Thursday, February 18, 2010

Taking the Other Woodstock

I grew up in Woodstock, GA in the 1980s and 1990s. My dad moved our family there in 1982. Since then Woodstock, like so many other places, has mushroomed in population and all kinds of development. I don't know anything about the politics, personalities, or backroom deals that made Woodstock what it is today (though it is probably safe to say that Cherokee County was run conservative Democrats until the ‘60s and by Republicans ever since). However, I do know about the narrative of Woodstock in the late 20th century. It is the story that I tell people all the time and it is probably very similar to any other Sitcom Suburb that sprang up during the same period.

The story begins with a sleepy little town far away from the big city. Slowly, but surely, the little town sees more and more development. The people welcome the convenience of having their consumer needs met closer to home, but they lament the traffic and other headaches that that development brings. Eventually, unencumbered development is accepted as “the way things are” and the little town is rendered unrecognizable in the span of about 20 years.

When we moved to Woodstock in 1982, there was practically nothing there in terms of commercial development. I remember one or two grocery stores. The intersection of Bells Ferry Road and Highway 92 was a four-way stop. If you wanted to eat out, you had to drive all the way to Marietta.

Little by little, that began to change. We started getting “bigger and better” grocery stores. Interstate 575 was completed and made the big city even more accessible and long trips easier. McDonald’s came into town. You cannot underestimate the importance of McDonald’s to a kid and I suppose that for many towns like Woodstock, having one lends it at least a modicum of legitimacy. Through the late ‘80s and into the ‘90s, the growth just kept going and going. The Towne Lake development was built in what was once called the “Thousand Acres” forest which brought even more need for development with it.

The sense of progress and improvement are ingrained when telling the story of Woodstock. Much like “Second Creation,” the sense was that outsiders like my family were taking Woodstock and fulfilling its intended use – a bedroom community in metro-Atlanta. The triple dream of “Building Suburbia” is there and it delivers on home and nature for a while. Community is always questionable as like so many other people who grow up in the suburbs, we hardly knew our next door neighbors.

There is room for the counter-narrative in Woodstock, too, as I am sure that many long-time residents resented the “Yankees” and greedy developers coming into their community and “ruining” it for short-term profits. Their concerns were overlooked or ignored and for good or ill, Woodstock today looks and feels like Acworth, Norcross, Conyers, Dallas, and just about any other suburb anywhere in the Western world.

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