Music Midtown is an urban balancing act

By Maria Saporta

The hosting of Music Midtown in Piedmont Park continues its delicate balance of having an incredible outdoor musical festival in the midst of densely populated neighborhoods inconvenienced by its impact before, during and after the two-day weekend.

The 2018 Music Midtown was no different.

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Music Midtown 2018 (Photo by Maria Saporta)

On the positive side, the weather cooperated – so that damage to the park appeared to be minimal. Live Nation goes to extra lengths to protect the trees and the green space in Atlanta’s signature park.

This year, the crowds seemed to flow better. And the porta potties used this year were a big improvement to the ones that we are used to seeing at festival events – with the amenities of toilet paper, a flush and hand sanitizer. While there were lines for food, drink and bathroom stops, there also were corners in the park away from the main crowd where one could get what one needed with little wait.

While 2018 musical acts certainly weren’t geared to my demographic, they attracted thousands of young people so that even my children and their friends (in the 30-year-old age range) said they felt a little old for the crowd. So you can imagine how I felt given that I’m than twice their age.

I have preferred the musical line-up of previous festivals – which used to cater to a broader audience – acts from multiple decades and musical genres. Even my 30-something friends, who have let me be part of their entourage in the past several festivals, chose to sit out this year because they weren’t impressed with the artists on the schedule – especially with a higher two-day ticket price.

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Foster the People plays Sunday at the Roxy Stage (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Still, from my perspective, there’s nothing better than being outdoors, listening to live music from different artists and watching the world go by. That’s why I’m proud to say I’ve maintained my perfect Music Midtown attendance since its inception.

So, for the record (and despite what Live Nation may think), I’m not an anti-Music Midtown person who just likes to complain. I embrace the event as being a positive addition to our city.

That said, a major problem arose during the preparation of this year’s Music Midtown. With no prior notice – a week before the festival – barricades were put up preventing pedestrians and cyclists from being able to cross Monroe Drive at the entrance to the Atlanta BeltLine.

Music Midtown already has been testing people’s patience by closing the 10th Street bicycle lane as well as the sidewalks along Piedmont Park.

The problem of traffic circulation always becomes an issue, especially when 10thStreet is closed off to traffic – sending cars into the neighborhood.

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Atlanta BeltLine detour because of Music Midtown
(Photo by Maria Saporta)

But what seemed to particularly tick off the community was the city’s apparent insensitivity to pedestrians, cyclists and all other alternative modes of transportation.

When the barricades were put up, there was an uproar in the communities surrounding Piedmont Park and among people who use the BeltLine as a way to get around.

My first thought was to write a column about how cyclists and pedestrians just can’t get any respect. Reading numerous posts on Next Door, it was not clear whether the decision to place barricades at the BeltLine was made by Live Nation, the Atlanta Police Department or the city’s Department of Public Works or another city department.

Councilmember Jennifer Ide and the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition organized a “Meet Up” on Sept. 11 for the 2,700 daily riders on the 10thStreet bike lane and by the barricades.

On Saturday, after the gates had opened to Music Midtown, I received an “update” from the Midtown Neighbors Association saying the “BeltLine Barricades” had been removed.

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Pedestrians, including dog walkers, cyclists and scooters are forced to share a narrow sidewalk next to Grady High School (Photo by Maria Saporta)

It credited the residents, Atlanta City Councilmembers, the Parks Department and the Atlanta Police Department “who worked together to solve a problem.”

The notice also said the barricades would be returning on Monday for the dismantling of Music Midtown.

“All parties involved are committed to discussing this specific issue for any future event planning,” the update continued.

Today, I began to reflect on what’s at play. The good news is that pedestrians and cyclists have become stronger voices as their modes of transportation have become more vital to an Atlanta  that’s less dependent on single-passenger automobiles.

Whether it’s the tension how to redesign Monroe Drive into a “Complete Street” or whether it is the uproar when bike lanes and sidewalks are closed, we as a city are having to adapt to different ways of getting around – be it bird scooters, bicycles, skateboards or people on foot. We are a city in transition.

