Tactical Urbanism project for “Lifelong Communities” this weekend in ATL

This looks like a cool project. Two blocks of Auburn Avenue — from Hilliard to Jackson — will be temporarily transformed into a Lifelong Community this weekend using tactical urbanism methods to show what the area could look like. Read about it here

Two blocks are being transformed into a walkable community Friday through Sunday with a special focus on meeting the needs older adults and people with disabilities.

The project is called Sweet Auburn Living Beyond Expectations and it’s being organized by the Atlanta Regional Commission. The Facebook page has a full schedule of events happening on Saturday and Sunday. Here’s a map (large version):

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I sent ARC a couple of questions about the project and they kindly replied.

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"Just east of downtown Atlanta was once was a bustling, wealthy African-American business hub known as Sweet Auburn. When the interstate was built, it cut the area in two. People here have long waited for the economic turnaround they were promised."

MLK’s old neighborhood seeks economic comeback | Marketplace.org

A really nice piece from Marketplace radio on Atlanta’s Sweet Auburn. It shows how important it is for Atlanta to get this Streetcar project right, so that the area can reap the benefits.

Auburn Avenue blues

auburn avenue

While my son and I were having a push-scooter ride along Auburn Avenue last weekend, I was warned by a guy who passed us that this wasn’t a safe place for a kid to be. I didn’t bother telling him that, statistically, the inside of a car is the most dangerous place for a kid and that, in comparison, a city sidewalk is pretty safe.

But there were three dangers I noticed:

1. Bad sidewalks. The sidewalks were overly narrow in many spots and crumbling, making it easy to trip and stumble.

2. Pollution. There were a few broken bottles on the sidewalks we had to navigate around and a couple of ‘pee zones’ (my phrase for areas where people have urinated on the sidewalk) we had to pass through, breath held.

3. Sadness. We were mostly in danger of just being sad. Saddened by the empty store fronts, lack of people and general grime and neglect — all occurring just a few blocks away from the final resting place of Atlanta’s most famous citizen worldwide, Dr. King.

Dear Atlanta,

Please don’t mess up this effort to revitalize the Auburn/Edgewood corridor with the upcoming streetcar. We’ve been mourning the sad decline of Sweet Auburn for decades, with only limited improvements to show for our efforts to reverse it. This 1987 piece in the Chicago Tribune about the need for a revival in the area could have been written today.

If the only things we get from the streetcar project are better sidewalks, new bike lanes and less gack on a historic street, I’ll be happy. But I’m hoping it does much more.

Photo by Flickr user Thornhillw

Neglecting Sweet Auburn
Rebecca Burns has a great piece on the Atlanta Magazine website: Atlanta’s neglect of the Sweet Auburn district is a civic shame. Here’s a quote:

…image-focused Atlanta should preserve [Sweet Auburn] for the pragmatic reason Atlanta has done so many other things: the way it makes us look to the rest of the world. When those tourists who visit the King crypt and historic Ebenezer walk a few blocks west, they will see that Atlanta is treating this corner of town with neglect that is far too close to the attitudes of a century ago.

As I’ve written before, the city should be ashamed that we allowed the Interstate to slice through this historic district, cutting it’s urban fabric in half. Allowing much of the district to deteriorate the way it has is an additional wrong that needs to be righted.
Surely the city that saved the Fox Theater from the wrecking ball and prevented a freeway from plowing through Virginia Highland can get excited about preserving what remains of Sweet Auburn as well.
Photo of the Sweet Auburn YMCA building by Flickr user robbie dee
UPDATE: in the comments, Jordan has pointed out a flaw in my post. When I wrote “the city” I meant to refer to the overall Atlanta community, not the City of Atlanta government. What I want to see is the citizens of Atlanta embrace the need for preservation and revitalization here the same way they did with the Fox and Virginia Highland. 
Luckily, Councilman Kwanza Hall is speaking out about this as well.

Neglecting Sweet Auburn

Rebecca Burns has a great piece on the Atlanta Magazine website: Atlanta’s neglect of the Sweet Auburn district is a civic shame. Here’s a quote:

…image-focused Atlanta should preserve [Sweet Auburn] for the pragmatic reason Atlanta has done so many other things: the way it makes us look to the rest of the world. When those tourists who visit the King crypt and historic Ebenezer walk a few blocks west, they will see that Atlanta is treating this corner of town with neglect that is far too close to the attitudes of a century ago.

As I’ve written before, the city should be ashamed that we allowed the Interstate to slice through this historic district, cutting it’s urban fabric in half. Allowing much of the district to deteriorate the way it has is an additional wrong that needs to be righted.

Surely the city that saved the Fox Theater from the wrecking ball and prevented a freeway from plowing through Virginia Highland can get excited about preserving what remains of Sweet Auburn as well.

Photo of the Sweet Auburn YMCA building by Flickr user robbie dee

UPDATE: in the comments, Jordan has pointed out a flaw in my post. When I wrote “the city” I meant to refer to the overall Atlanta community, not the City of Atlanta government. What I want to see is the citizens of Atlanta embrace the need for preservation and revitalization here the same way they did with the Fox and Virginia Highland. 

Luckily, Councilman Kwanza Hall is speaking out about this as well.


The Auburn Avenue Commercial District is internationally recognized as the birthplace of the civil rights movement. Landmark historic structures, including the 1914 Odd Fellows Building, Ebenezer Baptist Church, headquarters of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and both the birthplace and grave site of Martin Luther King, Jr. are at the heart of Atlanta’s African American history. Beginning in the early 1970’s, many businesses closed and residents moved away, and since then, revitalization efforts for Auburn Avenue have been attempted, but with limited success. The Georgia Trust placed Auburn Avenue on its 2006 Places in Peril list. (rebloged from gatrust)

The Atlanta Business Chronicle reports today that the Sweet Auburn Historic District is also included on the The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s new list of “America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.”

Take a look at the National Trust’s informative entry on the district here:

11 Most Endangered Historic Places: Sweet Auburn Historic District

John Calhoun Park, Atlanta

I was walking on Auburn Avenue a few days ago when I came across a pocket park I’ve always liked. The beauty of the new spring greenery was too much — I had to take some photos.

This tiny spot (only a quarter acre) at the corner of Piedmont and Auburn Avenues is called John Calhoun Park. It features a stainless steel sculpture from 1993 called Ancestral Totem created by local artist Ayokunle Odeleye, who teaches at Kennesaw State University.