Personal Site Response: Little Five Points

As I approached the main plaza on an overcast Monday afternoon, the faint but familiar smell of cigarettes crept up my nose. The area, typically overrun by a parade of visibly well-off suburban teens and college students tasting the city life on the weekends, felt desolate in a soothing and refreshing way. I felt a surge of exuberance throughout my entire body, as I realized that today I would not be forced to endure the seven stages of grief every time I witnessed teen girls taking turns photographing each other in front of graffiti murals for Instagram. The aroma of cigarettes intensified and extended deeper into me, easing my body into deep comfort as always. The source of the smell was then laid out right before me. Five hollow-eyed men, I believed to be homeless because of their tattered attire, uneven facial scruff, and greasy hair, sat together as three took drags from cigarettes. One of the non-smokers was pouring out his soul with each strum on his acoustic guitar. The melody infiltrated my head through the weak barrier in my ears and churned my thoughts around, thickening them gradually. The rhythm of my stride synchronized with the beat of the guitarist’s boot thumping the concrete.

Homeless train kids in the Little Five Points plaza.
Source: Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

At this time, I was taken back to memories of previous experiences from the same area, Little Five Points. I recalled the countless number of homeless artists that I had encountered over the past few years in the neighborhood performing music or selling works of art. I then formed the belief that the artistic vibe Little Five Points has been emitting out into the surrounding area has served as a magnet that has attracted two main groups to the area. The first kind of people attracted have been homeless men and women who have a passion for creating art but have not succeeded in making their passion lucrative enough to support themselves. In contrast, the second kind of people attracted have been privileged middle class teenagers who have the ability to spend their parents’ money on expensive vintage, artsy fashion statements that could have been found at a thrift store for a few dollars. The day I visited, the first group was a much more common sight. I saw that there were a few other homeless men and women visible to me, some distance away from the plaza, selling handmade jewelry. The atmosphere of the plaza was that of being in a tiny but diversely populated urban park, without the grass. Essentially the plaza, located in the center of the popular section of Little Five Points, was just a small free space open to the public. The plaza space had basic amenities that were utilized mostly by the homeless, such as wooden benches that seated multiple people, trees that provided shaded covering, and lamp posts that kept the area lit at night.

A store front photo of the Pot Shop and Atlanta Police Precinct.

The plaza existed in the space where sidewalk from the left and right had split and connected to form an irregular shaped loop. The long side of the plaza was bordered by ten of the many stores that made up the entire Little Five Points shopping district. I felt as if the rundown look featured on the exterior of many of the stores been done deliberately. I had quickly noticed that the Little Five Points shopping district housed mostly shops that sold vintage items. Therefore, I came to the conclusion that shop owners allowed for the paint to peel and embraced any vintage aesthetics available to them, to cash in on the current trend in popular culture.

Even on a slow weekday afternoon, the success Little Five Points’ capitalist ploy was very evident to me looking through the stores. The first store I observed, Crystal Blue, was a shop that sold alternative spirituality items and specialized in the sale of healing crystals. They sold everything an amateur alternative Tumblr blogger could possibly need to align their chakras and open their third eye. Of course, the shop also gave these customers easy access to moderately overpriced decorative spiritual items and accessories to prove to everyone around them that they live a truly spiritual lifestyle. There is no item that screams that message to the world more effectively than Crystal Blue’s forty-five dollar Buddha tapestry hung, in all of its glory, on the wall of a college dorm room. The variety of healing crystals that were available in the store was so great, they must have managed to hold cures to every single pain or misfortune a human being could experience.

A view of the interior of Crystal Blue centered on the main display cases.
Source: Google Street View Images

I moved on to browse my second destination, Criminal Records. When I first caught a glance of the inside of the record store, I felt like I was a kid in a candy store. The large selection of physical copies of albums laid out before me, in a neatly organized manner, impressed me. However, after doing some digging through the CDs and vinyl records sections, my opinion changed drastically. The factor that had the greatest influence in changing my opinion was the cost of a new CD or record. The price of a new record was between twenty and forty dollars on average. I felt outraged seeing the price tags so steep on new records, when that technology has been outdated for a long time. In order to listen to a record, you also need to purchase a good quality record player which could cost hundreds of dollars. The most common excuse people give to justify purchasing expensive vinyl albums with newly released music has always been the assertion that the sound quality is better. However, if a lot of money has not been invested into a high quality record player, the sound will not be able match the quality of a digital recording. Instead of breaking the bank on an expensive record player that can only play very costly and outdated media, today it seems much more logical purchase a high quality set of speakers or headphones and get digital music at a very low price. Crystal Blue and Criminal Records both seemed to be managed well in respect to the people running the programs having caught onto what has recently surged in popularity. However, it was my opinion based on observations that both businesses have put the weight of their complete economic success on the chance that consumers will continue to make economic decisions that seem illogical.

