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Has Gentrification Run Amok in 'City On the Ascent'?

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[Atlanta "tracts" that "gentrified" between 1990-2000, and since 2000, via Governing.]

The controversial concept that is "gentrification" has been reshaping urban Atlanta neighborhoods — like those in other cities — for at least two decades, but it remains a somewhat nebulous phenomenon. Efforts to define gentrification sow a breeding ground of interesting questions: Do racial identities of certain areas need to shift, alongside economic and educational levels, in order to qualify for (or be negatively impacted by) gentrification? Is a place that betters its economy and schools but retains the same ethnic makeup gentrifying, too? In any case, a new study by Governing magazine claims that gentrification rates in Atlanta are among the highest in America, behind Portland, Washington D.C., Minneapolis and Seattle. Creative Loafing analyzes these findings in an article titled, "Can anyone stop Atlanta's rapid gentrification?", noting that the "complex confluence of the rising cost of living, reverse white flight, and displacement over the past quarter century" is happening at nearly twice the rate in Atlanta as other large American cities. Mayor Kasim Reed's office weighs in, adding that the city has power to combat gentrification by way of building permits, tax incentives, strategic real estate deals and the creation of workforce housing units. Another official worries aloud that those efforts aren't enough, positing that nothing stops gentrification's "growth machine" except rent control, like in New York City. Meanwhile, an unrelated AJC column paints the telltale signs of gentrification — while not specifically using that word — as evidence of a "city on the ascent."

Back to the study: According to the brains behind the Governing report, demographic data for the nation's 50 most populous cites were analyzed and broken down into Census "tracts" — pockets of cities a little larger than most individual neighborhoods. The local tracts that were found to be gentrifying, in short, started with median household incomes and home values in the bottom 40th percentile of all tracts in metro Atlanta at the beginning of a certain decade. And then — poof — they experienced "significant growth in both home values and educational attainment."

As CL points out, tracts that met this criteria in the 1990s included swaths of Cabbagetown, downtown, East Lake, Grant Park, Old Fourth Ward, Poncey-Highland and Reynoldstown. Since then, in the opinion of Governing, neighborhoods such as Cascade Heights, East Atlanta, Edgewood, Kirkwood, Lakewood Heights, Old Fourth Ward, Peoplestown, Riverside and West End have followed suit.

Contrary to what some people think, millennials aren't only ones who want a piece of the action.

A former Atlanta resident named Natalie DiSantis wrote to the AJC this week in support of her general area — unincorporated DeKalb County, near Emory University — being annexed into the City of Atlanta. In Atlanta, DiSantis and her comrades see "robust growth" and "a city on the ascent," she wrote. Other perks she points to: a "nationally recognized" police and fire service in Atlanta, a crime rate decreased by 20 percent in the last five years and higher pay for teachers. "Millennials and baby boomers alike are moving back into the city," she writes. "Kirkwood, Old Fourth Ward and Cabbagetown have been revitalized. Regional transportation initiatives and MARTA's renaissance re-invigorate communities and investment in quality infrastructure. Georgia Tech, Georgia State, Morehouse and Spellman have catalyzed change and innovation. There are billion dollar public/private partnerships in the Beltline, Ponce City Market and surrounding areas …"

Only cold-hearted bastards support the involuntary displacement of law-abiding citizens, but as Atlanta evolves, enthusiasm like hers might be a bad thing to combat.

· The Governing study [Website]
· Can anyone stop Atlanta's rapid gentrification? [Creative Loafing]
· Druid Hills annexation into Atlanta: 'An opportunity to join a city on the ascent' [AJC]

Creative Loafing

231 18th St., Ste. 8150 , Atlanta, GA 30363