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Gentrification eats Its own

King Williams
New $400,000 Townhomes overlooking East Atlanta Village.

By King Williams

I’m one of those rare people actually born and raised in Atlanta, and I spent a lot of my formative years at my godfather’s home off Flat Shoals Avenue.

During the 90’s- early 2000’s I watched the Eastside change first-hand. I saw East Lake, Kirkwood and Downtown Decatur transform, but East Atlanta – more specifically the village – was particularly interesting.

Marching band through East Atlanta photo by Kelly Jordan

At that time, East Atlanta was a pass through. It was laid out a bit funky with its street configuration, but it was just another working-class strip of a few businesses.

It started as just some small storefronts, mechanic shops and vacant lots that sat idly growing weeds. But as it grew, I saw its transition into what seemed like a smaller Little Five Points, then into a full-grown in-town destination for young people wanting a taste of the nightlife.

Given my experiences with and in this neighborhood, A recent article from Evey Wilson of WABE called “With Change Lingering, Can East Atlanta Keep its Cool” caught my interest. People were using this article to start a conversation about gentrification – and these weren’t people normally concerned by it.

 

 

From the WABE article:

“Today, the people of East Atlanta are fighting again to stay weird in the face of gentrification and condo-culture. Against all odds, they seem to be winning, for now.”

 

New $400,000 Townhomes overlooking East Atlanta Village. Photo by Kelly Jordan

For nearly 20 years, East Atlanta Village (EAV) has managed to position itself as an example of enduring counterculture and city living. EAV reminds people of the spirit of ‘Old Atlanta’, the punk rock, after hours version of Atlanta.

But as it continues to grow, it’s looking like last call for East Atlanta Village as the encroaching condos and newer real estate developments look to build off of that cool EAV brand. East Atlanta is becoming a radio-friendly version of punk rock with all the f-words bleeped out.

Classic gentrification.

Atlanta has been going through this same process for 40 some-odd years now. It’s been happening over time sporadically in different sections of town and for different reasons.

The gentrification of East Atlanta, in particular, is actually regentrification – the resettlement of the people who left an area in the first place.

East Atlanta’s neighborhood life cycle is similar to many in the city. It was originally inhabited by the Creek people, it has Civil War ties, it was an adjacent neighborhood that was annexed into Atlanta, it was abandoned in the 1960’s due to White flight and became majority Black as a result.

As Atlanta grew, though, so did the need for housing. However, the restrictive covenants and segregated housing districts were causing general unease throughout the city. Black residents needed more space to live and the surrounding neighborhoods would eventually see black residents move into the area.

Motorcycle outside of East Atlanta Village car repair
Photo by Kelly Jordan

East Atlanta couldn’t have become East Atlanta without disinvestment and lower property values that came as a result of white flight.

That’s the thing about gentrification, it doesn’t end until it completes its life cycle. ‘EAV’ like ‘West Midtown’ are examples of gentrification that have been successful – if that’s what you want to call it. But with success comes the price increases and the boring homogeneity.

It’s usually at this point in East Atlanta’s lifecycle that we’re likely to start hearing from people concerned about gentrification, who, in a previous cycle, would be okay with it.

Preserving space, preserving affordability and preserving the neighborhood’s identity will likely be now their issues. These concerns are the same across demographics, but it’s always the disenfranchised whose concerns are drowned out.

Everyone loves gentrification, as long as it ain’t happening to them.

With every new pricey townhome or condo, the cycle of gentrification turns a little more. Once the cool is co-opted, commodified, homogenized and sold to the people who want to feel the same safe suburban experiences.

When the ‘cool’ is co-opted, it’s over.

This isn’t the end of East Atlanta Village but it is the beginning of the next phase of commodification and suburbanization in the city.

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King Williams
King Williams

King Williams is a multimedia documentary film director and author based in Atlanta, Georgia. King’s documentary “The Atlanta Way: A Documentary on Gentrification” will be released this Summer. He is an associate producer on the upcoming Sara Burns (daughter of documentarian Ken Burns)/Dave McMahon’s 2019 documentary – ‘East Lake’ – on the former East Lake Meadows housing project. King can be reached at king@saportareport.com or @iamkingwilliams on Instagram and Twitter. His number is: 470-310-1795.

