Martin Luther King Jr.'s home and its street to receive historic designation from Atlanta

By David Pendered

The street where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. moved his family in 1965 is slated to become Atlanta’s newest historic district.

The Sunset Avenue Historic District would protect all houses on the street, including the King home, from developments and alterations that are not in keeping with the community’s historic nature. Other dwellings were home to civil rights leaders and some of the city’s earliest European settlers.

“This will bolster tourism traffic and trade in the area, and it will memorialize the giants who put their life on the line, and their families who sacrificed so much,” said Atlanta Councilman Ivory Lee Young Jr.

Great journalism in Atlanta needed now more than ever

By Lyle Harris

OK, already.

I’ve apparently set some dubious distinction for my last opinion column which was an optimistic ode to 2010, as in last year.

Since then, I’ve gotten a lot of grief about that from friends and frenemies who have helpfully informed me the expiration date for relevant internet content is usually measured in seconds, not months.

Who knew?

Here's to 2010 — And to Hope for a new regional "Odyssey"

The sci-fi masterpiece “2001: A Space Odyssey” was released way back in 1968, a year when it seemed as if the whole world was coming undone.

I was an 8-year-old science nerd at the time, and my big sister Gail took me to watch director Stanley Kubrick’s G-rated head-trip at the Rialto Theater on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn.

I didn’t understand most of the movie but couldn’t wait for the day when I could travel across galaxies talking to computers and scooting between the stars with my very own jet pack.

Really Want to Fight Crime? Let's Shift from Gulags to Green Economy

Go to any neighborhood meeting, mayoral forum or happy hour in Atlanta and ask folks to rank the issues that worry them most. I’d bet dollars to donuts that “crime” and “the economy” will top their lists.

I’ve been wondering a lot about how these issues are related and concluded that instead of putting more people in prison-issue, orange jumpsuits we’d be better off preparing them to become part of the coming “green collar” economy.

I realize that talking about job training for criminals seems untimely when we’re so busy being scared witless about becoming their next victims. But I’m convinced my proposition would ultimately be much cheaper, and saner.

It’s easy to see why our community is obsessed with crime. Our fight-or-flight response has been raised to fever pitch by a series of high-profile crimes in Atlanta – including the tragic murders of an elderly laundry worker, an outstanding young boxer and a popular bartender.

As a result of our anxieties, gun sales are up and more people are getting home security systems (assuming they can still afford to actually live in their homes).

Our local news outlets are also feeding the frenzy; most TV stations have adopted the “if it bleeds it leads” approach to journalism and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution launched a new online service that will enable its readers to track neighborhood crime stats as easily as Braves box scores.

Old Question, New Answers for Atlanta's Struggling Media

Who will tell the people?

That oft-repeated line was first written by Mary Anne Evans, the Victorian novelist who was best known by her pen name, George Eliot.

Don’t get me wrong; I wouldn’t know George Eliot from George Foreman. Frankly, until I sat down to write this column, I was clueless about the fact that Eliot (who more famously authored the classic, Silas Marner) was a woman.

But that trenchant question, asked rhetorically by one of Eliot’s fictional characters, has been nagging at me lately.

Considering what’s happening to the newspaper industry, in general and metro Atlanta media, in particular, I wonder ‘who will tell the people?’

As a lifelong reporter, the meltdown of modern journalism has me understandably worried. As a citizen of this region, the implosion of our local newspapers has me terrified.

My former employer and the state’s largest daily newspaper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, has shrunk – literally and figuratively – into a shadow of its former self as its readership and revenues have tanked.

In the two years since I left the AJC, the staff has been cut dramatically, key departments have been downsized or eliminated and the reporters still working there are stretched far too thin to do their best work.

Recently, the paper’s publisher announced the decision to shutter the AJC’s storied downtown headquarters and move the bulk of its operations out to the suburbs by the middle of 2010.

Don't Stop the Presses: AJC move to Dunwoody is Desperate, but no Death Knell

Witnessing the downward spiral of the Atlanta Journal- Constitution reminded me how it felt watching my father die. I wanted him to keep fighting for his life, but it seemed he’d just stopped trying.

I can only hope that’s not happening at the AJC.

Vincent Grover Harris passed away two years ago. He’d been in faltering health and, at one point, my family was faced with a decision that’s painfully familiar to children with aging parents; whether to move him out of the comfortable home where he lived with my Mom into a medical facility some distance away where he’d get better care.

We visited several places, but deep down, we knew moving him wouldn’t make much difference. We’d never cheat death but, perhaps, we hoped it would buy us more time.