As these modes have become part of our daily lifestyle, and when planning for events like Music Midtown, we must prepare safe options for all modes of transportation – even if it means having to close off more lanes to cars.

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Music Midtown closes sidewalk and bike lane along Piedmont Park on 10th Street (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Thanks to outspoken residents, nonprofit advocacy organizations and our elected representatives, these modes of transportation are now demanding more respect.

Another moment of reflection came when Midtown resident Michael Miller posted a message on Next Door titled: Music Midtown Belongs in Midtown.

“Music Midtown was a blast and I hope it stays right where it is,” Miller wrote.  “I admit Live Nation is not paying the city enough, and they could comp a lot more than 200 tickets and also train their staff better without hurting their bottom line… Having said all that, it belongs right where it is – in the heart of the city.”

In other words, this is like any relationship – it needs constant work, compromises and careful attention to all the various constituents – from community residents to Piedmont Park and the Piedmont Park Conservancy.

Hopefully the folks at Live Nation will take this column in the way it’s intended – as a way to make the whole Music Midtown experience better for all.

Note to readers: For the last couple of years, Live Nation has turned down my request for a press pass (after years of granting me passes). I’m guessing they’re trying to punish me for the columns I’ve written about the festival. Because I’ve always bought my own Music Midtown tickets (even when I’ve had a press pass), I have  always provided an independent perspective on various issues surrounding the festival. Thanks for reading.

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Sign on the BeltLine says the 10th Street bike lane is closed (Photo by Maria Saporta)

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Barricades prevent pedestrian and cyclists from being able to cross Monroe Drive because of Music Midtown (Photo by Maria Saporta)

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The barricades create a dangerous crossing on the south side of 10th Street and Monroe Drive (Photo by Maria Saporta)

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Listening to Foster the People framed by the beautiful trees at Piedmont Park during Music Midtown (Photo by Maria Saporta)

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The Ferris Wheel is an attractive feature to Music Midtown (Photo by Maria Saporta)

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Imagine Dragon’s Dan Reynolds entertains the crowds at Music Midtown (Photo by Maria Saporta)

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Rainbow Kitten Surprise takes the stage at 2018 Music Midtown (Photo by Maria Saporta)

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30 Seconds to Mars performs at 2018 Music Midtown (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

4 replies
  1. Beth McKenna says:

    Excellent balanced article! While it can be inconvenient for those who live in the area, it is expected. This once a year cultural happening – even if the music is not to everyone’s liking – while noisy is part of the flavor of Midtown living. Long live the festival with ongoing dialogue to help neighbors navigate it.Report

    Reply
  2. Ginny says:

    I live near the park and have never been to Music Midtown, but I understand the appeal of a big festival in a beautiful green space. I do wonder, though, if Live Nation, or whoever puts this on, could do a little more to lessen the impact on Atlanta’s green heart, Piedmont Park. Areas of the park that were accessible to the public during the event were treated as garbage depots and parking lots…Why not ask for frequent garbage collection, in the park and on neighboring streets, as well as off-site garbage staging? And how about limiting in-park parking passes for use during the festival? The streets in the park should be premium spaces for vehicle parking: Why not charge a steep fee for plain old parking in the park?Report

    Reply
  3. Rebecca says:

    The area around PP is one of the biggest hubs of non-car modes of transit in the city. To have a festival there where that feature is actively obstructed only proves to shoot the event in the foot. I’ve been to MM for many years and have always had a great time. I was so excited to hear some of my favorite acts on the line up. However, my family and I all live in that area and routinely commute in that area. It becomes such a headache and the concert organizer takes away all options that we normally have in that area by making it difficult to get around in any mode of transportation.Report

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  4. Keith Willey says:

    I experienced this first hand while running down Tenth Street–the security personnel appeared to be protecting precious trucks from the dangerous pedestrians and cyclists. While security was yelling at me not to run in the road, I watched a young girl fall on her bicycle because she had been forced to ride on an inadequate and dangerous sidewalk with pedestrians. Security didn’t even see her. I pointed out to them that while they were protecting trucks, they were putting children in harms way.Report

    Reply

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