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6 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Dean July 7, 2019 4:02 pm

    We are in the line of fire in Clarkston. We have a Democrat mayor, supposedly the champion of the refugee & poor, systematically driving us out.

    At one time he was anti-gentrification & pro-affordable housing. Now, he has changed directions for unknown reasons. With what seems like a vengeance of decimation, spouting racial & discriminatory allegations in council meetings against the cool & diverse residents, his team seeks to drive the proverbial stake into the heart of town.

    The pro immigrant pro LGBTQ team has become the pro North American Mission Board/Southern Baptist Conference, whose strategy is to convert the Muslim population to Baptist Christianity and are anti LGBTQ.

    Selling out the eclectic culture to developers will destroy the petri dish of our melting pot. We are at the beginning of our redevelopment chapter and the council has thrown the legal plan out the window to allow a Wild West developer’s shootout where the highest bidder gets to rewrite the rules to benefit themselves, Greed.

    We the people, thought we had successfully professionalized our processes to work with developers to attain a shared vision. Now it is we the people who are being ignored.

    Sometimes a great notion is lost when the pillars holding up that notion fail because they gave an inch. This time they are giving up the neighborhoods plus six acres of green space in less than a year. What changed team?

    How does the mayor square his zeal for development with his role as president of the Georgia chapter of the Sierra Club?Report

    Reply
  2. Avatar
    Learn To Think July 8, 2019 10:47 am

    If you cut the fat away from this editorial all you get is this : white people move into an area bad, black people move into an area good.
    The word gentrification is itself racist as it used today by the unoriginal writers and thinkers that pollute the web. Even an old guard liberal like myself is tired of identify politics and the further division of society it creates. Society has become too hateful and fragmented and it’s unoriginal writing like this that further fragments us.Report

    Reply
  3. Avatar
    K3n July 8, 2019 4:28 pm

    That’s very true, Learn. When people moan about gentrification, I ask if they would prefer the neighborhoods remain run-down hell holes. I say this as a black man who enjoys spending time in revitalized neighborhoods that once avoided like the plague.Report

    Reply
  4. Avatar
    Melanie Wofford July 8, 2019 7:25 pm

    This is an interesting article, written by a well respected citizen of Atlanta. Gentrification is real and it could look very different if funding opportunities, community and economic development was extended to the existing neighbors who are often moved out and displaced. Dont get it twisted, bad neighborhoods and ghettos are the way there are due to LACK OF RESOURCES and EQUITABLE OPPORTUNITIES FOR PEOPLE OF COLOR. Yes, I’m yelling. With all due respect.Report

    Reply
  5. Avatar
    Dean Moore July 9, 2019 4:29 am

    We are in the line of fire in Clarkston. We have a Democrat mayor, supposedly the champion of the refugee & poor, systematically driving us out.

    At one time he was anti-gentrification & pro-affordable housing. Now, he has changed directions for unknown reasons. With what seems like a vengeance of decimation, spouting racial & discriminatory allegations in council meetings against the cool & diverse residents, his team seeks to drive the proverbial stake into the heart of town.

    The pro immigrant pro LGBTQ team has become the pro North American Mission Board/Southern Baptist Conference, whose strategy is to convert the Muslim population to Baptist Christianity and are anti LGBTQ.

    Selling out the eclectic culture to developers will destroy the petri dish of our melting pot. We are at the beginning of our redevelopment chapter and the council has thrown the legal plan out the window to allow a Wild West developer’s shootout where the highest bidder gets to rewrite the rules to benefit themselves, Greed.

    We the people, thought we had successfully professionalized our processes to work with developers to attain a shared vision. Now it is we the people who are being ignored.

    Sometimes a great notion is lost when the pillars holding up that notion fail because they gave an inch. This time they are giving up the neighborhoods plus six acres of green space in less than a year. What changed team?

    How does the mayor square his zeal for development with his role as president of the Georgia chapter of the Sierra Club?Report

    Reply
  6. Avatar
    Stephanie Parkrer August 1, 2019 6:12 pm

    The neighborhood feel and uniqueness is going fast. Developers don’t design anything that fits the style of the buildings around them, just cheap crap with no character.Report

    Reply

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