Cultural crossroads


Cultural identity is essential for any historic city. A city can define itself in many ways. But in all cases the local identity of a city is shaped by its citizens, which in-turn becomes the framework of their community.

In order to thrive and remain successful, a community must simultaneously preserve its culture while developing innovative concepts that make current times relevant. In essence it must blend its image with its identity.

Senoia’s small-town feel and historic relevance has long been its sustained identity. Its historic assets have spawned a foundation of historic significance that gives rise to a permeable wall of historic culture and tempered economic development.

The city’s survivability is assured by its location between Peachtree City and Newnan. But the story of its success does not establish a cultural and historic distinction that separates its cherished qualities from one small town and another.

The city’s historic relevance and appeal has not taken on a multitude of characteristics and roles that make it more distinct from other small cities, until you integrate this fundamental image and identity with the success and popularity of the film industry.

Just as no home located in the historic district was constructed with the intention of becoming part of the historic identity of the town, the film industry, which is seen by some as a threat to the city’s historic lure, may one day be the instrument that creates the distinction that sustains the town’s future.

A failure to recognize this sets up the possibility of a boom to bust scenario.

Filming and historic culture has been blending and colliding in Senoia for decades.

The historic charm combined with the film industry, turning city streets into sound stages and crowded film platforms, has provided the city with a unique form of identity. It is not until the recent popularity of the “Walking Dead” series that led Senoia to focus on the cultural crossroad of preserving its historic cultural identity, while solidifying an identity driven by the notion of a film-ready city.

Filming in Senoia didn’t start with the onslaught of the “zombie apocalypse”.

Senoia has carried an attractiveness to the film industry since 1989 with filmed scenes from Driving Miss Daisy, Sweet Home Alabama, Fried Green Tomatoes, Drop Dead Diva and The Walking Dead to name a few. Although most city residents possess an interest in having a film presence, filming is not a widely accepted part of the Downtown DNA mindset. Senoia does not currently have an entrenched residential community that has come to expect filming as part of the downtown way of life when thinking in terms of a marketable cultural identity, in conjunction with its valued historic esteem.

As with many things in life, in order to know where you’re going and determine how far you’ve traveled, you need to know where it is you’ve come from. Just a little over a decade ago there were less than ten businesses located in the Historic Downtown District of Senoia. Today there are over 50 businesses and a waiting list exists for requested commercial space. This viable form of commercial success can sometimes be measured by the number of difficulties that it creates.

Challenges in the form of traffic congestion, limited parking, and thousands of tourists takes time for local government to filter, absorb and create a positive reactive response.

In time this reactive response will manifest into a proactive approach that can be more easily managed to mitigate the risks of growing pains that have been felt over the past several years.

This will also assist in answering the questions what would Senoia be like without a historic relevance or without the presence of the film industry.

It is said that too much of a good thing can breed complacency and provides the platform of motivation on which ignorance rests.

The juncture or crossroad of a historic human-scale environment now intersects with thousands of tourists [and “walker stalkers”] that converge weekly on a city of nearly 4,000 residents. It is only the merging of both cultural entities, not one without the other, which creates Senoia’s story line uniqueness.

The presence of the film industry (1989), coupled with promotion in the form of a Downtown Development Authority (1997) and Historical Society (1976), the creation of a historic overlay (1990s), and the creation of the Historic Preservation Commission (2007) continues to be instrumental to the cultural and economic development the city has experienced over the past decade.

To embrace the co-existence of the historic and film cultures, as Senoia’s unique identity, is to ensure the viability and sustainability of a community in what has been defined as “The perfect setting, for life”.

[Jeff Fisher is a member of the Senoia City Council. He has served on the council since 2009.]