By John Schaffner

Where is the heart of Brookhaven?

Is there a downtown Brookhaven….A main street Brookhaven?

Is there a focal point to the community we call Brookhaven?

Does anyone care or even thought about the above?

The Reporter staff recently held a two-hour discussion with a few Sandy Springs civic and business figures to discuss a vision for Roswell Road in that city. The purpose was to try to define what might be the future downtown of Sandy Springs…its main street…the heart of that city.

People need a recognizable focal point for a community. They need a reason to take a second look, a reason to perhaps even pull over from the line of jammed traffic to experience a slice of community.

I think Brookhaven also lacks a vision of what it wants to be, how it wants to develop, what image it wants to project to those who pass through and even those who live and work here.

I propose someone or some organization take the lead and collect a panel of visionaries who can set aside old, worn proposals and think out of the box about creating a heart for Brookhaven.

That role fits well with the mission of the year-old Brookhaven Community Connection, which brings together representatives of the business community, residential communities and special interest groups once a month. The BCC already includes all of the stakeholder groups in the community. And it has the role of influencing growth and quality of life.

At the BCC’s most recent monthly meeting, attendees heard presentations about two potential community focal points: Oglethorpe University and Brookhaven Park. A university always has the potential of becoming the heart of a community.

In Brookhaven, however, the 20-acre park at the corner of Peachtree and Osborne roads possibly could become the heart of the community—a place where people gather, play, enjoy culture and arts.

What amazes me is the number of people who pass both the university and park almost daily and have no idea of what lies behind the Peachtree Road frontage. In the case of Brookhaven Park, that frontage is a chain-link fence that bars park access from the road.

Members of the Historic Brookhaven Neighborhood Association are circulating a plan for revitalizing Brookhaven Park, including a proposed off-leash dog park.

That proposal calls for maintaining the present DeKalb Service Center building, which provides employment and day support for people with developmental disabilities, moving and expanding the playground, picnic area and parking lot, expanding the walking trail and other possible amenities. But it remains essentially just a park.

Others in the community have long wanted to move the county’s library to that park and add an arts center in the same building. That proposal became controversial because it would have displaced the DeKalb Service Center.

Some residents are promoting a makeover for Brookhaven Park. They hope to add a fenced area for dogs and a new stone gateway to the park, allowing people to walk in from Peachtree Road.

But is there a way to expand the concept of Brookhaven Park and make it into a focal point for the community? What if the service center could remain there, a dog park was added, playground expanded, walking trail extended, an amphitheater added? Could a library and arts center building share the space and add to the meaning of the space? What about an inviting, welcoming openness on Peachtree Road, rather than a fence barricade?

Could this become a space to draw community and make passers-by take a second look?

Maybe. But maybe that doesn’t work. Maybe there is something else, totally different, that Brookhaven needs as a community—a heart, a focal point waiting to be discovered and defined by people with vision.

The Brookhaven Reporter would be happy to facilitate such a discussion to start the process and get the creative juices flowing. But it ultimately requires the community to find itself, to discover its heart.

Is Brookhaven ready?

Another unsung jewel

We attended the opening night performance of the Georgia Shakespeare’s 25th anniversary season on June 10. The performance was “Shrew: The Musical.”

I am ashamed to admit that for several years I have thought about attending Georgia Shakespeare performances, but somehow never got around to it. I heard that same sentiment from several of the people invited by Reporter Newspapers, which hosted the performance.

In fact, several people said they had never been on the Oglethorpe University campus, even though they often have passed by on Peachtree Road.

I studied a lot of Shakespeare in college and I am old enough to recall the earlier “Kiss Me Kate” musical version of “The Taming of the Shrew,” with music by Cole Porter.

The performance of “Shrew: The Musical” was absolutely terrific and incredibly entertaining. That seemed to be the universal opinion of those in attendance that night. It plays through Aug. 8. I heartily recommend it to everyone.

We also applaud Richard Garner, the company’s producing artistic director, who co-founded Georgia Shakespeare and has stuck with it for 25 years, a long time in theater life.