Today, we hear from recent Atlanta transplants on issues that cut to the very core of any city's quality-of-life: crime and schools. On both fronts, Atlanta has reason to be optimistic. In recent years, FBI stats indicate a drop in most major crime categories in the city, and the rate of homicides continues to plunge (to 1960s levels now) despite a growing population. Still, this hasn't lifted Atlanta from the Top 10 of one study's "Most Dangerous" U.S. cities list, based on 2012 data. On the schools front, the public system in Atlanta has endured a drubbing played out on a national stage. But a well-respected (if somewhat controversial) new superintendent is at the helm, and she's vowed to rebuild Atlanta Public Schools from the ground up, helping it rise from a cheating-scandal quagmire. Nonetheless, not every new ATLien is sold.
REGARDING CRIME IN ATLANTA:
Of the 45 new Atlantans who took our survey, 42 gave input as it relates to crime in the city. (On average, they were 31 years old and had lived here for about a year). The overwhelming majority of respondents feel safe in Atlanta, even those who were recent victims of crime. Many seemed dumfound by the willingness of Atlantans to leave valuables visible inside their vehicles, tempting thieves. Many preached awareness (of personal surroundings and crime trends within neighborhoods) as the best means of thwarting crime in Atlanta, as with most major cities.
After considering the responses as a whole, we decided they fall into one of three categories: Totally Safe; A Little Uneasy; and Crime Is A Major Issue. Below is a categorical breakdown, along with sample commentary. Names, ages and/or occupations were included when it added context to the response.
CRIME IS A MAJOR ISSUE: 5 respondents
"This city seems much more dangerous than any place I've ever lived. I don't walk around in fear, but I constantly hear about pretty shocking incidents happening all over the place." — San Francisco transplant living in Reynoldstown.
"It's complicated, but I think (crime is) the biggest thing really holding the city back, especially in certain areas ... The crime thing is a much more complicated puzzle that involves socioeconomics, politics, history, geography.... it just seems insurmountable." — Julia Edwards, 25-year-old Ormewood Park resident, originally from Colorado.
"Absolutely feels less safe than NYC." — 31-year-old Buckhead resident.
"Grant Park is a great neighborhood, but crime is a definite deterrent to people living here. In most areas of the city, I worry much more about theft and muggings than I ever did in Chicago."
"The police respond quickly when called, but I don't feel safe in my home. At anytime someone who wants my 'ish' can come wielding a gun and kick in my door, really?" — Los Angeles native living in East Atlanta.
A LITTLE UNEASY: 12 respondents
"As with any other city, I am uncomfortable at night when streets are dark and feel abandoned. From experience, downtown feels unsafe at night."
"Trulia rates my immediate vicinity 'highest crime' and I was mugged at knifepoint in Brooklyn two weeks before moving to Atlanta, so I'm probably a bit jumpy. The most startling thing is the quantity of trees — there always seems to be someone lurking in shadows. But since I've been here I have not felt unsafe, and I have not been the victim of a crime." — 32-year-old Midtown resident from New Jersey.*
"We have been very surprised at how few police we see anywhere. That concerns us." — 63-year-old Midtown resident.
"The model needs to shift in this city though, with more and more people moving here from the coasts, new Atlantans are not going to put up with gun-point muggings and carjackings." — Ed McMillan, 31, who moved from Brooklyn last year.
TOTALLY SAFE: 25 respondents
"Indifferent (to crime). Doesn't cross my mind."
"I think Atlanta is pretty safe. Although my home was robbed twice, I still feel a sense of security." — RaShaun Holliman, 34, of Columbus, Ohio, a current Mozley Park resident.*
"The only time I can recall feeling unsafe was being hassled by someone on the MARTA. In comparison though, I feel the safest on MARTA than any other metro train."
"Our car was stolen from right in front of our house last year, but didn't make us feel unsafe." — 29-year-old defense attorney from New York City, who bought a Reynoldstown home in 2012.
"Compared to our former city of New Orleans, Atlanta seems safer. We feel safe in our neighborhood. Every major city has crime hot spots and we know where to avoid at certain times." — a two-year resident of downtown Decatur.
"I may have a different point of view than others. I was born in Spanish Harlem and grew up in Brooklyn when my Brooklyn neighborhood (Bushwick) was not the cool place it is now. I feel very safe here. But then again, compared to where I grew up, this place seems so safe. Even homeless people are friendly."
"It's not nearly as bad as people here think it is. People tell me to never ride MARTA after dark — seriously? We're not talking about the south side of Chicago, or the Tenderloin in San Francisco, or anything even remotely dangerous. Be alert, be smart, and Atlanta will be perfectly safe." — Victoria Gutierrez, 30, management consultant.
"I feel Atlanta is as safe as any other large metro area in the country. There are good areas and bad areas. Public safety has a lot to do with perception and personal prevention."
"I feel very safe in Brookhaven and in Buckhead. I know it's dumb, but we hardly ever lock our back door."
"I work in Buckhead & feel it's safe up there. I live a few blocks away from East Atlanta Village, and also feel safe there ... I don't watch the news much, but every time I do it sounds like there is some seriously bad sh*t going on out there."
"I've never felt unsafe. I feel like there is a lot of stigma surrounding certain things in Atlanta — MARTA, walking, any neighborhood that's not Buckhead — that gets wrapped up in 'safety' concerns but really seem more like race/class concerns."
