Why Atlanta's Southside Is In Need Of A Black Renaissance
Can we gentrify our own communities?
“Riverdale, he was there, she was there, you wasn't there..."
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- 2Chainz, "RIverdale Road", Pretty Girls Love Trap Music
“I’m moving to Atlanta.”
These four words have become infamous for many a young, black, enterprising millennial looking to make a name for themselves in the city of Atlanta, the rising black Hollywood, and capital of the south.
But for natives like myself, these words mean something completely different. A return home after 10+ years of major accomplishments, failed aspirations, one beautiful daughter and more love lessons than I care to share, looks different as well.
This is not the Atlanta that I left.
And by no means did I expect it to be, but to come home and find the already present gaps (income, education, access to resources) even bigger, pushes my belief in a tale of two cities (must be two sides! #RIPShawtyLo), with one side, my side, being carefully kept out of the national conversation.
The city of Atlanta has undergone major transformation and investment over the past few years. With the building of the $1.6 billion Mercedes-Benz stadium, expansion of Hartsfield International Airport and major investments in the industrial and commercial sector, Atlanta has become an “alpha-world city” with the 18th largest economy in the world. But while this growth has huge positive implications for the economy, effects of this growth have been more-so seen and felt north of I-20, leaving areas in the southern metropolitan area of the city to fend for themselves casting a tattered narrative to the world.
So as the universe saw fit to bring me home this year, I realized that all of the work I had done over the years as a community organizer, entrepreneur and consultant would be finally put to the test here, at home. My passion for innovation and ideation around social issues would be challenged in ways that it never had while in Alabama or Tennessee. Because while these communities held their own case studies for redevelopment and investment in minority, low-income and blighted communities, my hood, the southside of Atlanta, is proving to be to be the ultimate case study in an ever-evolving Atlanta metropolitan landscape.
Simply put, it’s not the same for the southside.
Hartsfield International Airport may rest in South Fulton & Clayton County, but leaving the airport headed south, one can visibly see how the scenery, and the spirit, changes driving along U.S. Hwy 85 and Upper Riverdale Road. Semi-vacant commercial lots, fast food chains, blighted neighborhoods, and apartment complexes make up the bulk of the physical landscape, while socially, most demographic data speaks to a community that while highly melanated, is under-educated, underpaid and overall under water. While the city of Atlanta has become the final destination for so many up and coming black entrepreneurs and professionals, the spirit on the southside remains one of minimal progress and stagnation for black millennials.
Enter Aerotropolis Atlanta. A non-profit membership organization and a coalition of leading business and community leaders, Aerotropolis Atlanta Alliance was formed in 2014 to transform and revitalize the southside of Atlanta around Hartsfield Jackson International Airport. The 26-member board run organization has comprised a comprehensive development plan, Aerotropolis Atlanta Blueprint, which provides the framework and strategy for creating said transformation. This document outlines the area’s current landscape, strengths, weaknesses and community characteristics, giving readers a good glimpse at area demographics.
As an urban planner, documents like this take me back to school, providing a deeper understanding of the place that I call home. And while I am excited and anxious to see how this plan seeks to add value to the southside, I can’t help but look at the city of Atlanta and undoubtedly know that gentrification has finally hit home.
So what we gon' do now?
See, gentrification has become about as American as bombing foreign countries. And one of the main issues that black and brown communities face when being gentrified, is the erasure of culture, infrastructure, familial networks and narratives that make them ultimately unique. So when one thinks about ways in which you combat a system that would rather replace than renew, oftentimes it requires you to become a part of it, to create change from within. So as these plans for redevelopment and investment continue to develop and be executed, I challenge those of us who look to build and grow professionally in this city, to become the ones who gentrify our own communities. Not as a means to replace the old but to build a bridge between what is and what’s to come.
While my wish list is for the southside to become a destination for all things black and creative, this in no way erases the need to address homelessness, extreme poverty, education, access to housing, crime, drug addiction, mental illness, and a number of psychosocial issues that impact our communities presently with the same type of intensity. But as community stakeholders with seats at the proverbial table, the question will now change from “what are we eating?” to “what are we cooking?”, giving us more of a voice in how we build our communities, stabilize our economies and support the people we call family.
Southside, stand up. The future is now. Find your why, craft your niche, and let’s show & tell the world who we are before it’s done for us. #FocusOnTheWork