Yesterday we celebrated the life of one of the most important sons of Atlanta: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. King was born, raised and later preached in Sweet Auburn, just east of downtown Atlanta. Once the vibrant heart of a bustling, prosperous African-American neighborhood, the area fell on hard times like most of urban America after the midpoint of last century. In the 1960s, Interstate 75/85 was driven through the heart of Sweet Auburn. While the interstate reconnected suburbanites who'd abandoned the city, the "Connector" actually further isolated the marginalized black community. But times are a-changin' again. In a poignant new feature, CNN explores the demise and ongoing rise of Sweet Auburn.
Atlantans are flocking back to the city, seeking places to live. From Inman Park to West Midtown, millennials and empty-nesters alike are forgoing large homes on lush lots in the suburbs for a more urban lifestyle. One of the hottest neighborhoods in recent years has been Old Fourth Ward — helped along by the Beltline — which lies just north of Sweet Auburn, and, in fact, used to be one-and-the-same. The streets of Sweet Auburn are filled with a mix of storefronts, some gleaming with new businesses as others next door are derelict and vacant. A burgeoning population in the neighborhood, spurred partially by investments made in downtown by Georgia State University, highlights the area's growing attractiveness and the gentrification taking hold; a mark of both the successes and shortcomings of what is becoming the new Sweet Auburn. In some ways, it's a far cry from the neighborhood of Dr. King, though vestiges of the history remain.
The Atlanta Streetcar — seemingly a rolling woe machine — was envisioned as the first step of a larger transit network and a means of bringing development to the neighborhood. While development has been slow to take hold, some big projects are on the horizon, such as Big Bethel's $130 million development and the under-construction 200 Edgewood student residences. Despite the struggles ahead, there's hope for the historic neighborhood. As one local resident and businessman told CNN: "Progress didn't start with Dr. King, and it didn't end with him."