By Brittney Cain
After living in busy downtown Athens for 2 years, Lauren Klopfenstein has learned the ropes for getting around problems.
She has found a way to deal with one of the most common annoyances—loud noises.
Klopfenstein’s best advice is to find a different place where it is quiet to get schoolwork and studying done, since downtown isn’t always the best place.
When signing a lease downtown most people think they are aware of the living conditions, but not all actually are.
The growing heaps of trash, loud noises, and run-ins with intoxicated students are often the biggest issues with students and residents of downtown.
One “annoyance” often overlooked is parking in downtown Athens.
More residents are choosing to live downtown, officials say, because of the close proximity to the University of Georgia campus and convenience.
According to a 2012 study of Athens, nearly 2,000 people lived in the downtown Athens area.
Jack Crowley, head of the downtown Athens master plan project, believes that with recent and current construction of residential areas, numbers are set to more than double in the next few years.
With growing number of residents in the downtown area, annoyances are unavoidable.
Here are some tips from current residents and public officials.Trash remains one of the biggest problems with living downtown, according to UGA student Hannah Lech. In addition to being a resident for a year, she also works downtown.
“I work at Athens Bagel Company downtown and can see all of the trash and litter piled up early in the morning,” Hannah Lech responded when asked about the claims of trash.
Among the Athens-Clarke County’s most commonly broken codes, unlawful dumping and littering can be seen downtown.
Garbage is collected by the Solid Waste Department in the downtown district. If garbage isn’t picked up on the proper days, residents can call the main office at 706-613-3501.
Living above Whiskey Bent, Hannah Lech also finds the noise to be disturbing.
“I can usually tell what song is being played at the bar below by the shaking of my floor. It can get pretty loud even on weekdays,” said Hannah Lech.
She suggested future residents invest in earplugs or stay up late enough that they will immediately fall asleep despite the noise below.
Athens-Clarke County Staff Sergeant, Derek Scott, said “we notify bars if they are playing loud music after hours to prevent potential complaints from the residents of downtown.”
Another annoyance is one that is sometimes unavoidable.
Dealing with intoxicated students is bound to happen with nearly 80 bars downtown.
Christian Conover, a junior at the University of Georgia, said, “dealing with intoxicated students is annoying, but I think this comes with living in a college town and can only be fixed by increasing police presence and cracking down on underage drinking.”
Professor John Newton specializes in Criminal Justice at the University of Georgia.
He said that the main problem with intoxicated students is the threat of large crowds and disorderly behavior of those intoxicated students.
Professor Newtown said, “I would be concerned about the unpredictable nature of intoxicated people who may be more likely to resist with violence than a sober person.”
A tip for dealing with these unpredictable “drunks” is to travel in small groups if possible to avoid conflict, and for those that are deciding to drink to be responsible and aware of those that live downtown.
Although trash, noise and inebriated students are annoyances that you would think of when living downtown, most people are unaware of parking situations.
Danny Boardman, a resident on Broad Street, continues to be annoyed with the parking situation. Not only are there small amounts of parking spaces available, but also the parking tickets given are beginning to increase.
Even though there are 750 short-term, pay as you go parking spots along downtown streets and 4 pay lots; it can be difficult to find parking for guests close to residential lofts and apartments.
“I have to be prepared to drive around downtown to find parking spots. Parking is free on Sunday, so it’s the worst that day,” Lauren Klopfenstein said about the new annoyance of parking issues.
Despite all of the minor issues and annoyances of living in a downtown area, Hannah Lech claims, “she wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.” She fully recommends others give it a try.
Downtown Athens on a Thursday night is a sight to see. Streets swarm with people moving from bar to bar in what has been called the world’s best college town.
The masses crowding the sidewalks are mostly students, attracted to downtown’s 40-plus bars and nightlife spots.
Downtown during the daytime is a different story. The bars, all that are visible at night, melt into the fabric of shops and restaurants and historic architecture.
The Athens Downtown Development Authority’s goal is to keep Athens – day and night – “safe and economically viable.”
Jason Leonard, who owns Flannigan’s and Whiskey Bent – two bars downtown, said that while students come downtown for the bars, Athens is offering a “better product” on all fronts.
“I would say that there’s an increase in a better product overall of downtown. I think the clothing shops are better clothing shops and the restaurants are better restaurants,” he said. “Downtown is providing a better quality product today, which would inspire students to hang out there.”