When I looked later at the price tags on some of the items available in these two stores compared to what they cost online, I found it incredible that Crystal Blue and Criminal Records have managed to consistently turn a profit and remain in business. Not only have the businesses been exclusively selling overpriced trending items, but the items also have very little practical use. While it seemed I should have been triggered by this, I could not manage to muster up even a silver of any of my expected emotional reactions such as feeling shocked or distressed. It became very clear to me, in that moment, that the big money makers and the phonies have a symbiotic relationship that has been surrounded by misunderstanding. The trend followers, who have always purchased every trending alternative fashion and lifestyle item available, have believed all along that their relationship with the manufacturing money makers was fair and mutualistic. These phonies have believed that they could buy their individuality by spending large sums of money, to assimilate to the alternative popular culture’s ideals for physical appearance, moral beliefs, and personal interests. However, their relationship has been dangerous and parasitic since the beginning. The money makers have been digging the fangs of influence into the brains of normal people, transforming them into the most favorable hosts. These leaches have swiftly rewired the neurons of once normal brains, mass populating the world with phonies through the powerful influence of social media.

A photo of identical robots for the purpose of illustrating conformity.

The hosts will often be allowed to collect the rewards of social acceptance and admiration that they have craved so strongly. However, the beneficial feelings bestowed upon them as their reward for conforming to mass culture are only temporary. The short-lived feeling of being admired by peers only for your physical appearance, fashion sense, and artistic tastes leaves a hole in a human being. We have a natural need to be appreciated for our personalities and our unique characteristics. The phonies feel the empty hole growing inside of themselves, but they have continued stuffing it shut with more and more trending material items. However, I believe the parasites will continue to dig deeper, spoon feeding their hosts temporary positive feelings in exchange for their money and true pure form. Unless social media, in all of its supreme influence, stops convincing the gullible hosts that by continuing the cycle their stomachs will eventually be filled.

Focused Built Environment Description: Little Five Points

As I approached the main plaza on an overcast Monday afternoon, my nose picked up a dull musty odor. The area was lightly populated, unlike on weekend days when the sidewalks are packed full of people. The smell I had noticed became sharper the closer I got to a group of five men sitting in and around a wooden bench. As I walked past the group, I noticed that three of them were puffing on lit cigarettes. One of the other men stomped his foot on a beat as he strummed an acoustic guitar covered fully in stickers, while the others talked amongst themselves. The men wore stringy, straw-like hair with straggly, unkempt beards. Their clothing appeared disheveled and unwashed. The few other people scattered around the area, visible from my vantage point, had a similar appearance to these men.

A bird’s eye view of the main plaza in the Little Five Points commercial district of Atlanta.
Source: Google Satellite Images

The main plaza was situated near the center of the small shopping and dining district called Little Five Points. If you saw the plaza from a bird’s eye view, it would be shaped like an isosceles right triangle with the tip of the ninety-degree angle rounded off. The perimeter of the plaza was made up of a straight sidewalk that merged with a curved sidewalk at the other two points on its triangle shape. The inner space between those sidewalks was the home to many individual trees surrounded by mulch in their own separate enclosures that were encircled with small metal fences. Additionally, the area contained several lamp posts, wooden benches, and trash cans scattered throughout. There were six old brick buildings painted florescent colors, hosting ten places of business within them, along the straight sidewalk of the plaza. From the outside, the buildings had a grungy and unique appearance when compared to most other popular Atlanta shopping strips.

A view from the street of the left corner of the main plaza and some of the surrounding stores.
Source: Google Street View Images

Most of the store fronts had shabby weathered paint jobs and metal bars visible through their doors or windows. The items displayed in the shops’ windows were in many cases different from the conventional items commonly showcased in store windows. For example, after I had walked by the ten shops on the strip I had seen luchador masks, spiritual items, marijuana leaves, traditional African masks, and vintage children’s toys exhibited through windows.

After observing the exterior of each of the individual businesses and the areas around them, I began browsing from the inside. I opened the door to Crystal Blue, stepped inside, and found myself immediately greeted by a woman standing behind a u-shaped glass display case in the center of the baby blue store. Natural light flooded into the space through the large store front windows, and the air was filled with the faint tones of ambient music and hushed sounds produced by three people as they gently browsed the merchandise.

View of the Crystal Blue store from the front.
Source: Crystal Blue Official MySpace Page

Healing crystals were the central product of this shop, set out individually in the display cases or grouped together by kind inside of plastic buckets in the front section of the building. The crystals were available in numerous sizes, shapes, colors, designs, textures, and transparencies and labeled with a handwritten description of their healing properties. The store also had an abundant selection of meditation supplies and spiritual books to offer, occupying the space in the rear section on both left and right sides of the display cases. I exited from the building and continued a few doors down the strip to Criminal Records. The shop had a long and narrow rectangular shape layout, and the checkout area was just to the left as I entered. Once the door had closed behind me, a young man in casual clothing standing behind the checkout counter promptly informed me that he would need to hold my purse in the front while I browsed the store. Alternative rock music rained down on everyone in the store from speakers mounted above. The entire store was well lit, however artificial yellow light dominated the space, as the light from outside did not reach the end of the long store. The sources of the artificial light were concert style light fixtures on the ceiling, and the decoration style was modern and alternative.

