‘Make it New’: Gentrification in Atlanta’s Neighborhoods

By Evan Rodgers- 11:00 class

During the early modernist era, developments in technology and the expansion of industry fueled the rapid growth of cities across America. This turned cities into areas in which diverse cultures and new ideas flourished. In 1900, about 40 percent of Americans lived in Cities.1 Today, that number has grown to over 82 percent.2 As cities have grown, they have continuously changed, not only in size but also in character. Historically, many inner city neighborhoods have been considered less desirable, and were therefore populated by lower income, often minority residents due to affordability. With increased demand for space closer to cities, these areas have become more desirable, leading to pressure for them to become more appealing to wealthier residents. Gentrification, in general, occurs when a community undergoes rapid change or improvement, often as a result of an influx of wealthier residents. 

Two neighborhoods in Atlanta that are currently experiencing the early stages of gentrification are Vine City and English Avenue. These two neighborhoods are located directly next to each other just southwest of Georgia Tech. Vine City has a population of 24,974 people, and English Avenue has a population of 2,466 people. Both neighborhoods are relatively poor, with about one quarter of residents of English Avenue and over one third of residents of Vine City living below the poverty line.3,4

A defining characteristic of gentrification is that it raises property values in an area. One of the main catalysts behind the gentrification of many areas of Atlanta is the Beltline, a new trail being built around the entire city of Atlanta. A study conducted by Dan Immergluck, a professor at Georgia Tech, found that “prices one-quarter to one-half a mile away [from the Beltline] increased by 14.7% annually” between 2000 and 2006.5 Interestingly, this increase occurred before the Beltline was even built, and was the result of the release of plans to build it. This shows that anticipated development in an area can cause price changes even before anything is actually implemented. 

Although the beltline does not go directly through the neighborhoods of English Avenue and Vine City, connector trails are being built to meet up with the beltline, creating similar effects. Property values are already rising in many parts of the neighborhoods, and will only continue upwards in the future. Recent plans to further develop some areas, such as a new multi-use development being constructed at the intersection of Echo Street and Hollowell (see image below), will (and have already) lead to further increases in property values. Interestingly, even members of a community can contribute to gentrification. Any project that makes an area more desirable will to some extent increase the value of surrounding properties. Therefore, even community led projects such as creating small gardens and parks throughout the neighborhoods, as shown in the image below, have also probably had an impact. 

Images of the construction at the Echo Street Hollowell intersection. The bottom left image shows the plans for the area, and the other three show the current construction site.
The Westside Connector Trail travels through English Avenue, and will eventually connect up with the Beltline. This particular section is currently closed due to the construction occurring by Echo Street, which it passes through. 
Residents of English Avenue transformed this gravel parking lot into a community garden. The garden is also accompanied by a park just down the street, and these areas are used for many community events and gatherings.

At its core, gentrification is not necessarily a negative thing: it increases revenue for the city, and can make neighborhoods nicer places to live. However, it can also have some negative consequences. Improving an area will obviously make it more desirable, and as a result causes property values to rise. This heightens property taxes and rents for people living in the area. In most cases (such as in English Avenue and Vine City), the existing residents of gentrifying areas are poorer, so they may not be able to afford these added costs. While discussing this topic, it is important to note that increased property values are not always a bad thing. In fact, many existing residents may be excited about the prospect of their home rising in value, as they would have the opportunity to sell it at a profit. However, only about 30% of houses in these two neighborhoods are owned by the people or families living in them, meaning that about 70% of residents are renters. These individuals, many of them long time residents of the community, could see drastic increases in their rent, and as a result will not be able to afford to stay around and see the benefits of gentrification. Homeowners who cannot afford rapidly increasing property taxes could also be forced to move. As other areas of the inner city gentrify as well, both renters and homeowners will be forced further and further away from the city, making it harder for them to find jobs. They will also be forced away from the community that they may have had for their entire lives. As residents begin to see small changes in their community, they may feel like their ability to stay in their long term community is threatened, creating stress.6

Edvard Munch
The Scream, 1893
This painting from Norwegian artist Edvard Munch depicts his feelings of “mental and physical unease” as he walked through the city.7 Long term residents of gentrifying areas may be able to resonate with this piece, as they experience their lifelong community changing and wonder if they will have the financial resources to stay in their homes. For them, a simple walk around the city may also bring feelings of anxiety. 

The gentrification of English Avenue and Vine City is essentially unpreventable. With developments already in construction, it would not be feasible to argue that gentrification should be halted, nor would it necessarily be a good idea, as gentrification does bring some nice benefits with it. However, given that the area is gentrifying, and will continue to gentrify, steps need to be taken to ensure that long-time residents of these areas are not forced out of their communities. We must figure out a way to not halt progress in the area, while also allowing those who do not want to leave the chance to stay. Historically, progress has often been at the expense of poorer Americans, but that does not need to be the case. We can simultaneously make an area nicer, while also allowing those who have lived there and worked there all their lives to enjoy the improvements. Admittedly, doing this would take some sacrifices, but it is more than worth it to protect the individuals and sense of community in these neighborhoods. 

Alphonse Legros
Abandoned Village, 19118
Alphonse Legros was a modernist painter who was known for painting normal people in natural, everyday scenarios. This was very different, as artists previously focused on more glamorous and exciting aspects of life. This piece, titled “Abandoned Village” goes even further than just an everyday scenario, and depicts a village in ruin. Many people within the city might see this image as depicting the current state of poorer communities that need to be fixed. However, these communities have unique histories and cultures. The residents of them may see this image as representative of the potential destruction of their communities, rather than the current state of them. Although gentrification does bring in many new exciting things, we must also remember to consider the rich cultures that have existed in these areas for many years. Otherwise, we risk destroying valuable parts of our city’s culture. 

