As a micro-influencer in the active mobility space, I’m always looking for new visual backgrounds to jazz up my social media presence. This is a fun thing that folks are doing around the world during the pandemic rollerskating craze (which I happily joined less than four months ago). (Don’t know about that life-affirming, joy-centered trend? Don’t worry. I’m working on an article. I’ll fill you in on the whole story soon.)
Interestingly, being featured in a popular TikTok that then goes viral sheds positive light on brands and cities that may not even be aware they were “chosen” as the filming usually takes place in public space. Smart brands, of course, are signing these influencers as brand ambassadors.
Yesterday, on my way home from trying to buy some more fall seeds and finding nothing but Christmas decorations, I swung by the beautiful new glass buildings of the worldwide headquarters of State Farm. State Farm is my insurance company, and like a good neighbor, they’ve been there when I’ve needed them.
My approach to the headquarters felt like the run across the poppy field in The Wizard of Oz as the Emerald City rose in the distance. However, that route was too hilly for the little rollerdance I had planned.
I then came at the buildings from another direction, where there were even fewer cars passing and of course hardly any people walking or riding bikes (as is typical in general, but especially during the pandemic in this business area as so many people are still working from home).
I had ridden my bike by there many times already (it’s in the area that is the largest concentration of Fortune 500 companies in the southeastern USA, and is also on my route to the hospitals and my doctors). I had even created this little video last week (that I haven’t shared until now). It starts in the exact spot where I rollerdanced yesterday:
I sat on an inviting bench to put on my skates and then was happily rockin’ my bright yellow Goodwill cloak on the wide sidewalk (the beginnings of a multiuse path?) for a good solid ten minutes or so when a guard came out and told me this was private land and I had to go.
He said someone had reported me (I am a 58-year-old-woman who was swirling to Ella Fitzgeralds’ Cheek to Cheek so low on my cell phone that I could barely hear it). We got into a conversation. I kept trying to understand where the public space started and stopped. He wasn’t budging. (Note: I don’t blame him. This is obviously what he has been told. He was very nice, and also complimentary about my dancing! I even asked him if he rollerskates — was gonna invite him to join our meetups!)
So I left. I went over to where there’s a showcase cycletrack directly in front of the MARTA transit station, but I noticed it has the exact same kind of bench as across the street by State Farm so I wondered if the guard would come shoo my body off that space, too.
But then I remembered when I rollerskated on another side of State Farm last week to make this TikTok, there were benches like that as well (where I sat to put my skates on), and no one bothered me.
I wasn’t dancing that time. Was it the dancing this time that was the problem? Are we in our own version of Footloose here?
(And to the office worker, perhaps, who gazed out your cubicle window and saw me dancing on a completely-empty wide sidewalk and decided that was worth reporting, come join our rollerskating meetups! We’re having fun, and you are welcome.)
I found another little spot that I think is a multiuse path, that I think is public, and I swirled to Cheek to Cheek there for a little bit, just because I could (I think).
Below is a re-enactment of my offense in front of State Farm (note: I was singing in my head — the music gets added afterwards on TikTok — it may be muted in your country as I got a notice afterwards that TikTok did not have the rights everywhere):
So of course I got curious. And it only took one quick hit online to find the sidewalk map of the City of Dunwoody, Georgia, USA, where the headquarters of State Farm is located. And yes, of course the sidewalk where I was riding is public (unless it has been privatized since this map was made, although this is the most current map on the city’s website — I added the skate graphic onto the map to show you where I was).
The sidewalk is, in fact, connected to what is designated to be part of the city’s multiuse path network.
And then, of course, I wondered if that bike-riding-on-sidewalk ordinance** that passed at Dunwoody City Hall the very day I survived a hit-and-run while riding my bike home (from filming a how-to-drive-safely-around-people-on-bikes video per the request of City Councilor Joe Seconder — can’t make this stuff up, folks) included any mention of rollerskates, as I know the city is trying to attract Millenials and Gen Z, and allowing micromobility and emerging trends is of course part of that.
And whaddya know, here ya go. Allowed, unless there is a sign approved by the Chief of Police that it’s not allowed. Which would be weird on a multiuse path, no?
Anyway, so why does any of this matter?
Well, who is allowed to occupy public space; when, where, why, how, and with whom; and who gets to decide that are intersectional questions that touch so many of us in ways we may not think about (if our privilege allows us unfettered access) or we may experience daily.
The increased privatization of public space (hello, Underground Atlanta and the loss of historic public streets) must not go unchecked. The line between “linger” and “loiter” is arbitrary and subjective. The ability to dictate dress codes and ages allowed marginalizes and excludes people. The changing legality of actions that require pay-to-play (such as recently-approved “entertainment districts” where open containers of alcohol are now legal but only if you purchase them there) are subtle yet solid ways to restrict and define who has access. These questions are not picayune. They can be life-and-death.
So, yes, what is public space; what is private; what is allowed; what is not; and who gets to decide that are not small matters.
And I’m not being cheeky bringing them up.
By the way, I’m done with any pro bono micromobility advocacy work in the United States after Biketober (where my team, Trust the Journey, consisting of members from ages 11 to 85, is currently in third place of all teams metro-wide in the Atlanta Bike Challenge). I’ve truly done all I can here (although I’ll probably use local examples sometimes to illustrate global issues).
I’m doing this during my second year as Metro Atlanta Bicycle Mayor with the Amsterdam-based social enterprise BYCS (which is a natural expansion of my work with women and girls). So I’m not riding back to State Farm to make sure they are aware of the presence of public space by their buildings. I’m not staging a Footloose rollerdancing TikTok on that path — although tempting, amirite? I’m just gonna leave this here, for what it’s worth. And then go back to my Ella (and Lorde, and Yani Mo), elsewhere.
Perhaps this information will one day be useful, and I’ve been “like a good neighbor” documenting it.
Oh, and State Farm (and any other corporation in the Perimeter Community Improvement District), if you need any help encouraging commute alternatives (I’m currently in first place on the Commuter leaderboard in the Atlanta Bike Challenge, plus I was the person who wrote the suite of Commute Options materials for corporations for the Centennial Olympic Games***) or other health-enhancing employee training or communications, let me know. I got you covered (at reasonable rates). Wouldn’t that be a kick if we ended up working together?! I’ll bring my skates 😉
*My Sharing Garden at the Jolly Avenue Garden for refugees-of-war in Clarkston, Georgia, USA