"New Atlanta"

By King Williams

What’s been brewing online and in real life for black Atlanta has finally gone mainstream – Old Atlanta versus New Atlanta.

Image of in-progress construction at Quarry Yards. The marketing has drawn criticism due to the images of upper income people in currently lower income Bankhead.
photo by Kelly Jordan

This debate reached critical mass and mainstream media attention recently thanks to Atlanta influencer Isaac Hayes III. The son of legendary musician Isaac Hayes posted a series of scathing critiques on his Instagram account of the Quarry Yards mixed-use development. 

His post launched a thousand ships as it reverberated throughout social media. As a result, others online chimed in about the tone-deaf nature of the development’s marketing materials and the idea of “New Atlanta” versus “Old Atlanta.” 

Adding to that conversation, Jay Bailey, President & CEO of the H.J. Russell Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (RCIE), posted a commentary about the development on his Facebook page. 

The combination of posts by Hayes and Bailey would prompt not only their followers but also Atlanta City Council member Matt Westmoreland to comment as well

This ire spread so fast and so wide that it made it onto the 5 o’clock news on channel 11.   Prompting a reply from the developer and causing the pitch deck to be taken down from the website.

When critiquing Quarry Yards and it’s marketing, the conversations have centered on two things: 

 1)  The absence of black people

The images of the happy, young, white Millennials in some vague place but definitely not Bankhead was a record scratch for everyone who saw it. (There are five confirmed Black people in the promo video).

 This was amplified by the “New Atlanta” concept presented in the marketing materials. Especially, considering Quarry Yards is located in one of the blackest and poorest sections of Atlanta.  

2) Who are projects like Quarry Yards even for? 

If the marketing materials are to be believed,  it’s not for the people living in Bankhead nor is it for people who’ve lived in Atlanta before the Braves moved to Cobb.

For what it’s worth, I mentioned the problems with the tone-deaf nature of Quarry Yards on Twitter in November of last year. With a video (which will probably be deleted soon) of a generic Quarry Yards presented like any upper income Millennial promo video.   

 

Columbusing in ‘New’ Atlanta

But what is at the heart of Quarry Yards, and for that matter the false constructs of “West Midtown,” “Upper Westside” and “West Downtown” as well as other gentrification rebranding/renaming efforts is Columbusing – the act of claiming a place or thing that is new that already exists. 

The practice of Columbusing is always done to extract new value out a place that otherwise never would justify the prices. Erasure is the point. 

New Atlanta exists on the skeletons of Old Atlanta. 

Child on bike on Bankhead
photo by Kelly Jordan

Gentrification can only exist when there is an unequal balance of power and land use. 

That stretch of Bankhead Highway has for years been plagued by nearly every social ill imaginable. Most of the ills arose from desegregation, white flight and black flight. 

Because of this destabilization and lack of investment, the area was ripe for predatory behavior of all types. Especially crime, blight, predatory banking schemes and real estate practices, which birthed the real trap.

 Not the trap of brunches, yoga classes or pop music.

Location, Location, Location 

Quarry Yards sits in one of the most valuable tracts of land in Atlanta. It’s located on Bankhead Highway next to the Bankhead MARTA station, connects to the Atlanta Beltline, is walking distance from the soon-to-open Bellwood Quarry park and it’s only a few minutes drive to I-285 and I-75. 

The development is also positioned to build off of all of the economic activity happening in the neighboring Howell Mill area – an area which itself has been active in its Columbusing efforts in the creation of identities for “West Midtown” and the “Upper Westside” 

 

 These “New Atlanta” rebranding and Columbusing efforts are not for Old Atlanta.

The “Old Atlanta” versus “New Atlanta” argument is really about respect. Respect for the locals, respect for history and respect for the community. None of these are the tenets of the real estate industry.

A building on Bankhead highway
photo by Kelly Jordan

Quarry Yard’s “New Atlanta” marketing copy and imagery speak to an underlying tension common in gentrifying neighborhoods – ethnic erasure and cultural identity swaps. 

When community residents see Quarry Yard’s marketing collateral, they know this place isn’t for them. It’s not representative of Atlanta today, but rather what the city wants to become tomorrow. 

The next Atlanta seems more like a bland, expensive suburb than a city. Devoid of Blackness, history or culture – and that’s the point. 

Columbus has landed and he’s discovered “New Atlanta.”

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 [email protected] or @iamkingwilliams on Instagram and Twitter. His number is: 470-310-1795.

7 replies
  1. Avatar
    King Less says:

    Your writing and thinking is one note, gentrification. When you see the entire world through the filter of race all you will ever see is that. That's sad. Perhaps you should look inside yourself and stop blaming the world around you.Report

    Reply
  2. Avatar
    Ken Woo says:

    Race is factor, but I agree many continue to view change through a race filter. However, one must wonder, why revitalization or gentrification often excludes minorities. Why cant these areas transform by also targeting the many well-to-do black ppl that exist in Atlanta? Its Marketing 101 ..bottom line its not effective.

    Caucasians dont want to live predominantly among minorities no matter how "well to do they are" but minorities clammer to be among the majority. The Corollary is that nightclubs market to ladies, a byproduct is that men will follow the women.

    It sucks, but its effective..and new business and developments will continue marketing the way it does until its not effective.

    Aside from the marketing rant..the projected change is better for the area no matter which filter you see through. The area staying tge way it is helps no one. If you own in the area, understand, and value appreciation you should be eager to see what the future brings. You Older area residents have become unintentional real estate gurus. Thus the beauty of owning where you sleep, no matter how modest.Report

    Reply
  3. Avatar
    Harold Michael Harvey says:

    Mr. Williams, thanks for bringing this perspective to the mainstream. Bankheadians have been sent back to where they came from, as the popular chant goes. In their place is a whiter, more affluent community with police protection.Report

    Reply
  4. Avatar
    Dana F. Blankenhorn says:

    Mr. Hayes makes a good point. Selling a project in a black neighborhood as white is offensive. There's an enormous amount of black wealth inside the city and black-oriented culture. Atlanta is, like it or not, the Capital of Black America. Quarry Yards, when it's built, won't look and feel like the ads.

    This doesn't mean white folks are unwelcome. I've lived here nearly 4 decades and love my neighbors.

    That said, Atlanta will once again become the hole in the doughnut unless it gains an upper-middle class majority. Suburban leaders sell their cities and counties as "low tax" because their people have money and their infrastructure is new. The city has many economic advantages right now — technology makes density an advantage. How long will that last?

    The city needs to seize its moment. Projects like Quarry Yards are part of it. Tone deaf marketing doesn't help.Report

    Reply
  5. Avatar
    Christopher Johnston says:

    Dana, the City of Atlanta has been the smaller, less-prosperous hole in the middle of much larger, more prosperous doughnut since the late 1960s. Even now, the City's population has not exceeded its 1970 Census population. This is not going to change. In 1970 the City was 28% of the MSA population, while today it is only 8%.Report

    Reply
    • Avatar
      John Herring says:

      Christopher, that has been reversed I am sure of it. There is so much activity and development in the donut hole that it is frightening that infrastructure will not be able to keep up.Report

      Reply

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