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