Q: What about gentrification? What is being done to protect people from displacement?
(faq.) A: In a growing economy like ours, things like roadside clean-ups, better schools, reduced crime, the Atlanta Beltline, or virtually any improvement that makes our communities more desirable will elevate questions of gentrification. One specific and urgent challenge is displacement, where the people who live in a community – often those who worked to make it so desirable – can no longer afford the rising cost of living there. This affects almost every income bracket, but in the movement that lifted the Atlanta Beltline off the ground, the fear of displacement was especially strong in lower income communities. Here, promises about the benefits of stadiums and highways had been broken in the past. This would be different, we promised. And it is.
Because our early grassroots movement was inclusive, our obligation to address these issues remains an inextricable part of our definition for the Atlanta Beltline’s success today. We cannot consider our work successful if we leave people behind. It is this sense of obligation that required Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. to set aside 15% of the Tax Allocation District bonds for an Affordable Housing Trust Fund that will create over 5,200 units of affordable housing. It also inspired other leaders to form the Atlanta Land Trust Collaborative.
While these efforts are a great start, there is more that we can and should do. There are people talking about other ways to ensure housing stability, reduce taxes and other expenses, remove barriers to employment, education, and healthcare, and build wealth. In this way, the Atlanta Beltline has again proven its ability to become a table at which we can discuss ideas and strategies about the future of our city that we can then apply to our region as a whole. We need to make sure, however, that alongside construction of transit, trails, and parks, we similarly move beyond ideas about equity and affordability. We have to follow through with the implementation of policies, incentives, and investments to ensure that the people who made the project come to life are still around when it’s complete. This isn’t rocket science, but it does require political attention, support, and momentum.
Whatever specific tools we end up with, what remains clear to me is that not building the Atlanta Beltline in communities that have suffered decades of disinvestment cannot be the answer. After all, the problem is not a revived local economy. It’s not improved access to jobs, parks, and grocery stores. The problem is not cleaned up environmental contamination and redevelopment of vacant land. It’s not transit, trails, and public art – or any other improvement that this new investment will bring.
The problem is rising taxes and rising rents. So we don’t need to stop making improvements, but we do need to find more financial tools to address and offset these financial challenges that affect our friends, neighbors, and ourselves. We need leadership on these issues, but you and I also need to hold ourselves and project leaders accountable by fighting and voting for initiatives that support and protect durable affordability across the spectrum of Atlanta’s communities. It’s a critical part of our region’s economic competitiveness, but more importantly, it’s the right thing to do. >> Ryan Gravel
This is my response to a question I get asked a lot. It in no way represents any official statement on behalf of the various agencies, organizations, or individuals responsible for implementing the Atlanta Beltline. Last updated on September 27, 2014. See other questions here.
Comments are fine, but I’d rather talk about action – preferably over a beer somewhere like Manuel’s Tavern.