[By: Travon Bracey]
I miss the culture of Atlanta that I once knew. The neighborhoods that spoke a deep message about how people come together and celebrate was truly a sign that I saw when I was a child. It never occurred to me that gentrification existed in Atlanta and though, I notice the changes within the city throughout my childhood to late teen ages, I never knew that gentrification was the cause of why the culture is so lost within this amazing city. Atlanta is one of many cities in the United States that suffers from gentrification socially, politically, financially, educationally, and even mentally for some individuals who lost it all. What happened to the once black-populated neighborhood, Kirkwood? Why are new developments such as The Beltline, Atlantic Station, and Camp Creek Marketplace being implemented into communities that once shared so much history? Why is the population of Atlanta getting thicker and thicker every, single 5 to 10 years? Gentrification may be the cause of these rapid changes that I seen with my own eyes.
My past experience
I grew up in the neighborhoods of East Lake, Kirkwood, Oakhurst of Decatur, and Reynoldstown. These neighborhoods are part of the East Atlanta District, but not known to be part of the East Atlanta neighborhood itself. My mother got her first apartment in the East Lake neighborhood in 1999, just off of Memorial Drive. My mother, my brother, and I stayed in that tiny 2 bedroom 1 bath apartment for 5 years. Just next to the apartments were a new residential development known as The Village of East Lake Apartments. My mother used to tell me that the community was once a housing project entitled East Lake Meadows (demolished in 1995), that was once known as the 'Black Vietnam Neighborhood of the South', which I found out that it was one of the most dangerous housing projects in the United States, so dangerous that even polices wouldn't step foot into the community, because most of them would have not made it out alive. I always was a questionable child. I always wondered, 'Why were there two golf courses within a housing project community?' It never made sense to me as a child (a lot of things didn't make sense to me at all during my childhood years), but whenever I was questionable about a particular subject, I would research it for myself.
But before my mother, my brother, and I moved into the East Lake community, my starting baby and toddler years were spent in the Oakhurst community in Decatur, one mile from Downtown Decatur, two miles away from Kirkwood, four miles away from Downtown Atlanta. We used to live in this house on Oakview Road (1930 Oakview Road to be exact). I was told we moved into the house around the 1996, early 1997, but after my mother moved out, my grandmother and aunt moved out of the house in the spring of 2000. The neighborhood was mixed, culturally-diverse area. Next to the house was a babershop which our family friend 'Mr. Bugg' used to once own, which his family carried the hair business since 1956 as a school and a hair salon. Now, he owns the Pro Way Hair School on Memorial Drive in Stone Mountain. I remember the stories that my mother used to tell me when I was two years old, I ran across the street to the corner store and ended up missing for approximately two hours before I was found by one of the workers at the corner store. Sweet memories lie within this neighborhood.
In Reynoldstown, the street were emerged with artistic graffiti on every fence and wall of the neighborhood. Some wondered whether the art was created by art professionals that would visit the neighborhood at night and create something on the outspoken walls or if it was gang-affiliated. One of the greatest parts of the neighborhood was the Krog Street Tunnel. It was famous for its dramatic graffiti and it was a bit scary to drive through at one point in time. I was so inspired, as s child, by the graffiti work that was developed within the neighborhood. Not too far was 'Little 5 Points', also known as 'hippy town', which I always felt that Little 5 Points was the blame of why Reynoldstown's artistic views were the way they were.
Kirkwood was another community that I grew up in. I used to visit the neighborhood a lot because I had to go to the nearby DeKalb Community Service Board Center to see my psychologist (I have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). I remember how my mother and I used to ride MARTA Bus #18 on Hosea L. Williams Drive and stopped in front of Mrs. Winners just to get some good ass chicken biscuits. Some of the guys that used to hang around the restaurant and the nearby convenient store used to holler at my mother, give her compliments. Because of this neighborhood, my mother was able to reunite with some of her class mates from high school. Kirkwood was a beautiful to rejoice in creativity.
The Change within the communities
It a bit shocking to know how the neighborhoods that you once lived in as a child changed into something different as you are growing up into an adult. The picture above is a great example of how gentrification looks like today in the Kirkwood neighborhood. The house one the left looks like it has so much sentimental and historical value to it. Sadly, it was bordering up and owned by the bank. The house on the right seems like a exact replica of the house one the left with little to no sentimental value to it and is fairly brand new.
When I look at images like that, it makes me angry and it also makes me sad that these changes are happening in my own eyes. I couldn't believe how Atlanta play a huge role in gentrification and whoever the people that are changing these communities don't seem to care about how the changes are being made, erasing a community's pride and joy that were once memories. Kirkwood is a big example of gentrification. I remember years ago, I read an article through the AJC where this black woman who was a resident of the Kirkwood community where she received a letter from a white resident telling her to move out of the community because she was unwanted. Now, I believe this was a starting rumor, however, there are proven documents that indicate that this happened. Now, Kirkwood is turned into a social town for young, professional individuals. In Reynoldstown, residents fought for their lives in the early to mid 2000s to keep the graffiti on the fences of DeKalb Avenue from being washed and painted over, however, the plan was forwarded. Today, the neighborhood still argues about keeping the Krog Street Tunnel, but since it has so much sentimental value to artists across the country, Krog Street Tunnel has been known to be one of the five places in which graffiti is a loud to take place for street artists to perform on. In East Lake, East Lake Meadows were transformed into The Village of East Lake Apartment Community and the two golf course were renovated, Drew Charles School and the East Lake YMCA was built, and Goodwill that was once across the street from East Lake Meadows was demolished and turned into a Publix grocery store. In Oakhurst, I watch our my family home was once vacant and turn into a $350,000 home with new finishes when it was once a home that was for rent through Section 8 housing for $800 a month and worth approximately $65,000 back in the late 90s.
Other neighborhoods in Atlanta that are part of gentrification are the following: Old Fourth Ward (near MLK Birth Home [Sweet Auburn]), Midtown (the LGBT community), West Midtown, Atlantic Station, East Midtown (the newly development known as the Ponce City Market), Stone Mountain (the unincorporated area), Downtown Decatur, East Atlanta District (near Moreland & Glenwood Avenue), Camp Creek Marketplace, Cascade, Mechanicsville (one mile from the West End neighborhood and The Atlanta University Center), The Atlanta University Center and Grant Park.
Gentrification - 1990 to 2000
Gentrification Since the year 2000 to present
So, the question is, 'What are we going to do about gentrification in Atlanta?' Are we just going to sit up here and let me take the communities that we once had control over? These questions are in need of answers. We, as a young generation, should start speaking our voice out loud in the community to let others know how we feel about this. gentrification has been around for nearly 30 years and there needs to be a stop to all of it. Atlanta is a cultural city for a reason and I wouldn't want them to take away the joy and memories that we once had. I can understand how gentrification is helping with making crime rates drop and building communities for the young, but what about us? Do we have to lose what we once called home? Think about it.
Watch the documentary The Atlanta Way about the affect gentrification in the city below.