Planning for change in the pedestrian plaza

The Athens Clarke County government removed the Confederate Monument on College Avenue last August and closed off College Square to vehicles, transforming it into outdoor dining space. 

Since then, the Athens Anti-Discrimination movement (AADM) gathered feedback on how the temporary pedestrian plaza could be modified into a permanent public space that honors the history of marginalized groups in Athens history, specifically African Americans and the Muscogee Native Americans. 

“The confederate monument was alienating people from a space that’s supposed to be for everybody. Taking it down was a promise for a more inclusive space,” AADM volunteer and University of Georgia graduate student Lynn Abdouni said.

On March 14 AADM hosted a “Design Cypher” which called Athens residents to voice their opinions on how the space should be reimagined. The event flyer emphasized a call for Athens youth voices. 

“When I heard about this event I was excited that young people were encouraged to give feedback on how the plaza should look,” Cedar Shoals senior Dynasty Palmer said.

Palmer came to the event with two friends, explored each station and voted on which art design she liked most. 

“I think it’s important that the plaza design is inclusive because it makes everyone feel welcome,” Palmer said.

BLACK ARTIST MATTER: Four pieces of artwork by local artists sit on display. Participants were asked to vote with stickers about which they liked the most. “This event is about re imagining this space as a pedestrian space to honor the legacy of Black Lives in Athens and other history as well,” AADM board member John Olive said. Picture by Zaya Roberson.

Graduate student and AADM member Whitney Barr helped organize and facilitate the event, she drifted between the tables and answered questions. 

“We know the mayor and the commission are going to be voting on whether this site should be kept open soon, so we thought ‘why not ask the people what they might want to see?’” Barr said. 

Small posters on the ground shared facts and history and made a pathway to each of the interactive stations. The stations themselves had tri-folds set out with facts about local artists and data from the survey AADM sent out in the summer. 

“I’ve learned a lot about Athens from following the pathway and reading the cards, especially about the Native American tribes that lived on this land before the white settlers came,” AADM treasurer John Olive said. 

People could participate by placing stickers to show agreement and disagreement or by scanning QR-codes and taking surveys.

CULTIVATING KNOWLEDGE: A Design Cypher attendee scans a QR-code with his phone from a tri-fold display at one of the stations. QR-codes opened up surveys and provided more information. “I came here out of state and I had no idea about the rich history and culture of Athens, I learned a lot,” UGA Grad student LaRen Morton said. Picture by Zaya Roberson.

Some ideas for the permanent plaza included accessibility ramps, murals and what volunteers called “truth windows” that would showcase iron work done by formerly enslaved people in Athens.

AADM volunteers at the last station prompted participants to write a message to the future children of Athens. “What is one thing you would like them to know about Athens?” the paper slip read. 

Event attendees were offered Ben and Jerry’s Ice cream upon completion of the station’s activities. 

“I liked this event because I got to give my opinion and I got free ice cream,” second grade student Justice Smith said. 

The AADM allowed people who could not attend the event the opportunity to participate through social media. They shared interactive information on their Instagram story.

“I think it’s important to bring the community into decisions like this so that they have a say in what they see, especially people of color. And I think this was a fun and informative way to do so,” UGA student LaRan Morton said. 

LEADING THE WAY: The AADM’s sign sits in College Square, mapping out the Design Cypher event held on March 14. The sign described each station and showed a map of the pedestrian plaza. “Today is one step of many others to get community input so that we can create a space for everyone,” AADM volunteer Lynn Abdouni said. Picture by Zaya Roberson.

Ikeoluwa Ojo

Ikeoluwa Ojo is a sophomore writer for the BluePrints Magazine. Ojo would like to pursue a career in social work or child psychology. She hopes to strengthen her writing, communication, and speaking skills this year.