A view of the interior layout of Criminal Records.
Source: Google Street View Images

There were several rows of wood and metal shelving, racks, and boxes lined with CDs, vinyl records, and comic books sorted by alphabetical order and genre. The store was stocked with new items sealed in their original packaging, with the exception of a small selection of used items located in the very back. A tall, thin man in his twenties wearing glasses and nice clothing was meticulously searching through the used records section. The only other people in the store were the cashier and two other male employees in the comic books section up front. As I slowly moved closer to the counter to pick up my purse, the unintelligible murmurs between the two employees in the comic book section took the form of a crisp conversation about potential new items for the store. I continued past them, and the cashier returned my purse. I exited the store facing the plaza and sat down on an empty bench. From my seat, I watched people go about their business in the plaza and along the strip for about thirty minutes. Seven or eight people went from store to store accumulating shopping bags along the way, some traveling in groups and others alone. A man with a youthful face but tired eyes in raggedy clothing pushed his belongings down the sidewalk alongside the road in a wobbly shopping cart. A woman laid curled up on the concrete with her head hidden beneath her arms and rested on a worn down book bag. A man who sported aviator sunglasses, Doc Marten boots, and a thick brown mustache walked through the plaza with a rhythmic stride, past the sleeping woman, carried a plastic shopping bag with a denim jacket spilling over the edges.

Personal Site Response: Doll’s Head Trail

After following a series of fishing bobbers glued to trees for half a mile down the main trail of Constitution Lakes Park, I arrived at the Doll’s Head Trail loop. From a distance, I noticed an assortment of concentrated objects while entering the trail. The atmosphere felt eerie to me, as I was relatively deep in the woods surrounded by strange objects. After more investigation, I noticed that each group of objects was put together by someone to represent something specific as opposed to being placed randomly without purpose. This changed my impression of the trail and the arrangements present from a general island of misfit toys to messages conveyed by artists through the medium of trash. Some of these displays, such as a doll resembling Chucky seemingly burned at the stake, seemed less meaningful and more amusing and disturbing for the purpose of intriguing the viewer. However, others were artistic expressions of personal opinions like a hollow television containing a popped basketball, camp fuel, an electronic device, a golf ball, and a can with the phrases, “FIERY RHETORIC”, “BURNT VISION”, “TOO MUCH SPORTS”, “ADS”, “STAY”, and “GADGETS WE DON’T NEED” written on them. Through this, the artist expressed to me that television programs are full of worthless things. The screen flashes things at us to attract our attention so that we stay, but gives us little useful substance. While dolls and doll heads were fairly common along the trail, I was surprised that there were not more. The name “Doll’s Head Trail” led me to believe that the purpose of the loop was art made from doll’s heads. However, analyzing it as a whole, I believe that the purpose of the doll heads is to draw people in so that there is an audience to receive the artists’ messages. Then the purpose of Doll’s Head Trail itself is to give people an open place to leave messages for other people to inspect and digest. Even after looking at all of the art and reading positive messages and quotes written on the objects, the place still had an eerie feeling. The swampy land and the old items gave me a heavy and strange feeling throughout my walk around the loop. Then leaving the trail, a stray dog ran at me, stared at me for a few seconds, and then ran back into the brush. This experience left me feeling much more spooked about the place than when I had first arrived.  However, I did manage to leave my mark like all of the other artists who have contributed to the collection that makes up Doll’s Head Trail.

Focused Built Environment Description: Doll’s Head Trail

After following the main trail at Constitution Lakes Park for around half a mile, you stumble upon a densely concentrated assortment of weathered down objects. A sign names this location as Doll’s Head Trail. From a distance, it is easy to misinterpret the objects and assume the space is used for dumping trash. However, when you take a closer look it becomes clear that the clusters of objects were purposefully arranged together. The groups of items consist primarily of common garbage such as beat up car parts, broken sporting equipment, grimy children’s toys, shoes missing their match, rusted metal, fragmented electronic devices, and mucky bottles. For the most part, these objects are grouped together and laid out constructing an image. For instance, a plastic toy motorcycle and car whose paint jobs have become extremely faded by the elements rest in the leaves side by side. Inside of the car, there is a dirty baby doll in a twisted position with a cell phone and a glass bottle. The hood of the car, somewhat sunken into the ground, reads “DON’T DRINK & TEXT & DRIVE”. The most frequently recurring articles on the main loop of the trail are segments of grungy baby dolls. The first doll to greet you as you continue following the trail has missing limbs, appears to be charred, and is raised approximately three feet in the air by a wooden stake through its body.  The dolls you subsequently meet are not as boldly placed. Many of them are simply the heads of dolls, nestled into trees or resting on the ground, decorated by sharpie markings.  A significant number of the other objects on the trail have permanent marker writing on them as well. The writing is typically related to the articles themselves and is part of a bigger picture. For example, a popped basketball with the words, “TOO MUCH SPORTS” inscribed on it was placed inside of the frame of an old television. The writing on the objects along the loop must have been done by many different people because there is a wide variety of dissimilar handwriting throughout. The relation between the items and the text written on them in combination with the clearly deliberate placement of each article indicates that the people responsible are trying to convey something to their audience of people walking the trail.