On its website, the Year Of Boulevard initiative doesn't mince words in describing the Old Fourth Ward thoroughfare's reputation: "a corridor famous for its Section 8 housing and street drug sales." If admission is the first step toward rehabilitation, that's a good thing. As for the future, the initiative's motivated leader, Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall, speaks of turning Boulevard into a "living laboratory of innovation" and a model for blighted areas in other cities. As such, the Year Of Boulevard tagline is a bit of a misnomer — because the program will apparently keep going year after year, building on incremental successes. This week, Hall launched the third annual Yo Boulevard! campaign with retooled focuses but the same positive energy. The broader goal is a gentler form of gentrification that stresses coexistence rather than displacement. All this begs the question of O4W residents and Boulevard commuters: From what you've seen, has the initiative been making a difference?
Atlanta magazine, which has covered the initiative like dew, says the 2012 Year of Boulevard's most important accomplishment was to begin fostering relationships between Bedford Pines residents and nearby homeowners. That year, a new APD mini precinct opened at Atlanta Medical Center and summer camps launched for Bedford Pines youth. Last year, those programs were expanded and others were added to include teens and seniors, Hall's office says. Dilapidated properties have been razed and efforts between police, neighbors and business owners to stamp out crime have become more coordinated. In September, more than 80,000 people attended the Streets Alive festival that coursed along Boulevard for the first time. And last month, dodgy Renaissance Park was rechristened as Atlanta's third off-leash dog park.
For 2014, the magazine reports that access to food and a heightened sense of security will be two major focuses. Sure, bountiful corporate food sources like Kroger and Publix are a stone's throw away, but transportation issues and cost prohibit those stores from being options for some residents.
Not that middle-class families or wealthy buyers are a panacea for what ails Boulevard, but when it comes to that particular corridor, is the gentry still timid?
Last year, we featured several Old Fourth Ward homes near Boulevard, many of them meticulously restored. Anecdotally, it would appear the right combination of smart renovation and proximity to upcoming attractions like Ponce City Market would trump proximity to Boulevard, as with this home that sold in a few weeks. Other homes within a couple of blocks of Boulevard — like this bungalow and this large craftsman on Highland Avenue — are still languishing on the market, despite reduced prices. Maybe that underscores a lack of confidence from buyers that conditions won't significantly improve soon enough, or maybe they're just not the right deals yet.
· Yo Boulevard! [Website]
· Year of Boulevard: Round Three [Atlanta magazine]
· 2014 Year of Boulevard launches Jan. 6 [Atlanta INtown paper]
· Recent Old Fourth Ward coverage, discussion [Curbed Atlanta]