Atlanta’s cityscape is changing in a direction that—depending on whom you ask—is paradoxically economically progressive and downright oppressive to long-established Atlantan homeowners, landmarks, and hard-won public art spaces. Every week a new rumor of the next mixed-use development encroachment arises and every time the rumors are a hard pill to swallow. Even long-assumed immortal city staples like the Masquerade, with its twenty-seven-year history of swaddling the South’s alt kids and the city’s old punks, have come face-to-face with big development’s cotton fiber and green arsenal. Mixed-use developments have transformed into flashy, unattractively sterile, and innovation-suppressing kudzu vines. That being said, can we actually define Atlanta’s rapid redevelopment as irresponsible? Has our environment suffered an increase in pollution, crime, or violence following the move towards redevelopment? This is a complex question in need of a painstaking answer.
So how do we define irresponsible development?
The city has done nothing egregious in making the Beltline a reality; however, it has managed to turn a blind eye to developer practices. Typically, when an area sees increases in property values, median incomes, and education standards, it is inappropriate to attribute the trends to long-time residents all of sudden pulling themselves from the clutches of poverty. Those changes are due to new residents moving in and pushing working class families out.
Want the less flowery version? White people are moving in and black people are moving out.
The most insidious element of this shift is that the new residents of Atlanta’s economically depressed neighborhoods need not have incomes exceeding the poverty line to drive property values up. While other countries see gentrification take the form of high-income versus low-income residents, America tends to catalyze growth by simply forming a positive correlation between a decrease in melanin and an increase in property values. Due to a still lagging economy, new white residents tend to be working class themselves (though many of them have college degrees); however, because of incredibly deep rooted racial disparities between whites and blacks regarding income, familial safety nets, and financial stability in general, white money matters more. It’s no wonder Atlanta has seen a drop in black residents, so much so that the New York Times took notice of the historic change in a 2006 article. For the first time since the 1920s, Atlanta saw a decrease in black residents and an increase in white residents.
So let’s cut the bullshit and stop talking about gentrification as if its some worldly battle between the rich and the poor to call a formerly shitty block of the city home and acknowledge the truth: the city of Atlanta has failed to invigorate black communities and address income inequality and disparate education systems. Instead, the city has decided to focus its efforts on ready-to-tax, formerly surbanite, lilly-white “young professionals.” Depressingly, it has nothing to do with class but it has everything to do with race.
Before resigning to this reality, though, do not forget that the removal of working-class residents also lends to the sterilization of Atlanta’s art and nightlife scenes. Developers have really bad taste, and tend to assume their future condo residents also share this deficiency. They are not wrong. MJQ's plaza (and even Ansley Square) are ripe for real estate developers as the Beltline steams ahead behind and around them. Just how long do you think they’ll last?
So while the new white residents of Atlanta may be able to start a community garden and walk to brunch, the bitter rest of us (plenty of whom are also white, just poor and lacking a degree) can rest assured knowing that we will probably, in all likelihood, be bored as fuck.
It may be safe to call Atlanta’s rapid development irresponsible after all.