Published on July 22nd, 2015 |6
New city planner: ‘Competing with best cities in the world is exciting’
That may be why he never mentioned Buckhead.
But Keane, who took the helm July 1 as Atlanta’s chief planner, had a lot to say about why he left Charleston, SC, a city that can be a planner’s dream, to come to Atlanta, as he addressed the July 15 meeting of the Northwest Community Alliance.
“I love coming to Atlanta because it’s the capital of the South,” Keane told those attending the NCA meeting at the Northside Park Baptist Church on Howell Mill Road just north of I-75. “Atlanta competing with the best cities in the world is exciting to me, as a southerner.”
Why would Keane leave Charleston where he lived two blocks from the harbor? “The reality of it is, this is a great challenge professionally, and to be in the city is great.”
Furthermore, his boss, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, will not be running for another term and that could pose a problem. “Working with Riley was an education in so many ways,” Keane said.
And, there is a good relationship with Atlanta’s mayor. “Mayor Reed and I care about the same things. I feel good about that relation. If it weren’t there, I wouldn’t have come,” Keane stated.
During the two-hour presentation—which was more of a conversation with the approximately 40 people attending—Keane philosophized about his role in helping create an inviting, architecturally interesting urban core environment for the metro Atlanta area.
“Let me talk about planning as a practice. For me, we are responsible, as the planning department, for the public realm of this city. The places we share.
This is a big challenge in Atlanta….that the city not continue to be a collection of projects,” Keane began.
“If the city continues to be a series of projects, I will have failed. Fire me,” Keane said. “If new projects happen that are completely separate from the fabric of the city, and no sense of how it works together, fire me,” he repeated.
“All of the investments people are making should add up to be good for everyone, not just the single investor,” Keane explained. “Project by project ain’t gonna work. We cannot compete that way,” he added.
“My responsibility is the stuff in between the good things that are happening, and the things the city can do to make sure they are good projects,” Keane said. “To get there, you have to have a conversation about what we want to do, so there is a clear direction that we can translate to our process and our regulations.
“My feeling about it is, if you build a building of classical style, you have to follow those rules,” Keane said. “The problem is you see a lot of buildings that are nothing. If it’s a modernist building it doesn’t have rules; it’s a piece of art and all that. We have to worry about how it meets the street, so you don’t get cartoon buildings.”
“For me, preservation, the uniqueness of the city, is very important,” Keane stated.
In addition to Charleston, Keane’s outlook on planning and development is shaped by his tenure as planning commissioner of Davidson, N.C., Keane’s
hometown, on the shore of Lake Norman.
The town is home to Davidson College, a top-ranked liberal arts college. During Keane’s time there, Davidson promoted smart growth theories to manage growth related to nearby Charlotte’s development as a financial center.
Smart growth is an outlook by which Keane has influenced development in Davidson and Charleston, and now brings to Atlanta.
Keane most certainly is an advocate of transportation alternatives and finding creative forms of mass transit to serve the public. “The big question for me is if you want to move people, it has to be something pleasing to them,” Keane said. He seems to support the expansion of the city’s streetcar program.
He does not own a car, although he admitted he may have to buy one here in Atlanta, and he loves riding his bicycle.
“The thing that makes me so comfortable (about Atlanta) is the mix of African and European culture that you don’t get anywhere else. … This is a place that has a soul. What the soul of Atlanta is, is very important to me in our work,” Keane told his audience.
Keane spent the last 16 years in Charleston, a city abundant with the influences of African and European cultures. These perspectives influence Keane’s outlook on Atlanta’s unique place as the cradle of the civil rights movement.
Keane was confirmed Monday, by a unanimous vote of the Atlanta City Council, as commissioner of the Department of Planning and Community Development.
Now, as he gets around Atlanta, he likely will become better acquainted with Buckhead, the city’s most affluent community and the one with the most historic and grand homes and neighborhoods, blended with its vibrant retail and commercial districts that are the city’s fastest growing.
Buckhead could prove to be one of Keane’s more interesting challenges in the year or so to come. But first, he has to discover where it is and when he is indeed there.