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Atlanta’s emerging public art scene is exciting—murals and installations enliven our city and make it more engaging, and yes, they draw outsiders to parts of town that might otherwise be overlooked. But the controversy over the Krog Tunnel underscores the need to balance arts promotion and the concerns of communities that serve as the backdrops for street art.
When I moved to Cabbagetown a couple of years ago, I quickly learned what it means to be “on the other side of the tracks.” Literally. For those of us who live south of the CSX and MARTA rail lines that slice through the heart of intown Atlanta, getting around can be problematic.
Apparently ’tis the season of organized strolls—and runs. December’s arrival brings hot cocoa, festive light displays, and organized walks through other people’s homes. And given the crazy weather of the past week, it’s good to know that not all these events are outdoors.
The quirky enclave of Cabbagetown, next to the Old Fourth Ward, sprung up as a mill village in the late 1800s. Young professionals have replaced textile workers, but the close-knit sense of community remains: You’ll find neighbors chatting on their porches, digging in the community garden, or gathering at the local tavern.
This past Saturday, the 10th annual Chomp & Stomp Chili Cook-Off and Bluegrass Festival took place in Cabbagetown Park. More than one hundred varieties of chili were present—30 from local restaurants, the rest from individual competitors contending for chili fame. For five bucks per plastic tasting spoon, attendees milled throughout the residential neighborhood tent by tent, wooed by home-based chefs and their professional counterparts hawking grub over the din of hundreds of tasters.
In the late 1920s, at least ten stores served the Cabbagetown cotton mill and its workers. The only one of those stores still operating is the colorful Cabbagetown Market and Grill. Leon Little, son of founder James Little, sold it in 2006 to Lisa Hanson, a native of Canada who grew up in the south of France and spent most of her adult life in Manhattan, working for various museums. Her unorthodox personality and eclectic interests (she publishes a newspaper about craft beer in the Southeast and recently “curated” Southern pickles for Slow Food USA in San Francisco) shape a business that remains crucial to the neighborhood.
Life as I mapped it out for myself has been good; across my three score years I’ve put my Satchel and Underwood typewriter down in New York, Paris, Munich and in other cities I read about at the public library on Carnegie way. But whenever I’ve thought of home, I’ve thought of eight square blocks in the southeast quadrant of Atlanta, the Fulton Mill Village, called Cabbagetown since around 1946.