An idealized vision? Sadly, yes. In fact, even then, before The Great Expansion had begun, Emory Village was grossly inadequate to the needs of the University whose front entrance it frames. And then suddenly - if memory serves, it was 1976 - the Village took a turn for the worse from which it never recovered. A kitchen grease-fire on the coldest night of the year destroyed a restaurant that stood where an outpost of Domino's pizza empire now resides in isolation on Oxford Road. The fire also took out an adjacent dry-cleaning establishment, several other shops and, alas, the Emory Cinema.
We all lamented the passing of our campus movie house, one of the few places in the South where you could have seen a foreign film; but we confidently expected it would be rebuilt, perhaps no bigger but certainly less tatty. But it was not to be. Nothing happened to that burned-out section of Oxford Road except bulldozers and paving machines, which turned the area into black, barren asphalt.
What seems remarkable in retrospect is that apparently no one at Emory in a position to do so objected; much less did anyone advance the theory that parking lots might not be the best use of this prime commercial space as far as the University was concerned - and I mean not just the thousands of students on campus every day, but all the many hundreds of faculty and staff within walking (and now shuttle-bussing) distance of the Village, not to mention nearby residents of Druid Hills, whom Emory says it wants to be neighborly to. It seems clear that Emory dropped the ball in the '70s, failing to recognize its own self-interest in maintaining an attractive and diverse commercial district on its doorstep.
As a result, what we've got now is worse than marginal, as a rapid inventory will demonstrate: in the Village you can eat a lunch and get a haircut, drink a cup of coffee, do your laundry, buy a textbook or an Emory sweatshirt, gas up your car and buy flowers. You can also buy groceries at Kroger's (though most of us don't if we can go elsewhere). And, while I may have missed something, that's about it. I'm glad we have what we do; it's just that there ought to be much more, so very much more.
In fact, we should try to envision a major redevelopment of Emory Village, one that might, for example, involve a structure some five stories high with modest below-ground parking, and stretching its convex, glass-walled facade from the old Arlyn-Worth School building around the gentle corner of Oxford Road and North Decatur, down to where the defunct Johnny Harris Restaurant stands. Such a multi-use building could be capacious enough to incorporate such desiderata as: several first-rate bookstores (one might well be the Emory Bookstore, transplanted from its relatively inaccessible location in the Dobbs Center, but now with at least the floorspace of the Oxford Books at Peachtree Battle); a new Emory Cinema, still small, but showing the highest-quality films; a faculty club with restaurant, lounge and accommodation for overnight guests (perhaps on the top floor, overlooking the golf course); at least several fine restaurants (incredibly, the Village has no place for faculty and staff to take visitors for a white-tablecloth lunch, much less dinner); a variety of different kinds of food emporia (a genuine New York-style delicatessen would do well, for example, as would an English pub and a Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream); a decent wine shop and liquor store; a music/video store; men's and women's clothiers; a venue for live music performances; an art gallery catering to the low-end of the price range; a shop like "Mail Boxes Etc."; a gift shop with cards, containers and sundries; a sports-equipment store; a taxi stand (where you could always find a cab); an Emory Police substation.
And all - or most - of this on the south edge of the Village, and in addition to what is already there. Think what more could be done through creative redevelopment of properties along the north side of North Decatur Road (the Kroger's, the laundromat, the Chevron station), or on the east side of Oxford Road from the nursing home to the BP station.
It's time that Emory recognized that, having entered the top echelon of American universities, it can no longer be satisfied with a run-down commercial district on its doorstep that is - let's admit it - ludicrously inadequate to the needs of a sophisticated clientele of some 15,000 potential patrons. What we need is a vastly richer mix of shops and services, restaurants and places of entertainment, a critical mass of commercial establishments that will attract enough customers to allow all to turn a profit (and thus stay in business). We also need a public gathering space, one with some of the ambience of a genuine village square, where people will readily go, in part because they'll have the expectation of cordial encounters there with fellow members of the Emory community. Finally, we need a facility that is architecturally stunning, a visually integrated collection of structures that is the outcome of an international design competition, one that will announce to visitors driving in to Emory from downtown or the airport that they are entering a university community that's vibrant, exciting, alive.
But how do we get there from here? There are those who will say we can't (Village property owners will refuse, DeKalb County will object); or we shouldn't (the Village is fine as it is, traffic through there is bad enough already); or we simply won't (there isn't the will now, just as there wasn't in 1976).
But a lot of people seem to feel that we can, we should and we will. In acknowledgement of this new mood, the University Senate has formed an Emory Village Committee. It will be a fact-finding body primarily; it will look into possibilities for the redevelopment of the Village, and in particular it will explore ways and means by which the University might appropriately act to facilitate it.
Many who read this will have ideas and opinions about the Village, and about how the whole Emory community might become more involved in making the Village a better place. If you do, I urge you to send them to me, John Bugge, chair of the Emory Village Committee of the Senate, in care of the English Department (e-mail address: <firstname.lastname@example.org>).
John Bugge is associate professor of English and chair of the Emory Village Committee of the University Senate.