Songs about urban development and land use are hard to come by, but Melanie Hammet has an entire album of them. Hammet, mayor pro tem of the City of Pine Lake, Ga. (population: 730), released the seven-track album Edifice Complex in April 2010. Since then, she has been balancing the dual responsibilities of performer and public servant.
Hammet began writing songs at age 10. She landed her first paid singing gig at the tender age of 16. These days Hammet balances performing — her full-time job — with her part-time job as mayor pro tem for the tiny, close-knit community 13 miles east of Atlanta.
Putting local government to music
When Hammet first moved to Pine Lake in February 1997, she fell in love with the entire community. She never expected to become an elected official (“If you had asked me eight years ago I would say I was just as likely to turn into a dragon”), but when she did make that leap, the job sparked her interest in land use and development.
After being elected in 2005 it became apparent to Hammet that “we had this funky little spot, but no zoning to protect its funkiness.” She didn’t know anything about land use, except that it was the apparatus that had to do with ordinances. When learning about zoning codes and the like, she realized that other people need to know about these topics. “I thought if I wrote an album, it could be kind of a bridge between planners and non-planners. Planners don’t realize how confusing it can be.”
The singer was awarded a residency at The Seaside Institute in Seaside, Fla., — an institute centered on the principles of new urbanism — in 2009, during which she wrote all the songs on the album, including “Planning and Zoning” and “Lay of the Land.” Hammet considers her tracks to be more of a “folk tune sing-along” than preaching; she composed them to stand on their own as songs, not just as novelty tunes.
As mayor pro tem, Hammet is asked to do just about anything that needs to get done in Pine Lake. The city just completed a huge restoration project on its man-made lake. She wrote a weekly blog about it called the “Dredge Report,” assembled informational kiosks that were placed along the wetlands trail, and wrote some of the information displayed on them. Unsurprisingly, she is also very involved in the Pine Lake Public Works Department. They were down to one employee at one point, so Hammet got out and drove the department’s tractor to water newly planted trees and clean curbs.
Although she doesn’t play in many clubs anymore, Hammet still performs across the country and is available to open conferences. “I’ll go anywhere someone wants me to perform. My primary message is (1) you have to help residents understand the importance [of urban planning], and (2) if you can entertain them while relaying importance, it’s a slam dunk.”
You can book Hammet by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Kelley Lindsey