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Atlanta’s ‘runaway gentrification’ chronicled by national, international media

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Deep dives into Beltline exclusivity, struggles of Peoplestown residents publish on the same day.

The Beltline, as seen in 2012, is hailed as a conduit for urban vibrancy and, as one GSU professor puts its, the possible cause of “racial resegregation of the city.”
The Beltline, as seen in 2012, is simultaneously hailed as a conduit for urban vibrancy or, as one GSU professor puts it now, the possible cause of “racial resegregation of the city.”
Photo: Atlanta Beltline Inc. via Face

Friction born of a gentrifying Atlanta is hardly new fodder for media far beyond the ITP limits.

Back in 2006, after all, the New York Times published an in-depth story under the headline “Gentrification Changing Face of New Atlanta,” which chronicled the decline of Atlanta’s affordability as city-altering developments such as Atlantic Station dawned.

Now, a pair of articles from the national and international press—published on the same day, no less—have raised the topic of Atlanta’s complex gentrification struggles anew. Both are very much worth a read.

In a story titled “Putting the Brakes on Runaway Gentrification in Atlanta,” CityLab salutes the positive aspects of the Atlanta Beltline—how it’s a haven for exercise, a viable transportation alternative, and an eraser of blighted, “negative space.”

But the story’s gist involves the ugly truth of displacement, as relayed by recent, academic analyses and personal stories of longtime residents who’ve been forced out of Old Fourth Ward, for example, by rising rents.

Particularly interesting is a recent paper from Georgia State University urban studies professor Dan Immergluck and Georgia Tech graduate student Tharunya Balan, a professor of city and regional planning, which is critical of explosive, Beltline-triggered property value increases. Median sales prices in Beltline neighborhoods such as Adair Park and Westview ballooned by 68 percent between 2011 and 2015, per the study.

Immergluck also sounded the alarm in an interview with CityLab, asserting that the Beltline’s current trajectory could lead to the “economic and possibly racial resegregation of the city.”

The Beltline’s under-construction Westside Trail near Lucile Avenue, as seen this past June.
Curbed Atlanta

Meanwhile, British daily newspaper The Guardian has chronicled the plight of Peoplestown residents who’ve been fighting flooding issues for years—problems exacerbated by the construction of the nearby Olympic stadium that became Turner Field—and now face the possibility of losing their properties to eminent domain.

For years, Atlanta city officials have been trying to buy out a pocket of houses to build a park with detention ponds and “bio retention areas” that would, in theory, mitigate flooding problems.

But a group of motivated neighbors—suspicious the park is really a magnet for private development in disguise—are fighting their displacement with a lawsuit.

What happens in Peoplestown, the newspaper posits, could have much broader implications: “Atlanta’s decision to get rid of [public housing] eventually became a model for other cities. Its use of eminent domain could be next.”

A contrasting opinion on Atlanta’s gentrification came this past summer from the lead developer of Ponce City Market, Jamestown Properties CEO Matt Bronfman, who opined at a meeting:

“People throw out gentrification like it’s a bad word, and that is an oversimplification ... You want to have some degree of gentrification because you need to improve your tax base and support public services like arts, education, and parks,” Bronfman said. “So some degree of gentrification is absolutely necessary if you are going to be part of a successful city.”

Obviously, this age-old issue is multifaceted. And as such, solutions won’t come easy.