"I feel this question is relative to where you have lived previously. If you lived in a small town with no crime then Atlanta might seem dangerous. But, I lived in Washington DC, for seven years and then New York City, so urban crime is something I'm very used to."
"I hear some people here talking like Atlanta is the big, bad, scary city, and it always makes me laugh." — Kristen Max, 45, Inman Park resident and New Jersey native.
"Living in Old Fourth Ward, I think I'm a little more aware than those who live in some other neighborhoods, simply because I'm close to downtown and to areas on the Connector where there is often a homeless population. Don't get me wrong — I generally don't feel 'unsafe' around them but environmental stresses can be linked to crime, so I tend to be more vigilant." — Katie Kimball, 25, occupational therapist from Madison, Wisconsin.
"Atlanta seems pretty safe. Oh, except for the fact that I assume everyone in a bar has a gun, because that seems like a good thing to legalize." — 27-year-old Grant Park resident from New York City.
SCHOOLS AND CHILD-REARIN':
In our 20-question survey, we asked: "How would you feel about raising children in Atlanta, if you aren't already?" We didn't ask specifically about schools (public, private, charter) in fear that those without children would not respond, or would not be informed. Thirty-nine people did respond, many in hypothetical terms. We'd specified that other ITP places beyond the actual city can also count as "Atlanta." Answers, again, are divided into three categories below:
GUNG-HO: 19 respondents
"Fine, no kids for us yet, but I'd be happy to send them to APS. People need to stop freaking about about sending their kids to a school that's not a 10 on greatschools or whatever the heck it's called." — Reynoldstown resident, 29.
"We are raising two elementary-age children in a public school, Hope-Hill (Elementary)." — M. Looney, a regional safety manager and Old Fourth Ward resident from Gwinnett County.
"We have a 5-month-old daughter and I am excited about all the attractions and educational experiences that Atlanta has to offer. Although, the cost of education is outrageous. I wish the public education options were better or private school was more cost-effective. (Even though our current daycare costs are more than most mortgage payments)." — 26-year-old J. Williams, a Brookhaven resident from Alabama who works in communications.
"We plan on it, someday! We figure by the time we have kids in school (a decade or so from now?) our public options will be better than what they are now. Charters and private are also potential options, but moving OTP is not." — Grant Park resident from Philadelphia.
"I have cousins who were raised in Atlanta. When I was young, I always wished we could move to Atlanta because life just seemed better here. I think Atlanta would be a wonderful place to raise a family." — 32-year-old from Queens.
"We look forward to adopting! Cant wait! My son is here from Ohio over all his school breaks and he loves it!"
"We are currently pregnant with our first, due in June. We picked Decatur because of school rankings. We also left New Orleans because of the public school rankings."
"Actually, my husband and I are building a home in Decatur so we can raise our future children there since the school system is better and it's a more walkable neighborhood than anywhere inside City of Atlanta."
"If I wanted children, I would be happy to raise them in the city."
A LITTLE IFFY: 13 respondents
"Seems like the schools are very hit or miss (public). I don't hear great things from my work colleagues with kids about their public school education."
"I feel great about it, except for the state of the public schools. I truly believe in a public school education, but the stats here are very poor for a lot of the schools … We are not willing to move to the suburbs for better schools, so I hope they improve in the coming years."
"We are going to raise children in the city. We know that this can be tough because many of the tools are not great. As more charter schools are developed hopefully this will raise the bar for the common public schools as well." — East Atlanta homeowner, age 31.
"I would … but only if I found the perfect school system. Public schools in Atlanta do not seem like a system I would want my children in." — Ashleigh Bryan, 25, Virginia-Highland resident from Charlotte.
"Schools would be the number one priority. We would probably move out of our current area." — a 47-year-old IT manager from Savannah, who lives in "Druid Hills/Virginia-Highland."
"I would love to say I would raise children in Atlanta, but the private schools are outrageously expensive and I think it's a little ridiculous to pay that much for a preschool. There are amazing public schools OTP — but I am not sure I'm ready to see myself as a suburban, Suburban-wheeling mama."
"We might need to move to a different neighborhood. I don't think people move to ours for the schools. Hopefully that will change." — Reynoldstown resident.
"I think Atlanta is a great place to put down roots and raise a family." — 23-year-old Washington DC transplant.
MY KIDS WILL NOT GROW UP/BE EDUCATED HERE: 7 respondents
"Let's put it this way: My girlfriend is morally opposed against sending hypothetical children to Atlanta's public schools." — "Eric," 25, a Buckhead resident from Pittsburgh.
"I hear the public school systems are in need of help. That seems to be the consensus. While I have no plans to have children, I would most certainly move to where the better schools are located if I had them. Like to the 'burbs! (shudders)."
"Concerned about public schools." — 31-year-old Buckhead resident from New York City.
"I would consider raising kids in Atlanta but I would probably move to the suburbs such as Alpharetta. A house there would probably be more affordable and the schools are great. Also, there are a lot of parks and open space where the kids can play." — 29-year-old Buckhead resident from Cincinnati.
"I'd raise my children ITP/in Atlanta but would not let them attend Atlanta Public Schools." — a 34-year-old producer at CNN.
"I would like to raise a child in the city if the schools were better and the crime less." — a 45-year-old dentist from Chicago.
"I never would. Having kids in Atlanta means adding the expense of private school to the expenses of childcare, saving for college, having a bigger home." — a 30-year-old downtown condo owner.
* This response has been designated an "Instant Classic."
· All New Voices Atlanta coverage [Curbed]