"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.

The Atlanta Daily World building: a preservation/development smackdown
The controversy around the proposed destruction of the building that once housed the Atlanta Daily World newspaper is intriguing — and my own feelings about the matter are complicated (quickie background: a developer wants to tear it down to build a 91-unit apartment building).
Let’s look at a few of the complicated facts.
————————
Complication #1: historical significanceThe Atlanta Daily World is Atlanta’s oldest black-owned newspaper. It occupied this downtown building on Auburn Avenue from 1950 until 2008, when it was forced to relocate due to tornado damage (the original office for the paper, from 1928-1950, was located elsewhere on Auburn Avenue). Score one for saving the building.
Complication #2: eco-friendly reuseThe environmental benefit of reusing old buildings, rather than building new ones, has been established by many studies and reports. And the numbers just make common sense; retrofitting an old building uses fewer materials and creates less waste than building an entirely new one. Score two for saving it.
Complication #3: smart-growth residential constructionShould the new 91-unit residential building get built here, it would adhere to many of the most important aims of smart-growth development.
For example, it will be: a.) connected to transit via the new downtown streetcar;b.) in walkable distance to stores, employers and the campus of GA State University;c.) a classic urban infill development — densifying an established urban neighborhood;d.) bringing in more residents to a walkable, transit-connected urban area that could greatly benefit from an increase in them.
Score one for a teardown.
Complication #4: the developer’s historyThe developer, Integral (also black-owned), has a project history that also matters here. They are responsible for the nearby Renaissance Walk building which, despite it’s current lack of retail tenants, is a development that I’ve been impressed with. But they’ve also been responsible for much less impressive projects that look more like suburban garden apartments than buildings appropriate for this kind of urban setting.
Score two for a teardown, but only if the design is good.
————————
The jury is still out as far as I’m concerned, though I’m leaning more toward a teardown mostly because I’m excited about the prospect for new development on the streetcar line, but also because I think the chances are slim for investment in a property so damaged by a tornado that it was abandoned (particularly when the return on investment would be relatively small due to the building size).
As this streetcar route encourages more developers to invest in the area, we’re bound to see more controversies like this. My guess is that what happens with this ADW dust up will set the tone for similar nearby proposals in the coming years.

The Atlanta Daily World building: a preservation/development smackdown

The controversy around the proposed destruction of the building that once housed the Atlanta Daily World newspaper is intriguing — and my own feelings about the matter are complicated (quickie background: a developer wants to tear it down to build a 91-unit apartment building).

Let’s look at a few of the complicated facts.

————————

Complication #1: historical significance
The Atlanta Daily World is Atlanta’s oldest black-owned newspaper. It occupied this downtown building on Auburn Avenue from 1950 until 2008, when it was forced to relocate due to tornado damage (the original office for the paper, from 1928-1950, was located elsewhere on Auburn Avenue). Score one for saving the building.

Complication #2: eco-friendly reuse
The environmental benefit of reusing old buildings, rather than building new ones, has been established by many studies and reports. And the numbers just make common sense; retrofitting an old building uses fewer materials and creates less waste than building an entirely new one. Score two for saving it.

Complication #3: smart-growth residential construction
Should the new 91-unit residential building get built here, it would adhere to many of the most important aims of smart-growth development.

For example, it will be:
a.) connected to transit via the new downtown streetcar;
b.) in walkable distance to stores, employers and the campus of GA State University;
c.) a classic urban infill development — densifying an established urban neighborhood;
d.) bringing in more residents to a walkable, transit-connected urban area that could greatly benefit from an increase in them.

Score one for a teardown.

Complication #4: the developer’s history
The developer, Integral (also black-owned), has a project history that also matters here. They are responsible for the nearby Renaissance Walk building which, despite it’s current lack of retail tenants, is a development that I’ve been impressed with. But they’ve also been responsible for much less impressive projects that look more like suburban garden apartments than buildings appropriate for this kind of urban setting.

Score two for a teardown, but only if the design is good.

————————

The jury is still out as far as I’m concerned, though I’m leaning more toward a teardown mostly because I’m excited about the prospect for new development on the streetcar line, but also because I think the chances are slim for investment in a property so damaged by a tornado that it was abandoned (particularly when the return on investment would be relatively small due to the building size).

As this streetcar route encourages more developers to invest in the area, we’re bound to see more controversies like this. My guess is that what happens with this ADW dust up will set the tone for similar nearby proposals in the coming years.