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Our lowest common denominator - Rob Felt

Alpharetta and East Cobb have zoned their lots as the model of Atlanta suburban living. Like the surveyors who crawl their surfaces, these communities carefully measure and plot the next project to piece together their Pleasantville puzzles. Virgin lands combine with business management commuters to feed a machine of exponentially calculated growth. To the top-dollar housing add a great school system, shopping galore and country club recreation.

Suburbos, the god of manicured residence, has surely granted his avatar's summons here, and Ga. Highway 400 is its backbone. What may stand between heaven and earth then, and remind these multitudes of their mortality? Whosoever shall gift man back his humble past, as he guzzles his luxury SUV into the stables of his castle, and in turn balance the scales of righteous zip code boasting? Humility, where art thou?

Lo! O'er the sun-glint crest of the land's rise ? it is ye, strip mall!

Feudal regions of Atlanta from Six Flags to Stone Mountain and Cumming to Locust Grove share the burden alike. Money cannot secure safe passage around this monster.

Atlanta's growing pains creak and bemoan strip malls like an old farmer holding down his land. "You can't shake ?em. Pesky varmints, they is. Dern-near choked out Riverdale 'n the like, they did. You seen what they done up there? Poor folks never saw it come 'til it was too late. Oh yessir, they around these parts here now too, but I got my eye on 'em, I do."

New strip malls have a sandwich shop, a dry cleaner, a cell phone retailer, a tanning and nail salon and sometimes a quick oil change garage or a car wash tacked on the end. Unofficially Henry County has 18,429 of these strip malls. Count them while you drive around and I promise you'll think there are too many.

Old strip malls house pawnshops, dollar stores, liquor dealers, and store-front churches. Talk about one-stop shopping n Super Target has nothing on this. In Clayton County there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 23,486 of these facilities. I only hope I can live long enough to visit them all.

Maybe what these commercial cellblocks lack is variety. Let's switch it up a bit! How about an art gallery, a bait and tackle shop, a strip club, bistro de fine cheese, some vintage stereo equipment and a pet grooming facility? We'll throw the sandwich shop back in there if the strippers won't cook. What do you think?

Clayton County is all but lost with Henry not far behind. We're screaming down the tracks of a hellish roller coaster that echoes through steel buildings and rattles between franchise chains. Neon glows tint our faces the fast-food hues of red and gold as we super-size developers' wallets and wrap ourselves in disposability.

A solution lies outside the range of my talents. I may lob witty criticisms and think graph paper is neat-o but I'm no urban planner. What we obviously share with our radial counterparts north of the perimeter is a need. Some strange yearning for these strip malls supports their climb through the stratosphere of success. Suburban residents would like to fill these needs in a more sophisticated way, this much I'm sure of, but it will take more than recoloring all signs and logos to beige ? la Peachtree City.

We need something new in the 'burbs, and the first community that can offer up this sacrifice to Suburbos will no doubt be smiled upon. If he approves greatly, he may even provide his new tribe with their very own tollbooth.

Rob Felt is the photographer for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or via e-mail at rfelt@henryherald.com.