One measure that has already been taken to lessen the impacts of gentrification on residents of the English Avenue and Vine CIty communities is a property tax freeze. This gives lower income residents the option to freeze their property taxes at the pre-gentrification price. This means that they will still pay taxes, but will not be pressured to leave the area due to a rapidly increasing cost of living. This measure should also be applied to apartment owners who commit to providing affordable housing. Affordable housing is defined as housing that can be rented for 30 percent or less of the average yearly income of a person in an area. Apartment owners must still pay property taxes, so freezing their taxes as well, with the requirement that they provide affordable housing, would provide places in which former residents could still live in the neighborhood. Laws could also be implemented to limit the extent to which an individual’s rent could increase in a given time span, and make it more difficult to evict people from apartments or rented housing. However, this would have to be coupled with subsidies or policies to assist landlords, who may reasonably complain that they should be able to set their own prices.9

Another important step for reducing the negative impacts of gentrification is limiting the extent to which an area can be developed. In many cases, gentrifying inner city neighborhoods lose houses or small apartment complexes in favor of large-scale multi-use developments, usually with a combination of office space, apartments or condos, and stores. While these do improve the economy of an area, they are mainly oriented towards higher-income residents. Some of these developments are fine, but too many can lead to a loss of the sense of community in an area, especially as many of the existing residents are poorer. To maintain the existing community in these neighborhoods, areas should be set aside for individual housing or smaller-scale projects oriented towards the people who have lived in the neighborhood for many years. This includes affordable housing, but could also include parks, community centers, and other places in which the previously existing community can come together, ensuring that the unique culture and feel of these neighborhoods is at least somewhat maintained. 

Salvador Dali
Metamorphosis of Narcissus, 1937
Salvador Dali was a surrealist painter who attempted to “reveal the unconscious and reconcile it with rational life.”10 This image contains feelings of change and refinement through time. Gentrification has a very similar feeling, with many people seeing lower income areas only as places to be improved. However, we need to find a way to refine these neighborhoods while also acknowledging their value and preserving some aspects of what makes them special. 


1 Boundless. (n.d.). Boundless US History. Retrieved February 28, 2021, from https://courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-ushistory/chapter/the-rise-of-the-city/#:~:text=The%20industrialization%20of%20America%20led,of%20Americans%20lived%20in%20cities

2 Plecher, P., & 4, N. (2020, November 04). United States – URBANIZATION 2019. Retrieved February 28, 2021, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/269967/urbanization-in-the-united-states/

3 English Avenue DEMOGRAPHICS. (n.d.). Retrieved February 28, 2021, from https://www.point2homes.com/US/Neighborhood/GA/Atlanta/English-Avenue-Demographics.html

4 Vine city demographics. (n.d.). Retrieved February 28, 2021, from https://www.point2homes.com/US/Neighborhood/GA/Atlanta/Vine-City-Demographics.html

5 Camrud, Natalie, “Race, Class, and Gentrification Along the Atlanta BeltLine” (2017). Scripps Senior Theses. 947. http://scholarship.claremont.edu/scripps_theses/947

6 Lartey, J. (2018, October 23). Nowhere for people to go: Who will survive the gentrification of Atlanta? Retrieved February 28, 2021, from https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/oct/23/nowhere-for-people-to-go-who-will-survive-the-gentrification-of-atlanta

7 The scream, 1893 by Edvard Munch. (n.d.). Retrieved February 28, 2021, from https://www.edvardmunch.org/the-scream.jsp

8 Legros, A. (n.d.). The abandoned village. Retrieved February 28, 2021, from https://www.artic.edu/artworks/46213/the-abandoned-village

9 Haffner, J. (2016, January 16). Is gentrification inevitable – and inevitably bad? Retrieved February 28, 2021, from https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/jan/16/gentrification-inevitable-bad-urban-change

10 Tate. (1970, January 01). ‘Metamorphosis of NARCISSUS’, Salvador Dalí, 1937. Retrieved February 28, 2021, from https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/dali-metamorphosis-of-narcissus-t02343

One Reply to “‘Make it New’: Gentrification in Atlanta’s Neighborhoods”

  1. I really enjoyed reading your essay. As a foreigner to the US and Atlanta specifically, I had no idea that there are plans to build a large trail around the city. It made me aware of all the benefits I personally will get and I must say that I am looking froward to its opening. However, I like the informativeness of your essay about the direct and indirect impacts on the neighborhoods around the trail. The information certainly helped me become more aware of what is happening around the city and it showed me a new side to Atlanta because I always thought that it is about the inner city but your essay showed me that the outer neighborhoods are just as important. Also, all the numbers that you provided helped me put things into perspective. I am glad you included some pictures from the constructions and so on as it shows you that it is not all without work and that the change/gentrification does not happen overnight. I also appreciate that you tried to look at both the benefits and negatives of gentrification and thus kept the essay in balance. Overall, I feel like this is a well-developed essay that looks at the gentrification of Atlanta’s neighborhoods from many angles, assuming both stances – pro and against. I loved reading it and it opened my eyes to the events happening around Atlanta, however, if I was to offer any ideas for improvement, I would include a picture of a map of the planned trail and the neighborhoods, because as a person who does not know much about the city, I did not know what to imagine and I feel like it would strengthen your argument about how even though the trail does not go straight through the neighborhoods, it still impacts them.

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