Bars hire students and cater to students. Students spend their money where their friends are.
“You know how it works, someone recommends someone who knows someone to work here,” Leonard said. “ And we love everyone, but when we hire someone, they usually bring in their network of friends.”
So students use downtown – one way or another. But what about residents of Athens? Visitors?
Kathryn Lookofsky, the executive director of the Athens Downtown Development Authority, said it’s not that black and white.
“Downtown is the center of the community and should have something for everyone within the community,” she said. “I think the relationship between students and residents is a symbiotic one.”
Maura Freedman, a UGA senior, lived on Pulaski Street downtown for three years.
“I feel like every year more and more long term residents are moving out and more students are moving in,” she said. “There are these really nice, big beautiful houses on Pulaski, and I wonder how families feel about paying a significant amount to rent or buy those homes when the neighborhood is shifting towards students.”
Freedman said the neighborhood is attractive to students because of its location.
“Logistically, it’s close to downtown, and it’s nice not to worry about cabs or driving when you go out.”
Maura’s landlord, Lee Smith, said students have been a part of the neighborhood for a long time.
“There’s always been a rental component to Pulaski as long as I’ve lived here,” said Smith, who has owned property on Pulaski Street since 1996. “Over the years, particularly in the late 90s and early 2000s, a lot of people purchased houses that were condemned or in disrepair and turned them into rentals.”
He said there’s no tension between students and residents.
“I’ve never perceived any sort of tension between undergraduate renters and homeowners here,” he said. “Actually, there are several people in our neighborhood, including my wife and I, who over the years have been able to purchase houses around them because we knew we could rent them out to students. We’re surrounded by our rentals – they’re our next door neighbors.”
Smith said he has seen an increase in students wanting to live downtown.
“I’m inclined to think it’s going to be more of the same,” he said. “In the time since I went to school here, downtown has just become more and more urban. So I think we’ll continue to see that. I’d expect denser and more taller buildings downtown. More people will want to live downtown, but I also wouldn’t expect that to only be students.”
The Downtown Athens Master Plan town hall surveys show that 44 percent of attendees want to encourage urban professional residential growth, 20 percent want family housing, and only 3 percent want student housing.
Yet a student housing development is in the works for downtown – set to open Fall 2014. The development will create more than 600 apartments for students.
“I don’t perceive that as negative,” Lee said. “If there are more students living downtown, that’s more opportunity for people to open businesses that cater to students, more restaurants, bars, clubs, maybe even movie theaters. Maybe we’ll finally get a grocery store downtown. There will be other types of development that go along with it – it’s not only going to benefit students.”
He said most Athens residents understand what living in a college town means.
“If you live close to a university, you’re going to be close to students,” he said. “That’s the way it is, so you’ve got to make your peace with it. My wife and I, through our rental properties, are able to continually meet new young people who move to town. We have a wide range of friends that if we lived in a different town we wouldn’t necessarily have.”
Freedman said students are capable of building community downtown.
“Just because a lot of students live there, it doesn’t mean the area is devoid of community,” Freedman said. “There’s a really tight-knit community of people who care about Athens culture and music, so that’s really appealing to someone who is going to be in Athens for a few years.”
Dressed in a “Talk Nerdy To Me” t-shirt, an engineering student tore through a notebook filled with sketches of wheels, rods, frames and handlebars — all components of an automated bike rack. As he shared his ideas, the eight others in the laboratory listened and offered feedback.
The seven University of Georgia students and two professors, huddled in a small room in the south campus engineering building, are developing one of the most advanced and environmentally sustainable methods of transportation seen by the University.
“Bike Sharing” is a modern movement in which urban cities provide readily available bicycles to the public as an alternative way of transportation. The system began in Europe in the 1960’s, and spread throughout Asia, the Middle East and North and South America in the past two decades. Numerous cities across every region of the United States implemented bike sharing operations, including a large system in downtown Atlanta. According to USA Today, the systems are also popular on college campuses. Over 90 universities in the U.S. contain a public bicycle program.
Back in the engineering building at the University of Georgia, the head coordinator of the transportation project, Kareem Mahmoud, is bringing the bike sharing trend to Athens. Mahmoud is a third year finance major at the University, who recently received a grant from the Office of Sustainability to advance the current university bike sharing program and make it more efficient and wide-spread.
