Atlanta is Changing Part III: The Atlanta Way

Techwood homes

Techwood homes

In our previous entry, we explored the history behind this current demographical shift in Atlanta. The interchanging of one demographic over another can never really be considered “new” regardless of how unexpected and politicized it may be. In fact, it’s one aspect of the modern “Atlanta way”; avid consumers of local news see this phrase often, and while it is a phrase that’s embedded in our identity as a city, many are unaware of its origin. In the twentieth century, Atlanta emerged from a harrowing history of violence fueled by racial tension to become a national symbol for racial tolerance and progress.

The Atlanta Riot of 1906—a result of the high incidence of lynching of blacks by white mobs (current research puts the number of lynching victims before the riots in the range of 10,000)—galvanized action between black and white business owners, political heavyweights, and intellectuals. Their mission was to work together and promote Atlanta as a city of racial tolerance, progress, and growth. However, the adoption of this system never resulted in truly huge gains for city's black communities and promoted the old system of black reverence for whites. It also stymied civil rights victories during the pinnacle of the national movement—even though Atlanta was the epicenter of the movement.

But what happened to the Atlanta way?

The Atlanta way is still practiced, as evidenced by the continuing usage of the phrase by national and local press and by the brokering relationships between the moneyed classes of this city. If you were to explore the twenty-year history of Atlanta’s “rebirth/growth” urban policies, it becomes apparent that the purpose of the city’s heavy investment in developer interest is in part to disperse poverty and also to attract the well-to-do.  A high concentration of poverty leads to crime—and crime costs city governments a lot of money. Yet in an environment rife with poverty, some have argued that crime is a means to an end, the end being survival. From that perspective, is the practice of simply breaking up impoverished sectors and dispersing economic “untouchables” really conducive to achieving growth? If the answer is yes, the question becomes: growth for whom? Certainly not for those who formerly existed in these “undesirable” areas.

Considering the city’s fervor to tear down and make new, it would surprise many to learn that Atlanta has the distinction of being both the first city to institute public housing and the first to tear all of it down.  2009 marked the year the city tore down its last public housing unit, a bitter bookend to its former policy of providing a social safety net to its citizens.

The projects of Atlanta were rough, and poverty needed to be addressed, but was the decision to disperse the poor the right decision? The Department of Housing and Urban Development has admitted to not knowing what happened to the thousands of families they forced out of the projects. The families were simply given vouchers and asked to move on, so any data regarding the relative success of the policy is biased as it only describes the effects on the community that was purged and not the families that were forced into exodus. This data is what attracted developers to the city’s newly ripe real estate market. The practice from which the data emerged is what encouraged developers to make every tract of seemingly depressed yet already established real estate ripe for exploitation.

It’s the Atlanta way and it likely is not changing.


Zaida J. is currently a Features Editor here at WUSSY and a self-described transgender loud mouth.