happening, being built, and showing up and it takes time to assimilate the new.

This “real experience” of community that I speak of; you can’t cheat and get it.  I am reminded of the corporate groups I’ve worked with who are in search of building “real” teamwork by volunteering.  A mere 3 hour afternoon isn’t likely to create a real team, but I’ll tell you one thing:  give me a group of volunteers and I’ll tell you in 10 minutes which ones know how to work on a team and which ones don’t.  Real team players are extraordinarily focused on getting the job done within the paradigm of working with the person beside them, across from them and behind them.  It’s about getting the job done, with no complaints, with and beside your neighbor.  You can’t teach this in one day.  You have to work on it and aspire to it and most of all you have to go through tough experiences together – as a team.  There is no cheating this.  This is the real experience of teamwork.

In the same way, true community, community that is real, can only be born by strength of connections that have been fostered by time, choices and challenging experiences.  There is no cheating this.  Beautiful landscaped lawns and million dollar houses won’t create it; neither will glamorous retail shopping. Indeed, all of the new development in Alpharetta (and all that is to come) must have time to assimilate. Each time you disturb What Was There, or make it disappear, and add The New Thing, even when it’s the best thing, means that it will take time for the new thing to process into the community.  You can’t rush it.  It can take years.  It is risky…because as you wait, people become disenchanted.

You can have things that imitate community.  I think of the distinct, and I might add, creative, interesting and good programming that Avalon has; but programming alone doesn’t create true community nor does it necessarily integrate those who participate into the larger community – the city in which it exists.

You can have neighborhoods that look like communities, with their perfect lawns and neighborhood pools and beautiful homes and still not have a sense of community, only people minding their own business.  You can have money, money, money.  But money can’t buy community.   You can also have beautiful parks and trails and green spaces and still have no sense of community.  I can be as lonely in a park as I am in an office.

But, with time and challenges and choices you can find strength of connections that make way for this thing called community.

Some time ago, a person purchased a property I owned in Alpharetta and over the years we become friends.  We would see each other at the store and I would ask about the property and we would chat.   Unfortunately, the person I speak of passed away from cancer and now many years have passed.  Then an interesting thing happened and a connection born of mutual interest and enjoyment was deepened.   One day, as I was looking at names of people who volunteered at my place of work, I saw my friend’s name.  My friend had been deeply involved with my place of work as a donor and volunteer and I had never known this.  Once again, I am connected to this person; my connection is not severed even by death.  It is a connection that will always bind me to Alpharetta and to all the things my friend and I ever discussed.  This connection was not brought about by real estate development, shopping, eating out, drinking or any of the superficial things we enjoy in life.  It came into existence from time, mutual interest, more time, and then – serendipity.  No real estate developer can deliver these things.

We magnanimously chose to not be disheartened by superficial things or by trees being felled.  We choose to search for the heart and soul of this place.  It’s out there somewhere.  But we won’t look to real estate developers to tell us where it is.  That’s not their job, after all.