“It will be completely automatic where you put in a pin number or swipe a card to check out a bike, and then you can turn it back in somewhere else,” Mahmoud said. “It’s very stream line, very easy.”
The University implemented the current system, called Bulldog Bikes, last fall but has seen little traffic. There are only ten bikes available and students can only check them out at three separate locations, that is, after they complete an online safety course and fill out administrative paperwork.
Nigel Long, who lives at one of the three check-out locations, is one of the few students who uses Bulldog Bikes. Headed for class on a Tuesday morning, he stopped by the front desk of his residence hall to take one of the bikes. While he signed his name in a notebook, he flipped through the pages and laughed at the pattern he saw.
“You would think this was filled with hundreds of students who use the bikes everyday, but if you look closer, it’s all just my name, and then a couple random ones here and there,” Long said. “Biking is such an easy way to get to campus. I think a bigger bike sharing program would be awesome.”
Mahmoud attained the idea of expanding Bulldog Bikes after class one day over the summer. As he sat on North Campus, he looked towards downtown at Broad Street and noticed the immense amount of bikers that passed by. The young entrepreneur thought it would be beneficial to implement an automatic bike system where one could check in and check out public bikes, when needed, at any time of the day.
“At first I brushed it off and thought, ‘No that’s too complicated’,” Mahmoud said. “Then one day I just sat down and began doing the schematics for it to see how hard the coding would be, and realized that this could actually work.”
He researched the bike sharing programs of multiple cities and towns and based his own model off of successful systems of others.
“There is a system like it in Atlanta, a system like it in Miami,” Mahmoud said. “They are all over the place. Even a large number of college campuses have incorporated them, like Texas
Christian University, University of Kentucky, Ohio State, and even Georgia Tech. I figured UGA needed something like this too.”
Some University of Georgia students, like sophomore Hayley Magill, expressed worry about the safety of additional bikers on the road.
“I did bike sharing in Sweden and I loved it,” Magill said. “The only thing that concerns me is if people know all of the biking laws and would be safe on the bikes. I know cars aren’t always looking for bikers on the road so I might be nervous in trying to figure out the safest places to ride. I guess to get to places around campus without having to wait for a bus would be nice though.”
The expansion of the improved Bulldog Bikes beyond campus and into downtown Athens is a longterm goal for Mahmoud and his engineering team. To achieve that aspiration, however, downtown Athens needs to do some progressive development of its own.
BikeAthens, a local organization that encourages the growth of bike transportation, works with the Athens-Clarke County government to make the city more “bike-able”. Tyler Dewey, the director of BikeAthens, thinks there is potential for Mahmoud’s bike sharing program to work in downtown Athens, but he said that it will take time.
“The difficulty with a bike share is it sometimes takes a while to catch on,” Dewey explained. “I know in D.C. they started one and then it kind of fizzled out. Then they started one again about 10 years later and it has been a wild success.”
He said BikeAthens is supportive of anything that increases ridership and awareness of bikes.
“You can always tell the popular areas of town because you’ll see five or so bikes locked up, even if its to a tree because they can’t find parking. To me that suggests that there is latent demand for something like a bike share.”
With a large bike culture present in Athens, Mahmoud is confident that people will embrace this “cleaner” way of travel and, in turn, reduce the traffic congestion on campus and downtown.
He and his engineering team are in the process of designing a prototype that they will test this semester, and then present to the University administration in order to gain approval from Legal Affairs and move forward with further implementation. The main funding of the project comes from the Office of Sustainability grant and student green fees.
Bike sharing programs are successful across the globe for both environmental and economic reasons. According to the American Society of Landscape Architects, who helped re-map Washington D.C. to be more bike-friendly, a car emits 15 pounds of air pollution into the atmosphere for every eight miles that it drives. When that distance is biked, however, there is no harm to the environment and there is less strain on the biker’s pocketbook.
Bulldog Bikes is in its infant stage as a program, which Mahmoud and his engineering team intend to mature into a state of the art transportation system. After an hour-long debate over non-rustable metal, the nine University of Georgia students and staff ended their meeting on a playful note in an argument about the color of the new Bulldog Bikes.
“We said we wanted the bikes to be distinct,” Mahmoud said with a sly smile. “I say we go with hot pink.”