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Atlanta’s equitable development: No easy answers, but other cities could light way

By David Pendered

As Atlanta struggles with the idea of equitable development in blighted areas, such as along the southern crescent of the Atlanta BeltLine, efforts in Washington, Detroit and Boston present real-time examples.

At a recent webinar, three cities presented their plans to promote equitable development in blighted neighborhoods. The Atlanta BeltLine Partnership is starting a similar effort along a southern portion of the BeltLine, including this retail center near Pittsburgh. File/Credit: Kelly Jordan

Leaders in these three cities shared their lessons learned in a four-hour seminar hosted Sept. 25 by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. The seminar’s thesis speaks to the situation facing Atlanta, the three cities in the seminar, and others across the country:

  • “Equitable development aims to help low-income neighborhoods and communities of color become places that provide economic opportunities, affordable living, and cultural expression for all residents.”

This statement captures the goals the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership has set for a consultant who’s to devise an equitable development plan for the BeltLine’s southern leg.

On Monday, the partnership was slated to announce the consultant, possibly a partnership, that’s to devise a way to retain existing residents and businesses in the area, and to unite them and others as community shareholders. The winner is to be announced on the website of the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership, according to the request for proposals.

No one expects the goals to be easy to reach. The partnership stated as much in a section on business retention in its request for proposals:

  • “As demographics, trends and tastes in the area evolve there is potential for existing businesses to experience reduced demand for their offerings and/or increased displacement pressures. Conversely, this change will create new opportunities for businesses to profit by developing new lines of business in response.”

In Boston, lease-up is complete at Bartlett Station for 60 residences priced from affordable, moderate and mixed income levels, based on the Boston area median income. Credit: nuestracdc.org

Atlanta is among the cities that have the opportunity for concern about redevelopment. Blight in most cities is not on the brink of being retooled, according to remarks during the Harvard seminar by Alexander von Hoffman, a senior research fellow with the joint center whose research paper last Spring analyzed three equitable development campaigns.

“Most neighborhoods are not gentrifying; most are stagnating or declining,” von Hoffman said. “Most could benefit from revitalization, done equitably.”

Detroit is the one city among the three in the seminar that seems most closely aligned with Atlanta, in terms of the landscape of potential redevelopment.

Detroit’s renewal program involves multiple neighborhoods and multiple partners. Each Detroit neighborhood that’s in a renewal program has its own unique aspects, according to Marc Norman, an associate professor of practice at the University of Michigan. In this regard, Detroit’s situation has similarities with that in Atlanta, where the multiple neighborhoods along the BeltLine, and other parts of the city, have one or more partnerships working toward community renewal.

The four-hour seminar explored details of efforts in each city. Highlights of the presentations include:

Invest Detroit

In Detroit, the Parker Durand development in the Islandview/Greater Villages
Neighborhood, near the Detroit River, provides 92 residential units, half of them at some level of affordable rates. Credit: investdetroit.com


A Strategic Neighborhood Initiative supported by a nonprofit development entity, Invest Detroit focuses on four goals and four programs to spur economic growth.

The goals are: density; jobs; thriving neighborhoods, and inclusivity.

The economic growth programs are: real estate; commercial and industrial; small business, and venture investment.

The program outlines lessons learned in recent years: housing affordability is imperative; coordination is essential to deliver programs including health and human services, mobility and workforce development, and strong community input and support is key.


The city’s 11th Street Bridge project was a $390 million program to replace two bridges built in the 1960s with three bridges and related interchange improvements.

The 11th Street Bridge Park is to be built on the piers of the old bridge across the Anacostia River. The result is to be an elevated park that enhances the connectivity between Capitol Hill, the affluent residential neighborhood that’s home to the Capitol, and Anacostia, an historic area that’s home to a large population of low-income Black residents.

In Washington, the 11th Street Bridge Park is to help bridge the divide between an historically low income Black community and Capitol Hill. Credit: bbardc.org


A proposed 10,000-unit housing project to be built over 20 years was approved last week by the city’s planning commission, according to Sarah Whiting, dean of Harvard’s Department of Architecture. The project isn’t the one discussed in the seminar, but indicates the scope of change underway in the Boston area, Whiting said.

The famed Bartlett pears were grown until 1888 on the Bartlett Station mixed use redevelopment sigte. The former orchard was converted to a transit storage area and Bartlett Station is part of the broader Roxbury Strategic Master Plan, according to Diane Clark, associate director of real estate development for Nuestra Communidad Development Corp.

The master plan was first presented in January 2004 as a guide for the next 10 to 20 years to create “a more socially and economically healthy Roxbury community,” according to a transmittal letter from Boston’s then mayor, Thomas Menino.


David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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