Decatur Police: Driver left the scene after damaging planters on West Howard AvenueA photo of damaged planters along West Howard Avenue. Photo provided by Jon Challen
Decatur, GA — The 197 multicolored planters on West Howard Avenue are intended as a traffic-calming solution, but sometimes traffic and planters don’t mix.
On April 17, Decatur Police responded to the intersection of West Howard Avenue and Commerce Drive around 10:17 p.m.
“A vehicle traveling on West Howard Avenue struck several of the planters located along the roadway,” Sgt. John Bender said. “The vehicle left the scene prior to officers arriving.”
Jon Challen, HOA President of Commerce Place Townhomes at 1580 Commerce Drive, alerted the city to the issue and provided pictures of the damaged planters.
“Around 10 p.m. last night, a vehicle plowed through multiple planters along West Howard Avenue,” he wrote in an email to City Manager Andrea Arnold. “None of us saw it, but many of our residents (including me) heard it. We reported the hit and run to Decatur Police, but I’m not sure what came of that. In any case, I’m reaching out because some significant cleanup is needed to remove and replace the mangled plastic planters along with the dirt and uprooted shrubbery and trees that were in the planters.”
This isn’t the first time a driver along West Howard has damaged the planters. They were intended to be a temporary solution, but the city hasn’t been able to create a permanent solution yet, though one is in the works.
In the years that they’ve been in place, they’ve become a local source of amusement.
Resident Huckleberry Starnes started making stickers, signs and other merchandise poking fun at the planters. One design he started with was redesigning the city logo to feature three planters instead of the building.
“I really love Decatur as a city,” Starnes said. “My response on the logo was basically pointing out the hypocrisy of people who claim to have so much pride in the city, but are also so quick to tear it down when not really adding anything.”
During the pandemic, he also made a sign warning residents to wear their masks or they’d get more planters. The business has been successful, judging by the bumper stickers on numerous cars in the city, and Starnes has become known as the “planter guy,” he said.
“I get to hear everyone’s unsolicited feelings on the planters,” Starnes said.
He said people fall into three categories when it comes to the planters — those who wonder why the planters are there, those who wonder why the planters were chosen, and some who think the planters are funky and weird but are doing their job.
Starnes added that it will be interesting to see what happens after the planters are removed and whether people will be nostalgic for them.
When the planters were initially installed, those passing by them had a lot to say about the colors of the planters.
Assistant City Manager David Junger said the city has always taken a creative approach to doing things and wanted to create an engaged, lively space using color.
“Decatur has always been a very artsy, eclectic community. We believe in use of color as a general rule. You walk through our city buildings, and you’ll see that they’re not the normal institutional feeling. We embrace art,” Junger said. “We’ve learned through this. I think if we were to implement something maybe a little more edgy, now we know, let’s talk about that upfront. We didn’t get that detailed in the community meetings.”
“I never really imagined that, that was going to be a sticking point like it became,” he added. “That surprised me, honestly. Not what I would have expected.”
Reporter Zoe Seiler contributed to this story.
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