It was a wrenching choice and it seems the situation may be just as grave for the city’s biggest and oldest daily newspaper.

A week ago, my colleague Maria Saporta, broke the story that the AJC was considering a move from its gritty downtown headquarters on Marietta Street to the sanitized Perimeter Center office complex in suburban DeKalb County.

On Monday, Michael Joseph, the newspaper’s publisher du jour, essentially confirmed Saporta’s earlier account; the building that has been a fixture in the heart of the city since 1972, and the paper which had been based there for more than 140 years, would be decamping for the Perimeter by mid-2010.

Talkin' About a (Green) Revolution

History proves that an occasional revolution is good for the soul. In fact, they can be critical to our society’s survival.

Not very long ago, “going green” was dismissed as a passing fad promoted by aging hippies, tree-huggers and assorted cranks. No longer. Nowadays, the Green Revolution has become mainstream. Suddenly it seems everyone is jumping on the cleaner, greener bandwagon – and that’s a good thing.

But in metro Atlanta and elsewhere, the green movement hasn’t been especially popular in communities of color.

Although there’s sparse research on the subject, a 2004 poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that support for environmental regulations was lower among African-Americans and Latinos than it was for other ethnic groups.

There may be some solid reasons for the racial disconnect according, to Van Jones, founder of a Oakland-based organization called Green for All.

In a 2007 article for the magazine “Color Lines,” Jones said, “Too often (Blacks and minorities) have said: ‘We are overwhelmed with violence, bad housing, failing schools, excessive incarceration, poor healthcare and joblessness. We can’t afford to worry about spotted owls, redwood trees and polar bears.”‘

Jones went on to explain why he believes that racial dynamic is changing.

“Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath taught us that the coming ecological disasters will hit the

Atlanta Still Needs to get "Smart"

As a father, I know exactly how much it stings to be told by a seemingly insensitive (but candid) teacher that the precious fruit of your loins isn’t keeping up with the rest of the class.

After the instinctive impulse to defend your kid washes over you, the inevitable second-guessing and self-blaming kicks in:

‘If only I had played Mozart instead of Jay-Z when she was still in the womb,’ you ask yourself.

‘That’s it. No more Nintendo in this house!’ you declare unconvincingly.

And then there’s my all-time favorite: ‘How is she ever going to get into Harvard now?’

Granted, it has been awhile since I’ve had to grapple with my kids’ academic shortcomings and my own gnawing parental deficiencies.

But I confess to getting that familiar punch-in-the-gut sense of failure all over again after scanning “Smarter Cities” a recent study by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The NRDC, a non-profit, environmental advocacy group that does credible work, has ranked the American cities that have successfully implemented “smart growth” strategies.

As I plugged Atlanta’s name into the study’s online search tool, I was disappointed to find we weren’t counted among the smartest of the large cities.

Even worse, Atlanta didn’t make the list at all.


Do the Right Thing: More than just a movie for Atlanta

A lot can happen in 20 years; it’s hard to believe “Do the Right Thing,” Spike Lee’s searing portrayal of urban race relations, debuted way back in 1989 when “Poppy” Bush was in the White House and asking us to read his lips. Two decades hence, we’ve wished “buh-bye” through gritted teeth to the Junior Bush-in-chief.

For Bush II’s beleaguered successor, fixing the economy and restoring our battered national character at home and abroad are, of course, top priorities. But, by virtue of his cross-cultural ancestry, President Obama is also implicitly tasked with re-defining our outdated notions about race.

On that score, Obama certainly has his work cut out for him. Come to think of it, as residents of metro Atlanta, so do we.

Hopefully, the recent 20th Anniversary celebration of “Do the Right Thing” at the Fox Theater will occasion more than wistful nostalgia for the late 80’s. It’s an opportunity also for metro Atlanta to examine anew some of the troubling issues Lee’s film dared to raise.

Lessons from "Uncle" Leon: Metro Atlanta is All in the Family

by Lyle Harris

Leon Eplan, the city of Atlanta’s long-retired planning commissioner, has been a mentor to many people. I know because I’m one of them.

We met nearly 20 years ago while I was working as a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution after moving here from New Jersey with my family. Then as now, Eplan was a relentless visionary who had an infectious belief that the city and the region were destined for genuine greatness.

Eplan, who’s originally from Florida, has lived here long enough to become a “naturalized” Atlantan. Like so many of us transplants, he shares an abiding sense that this city’s future will outshine its past. Whether you’re born with that native impulse or its bred into you, it helps having an “uncle” like Eplan to help make it plain.

A rare combination of enlightened principle and grounded pragmatism, Eplan understood “smart growth” before the phrase was cool or popular.