Revive the old ones

I came across this 1937 planning newsletter article titled “Revive the Old Ones” while working on a project in the Library of Congress. Its message is as applicable in 2014 as it was in 1937.


Credit: American Society of Planning Officials News Letter, Nov. 1937. Library of Congress,

The urban displacement blues

Look closely and you will see not a damaged and decrepit Mississippi River town, but the anguish and despair of inner-city neighborhoods across the United States. — Steve Goldstein for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Oct. 19, 1992.

KingBiscuit-03Helena, Arkansas, in the 1980s was a struggling Mississippi River port town when city leaders embarked on an ambitious economic turnaround using blues music and history as its foundation. I first visited Helena in the early stages of this “revitalization” during the spring of 1988 while working as a folklorist for the State of Arkansas. Results of some of my research there were published in a 1992 Southern Folklore article, “The Helena Blues: Cultural Tourism and African-American Folk Music.”

Ethnomusicology was the basis for my work in Helena and the subsequent article. Concepts like displacement and gentrification weren’t on my radar screen as I turned ethnographic experiences into written accounts. More than 25 years later I look back on Helena’s efforts to jumpstart its economy and the social engineering that went into turning the city away from its industrial past and towards its tourism-based future and I see the forces reshaping cities around the world in play in the Mississippi Delta. Continue reading

New tools, old tricks save Atlanta industrial building

Trio Steam Laundry dry cleaning building shortly after its construction. Credit: The Atlanta Georgian Sept. 26, 1910.

Trio Steam Laundry dry cleaning building shortly after its construction. Credit: The Atlanta Georgian Sept. 26, 1910.

The two-story brick former Trio Laundry Dry Cleaning Building is located in Atlanta, Georgia’s gentrifying Old Fourth Ward neighborhood. It was constructed in 1910 in a light industrial district that included a shoe factory, mattress manufacturers, and machine works.

The Trio Steam Laundry Company was was Atlanta’s first large-scale commercial laundry business. In the summer of 2014 city contractors began demolishing Trio’s dry-cleaning building and community activists organized and mobilized to save the historic building. Read about their efforts in my new History@Work piece, “New Tools, Old Tactics Deployed to Save a Historic Atlanta Building.”

North Facade with "Save Me" written across, Aug. 2014.

North facade with “Save Me” written across it, Aug. 2014.

Original Trio Steam Laundry Company building (built 1905) at 19 Hilliard Street.

Original Trio Steam Laundry Company building (built 1905) at 19 Hilliard Street across from the dry cleaning building. The building was sold in 1945 to the Atlanta Brush Company and in the 1990s it was converted into lofts. Photo Aug. 2014.

A construction worker loads part of the building's crumbled cornice into a front end loader Aug. 29, 2014.

A construction worker loads part of the building’s crumbled cornice into a front end loader Aug. 29, 2014.

Affordable housing was one person's wish for the former Trio building's adaptive use.

Affordable housing was one person’s wish for the former Trio building’s adaptive use.

© 2014 D.S. Rotenstein

Decoding Atlanta art, artifice

Last week a homeless camp appeared beneath the bridge carrying Freedom Parkway over Atlanta, Georgia’s, BeltLine trail. The camp sprouted in corridor that has become world-renowned for its public art installations and its more vernacular graffiti tags and ephemeral performance art.

"Homeless camp," Atlanta Beltline, August 22, 2014.

“Homeless camp,” Atlanta Beltline, August 22, 2014.

"Homeless camp," Atlanta Beltline, August 22, 2014.

“Homeless camp,” Atlanta Beltline, August 22, 2014.

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Bridging Atlanta’s old meat and produce district

PART I: Setting the Scene

Four decades after Thomas Brady went into the livestock business on Atlanta, Georgia’s Central Avenue, he became embroiled in litigation to prevent the construction of a viaduct near his property there. Brady’s lawsuits were among a handful of legal moves by downtown property owners who opposed the city’s plans to construct viaducts carrying Central Ave. and Pryor Street over railroad tracks in Atlanta’s congested business district. His legal battle over property rights and the validity of the city’s bond referendum funding viaduct construction was the final chapter in a career that helped change Atlanta’s economic and cultural landscape at the turn of the 20th century. Construction of the two viaducts, in turn, opened up downtown streets and made possible Underground Atlanta.

Thomas B. Brady (1837-1929) was born on a Greene County, Ga., farm. He moved to Atlanta in c. 1881 and went into the livestock business with John A. Miller. After more than a decade as partners in sales and feed stables on Loyd Street (Central Ave.) and Marietta Street, the pair dissolved their firm. Brady moved to Cobb County where he owned a stock farm and where he became president of the People’s Ice Company. He is best known in Atlanta history for returning to the city in 1902 and founding Atlanta’s first union stockyards west of Marietta Street.


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Downtown Atlanta Aug. 9, 1926

On the morning of August 9, 1926, photographer Walton Reeves photographed streetscapes near Atlanta’s old railroad depots. Attorneys representing a litigant in a case challenging the construction of the Pryor Street and Central Avenue viaducts hired Reeves to document the area around their client’s property.

Reeves stated in the affidavit attached to his photos that he is,”a photographer by profession and makes a practice of taking out-door scenes.” The statement submitting the photos into evidence described where and when they were taken:

The pictures hereto attached are true and correct photographs on either side of Pryor Street and Central Avenue crossings in the City of Atlanta and the same correctly depicts the conditions existing at said crossings between 8:00 and 9:00 A.M. on August 9th, 1926.

The photos show the old railroad train shed and surrounding commercial buildings; none was individually captioned.


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Auburn Ave. ghosts

A tornado ripped through downtown Atlanta, Ga., the evening of March 14, 2008. It damaged and destroyed buildings and urban landscapes as it swept through the city. Historic Oakland Cemetery and the former Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill (undergoing rehabilitation as lofts) were among the damaged properties. Several buildings in Atlanta’s twentieth century African American neighborhood, Sweet Auburn, also were damaged.

Herndon & Atlantic Life Building, 229-243 Auburn Avenue, Atlanta, Fulton County, GA. HABS GA-1170-A. Library of Congress:

Herndon & Atlantic Life Building, 229-243 Auburn Avenue, Atlanta, Fulton County, GA. HABS GA-1170. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division

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Bob Moore: civil rights era activist, community planner (updated)


Credit: Washington City Paper.

Robert L. “Bob” Moore was the president and CEO of Washington, D.C.’s Development Corporation of Columbia Heights. He died earlier this week at age 74. Moore was a New Jersey native who did his undergraduate work at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C.

Moore first encountered Jim Crow segregation when he travelled from to college by train. When the train stopped in Washington, D.C., he was forced to move to the “colored car.” Continue reading

Walt Whitman on teardowns and historic preservation (Updated)

Walt Whitman, c. 1854. Credit: Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-08542

Walt Whitman, c. 1854. Credit: Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-08542

Thanks to a Facebook post on Ann Peters’ new book, House Hold: A Memoir of Place, Elizabeth Jacox (one of the proprietors of TAG Historical Research) turned me onto a remarkable essay by Walt Whitman. “Tear Down and Build Over Again” was published in the November 1845 issue of The American Review.

The Whitman essay is an incredibly early exploration of place attachment and urban redevelopment in New York City. The work is new to me so I can’t definitively say if what the poet was describing qualifies as gentrification. I need to learn more about the neighborhood(s) and the rebuilding Whitman described. On first glance, it certainly does appear to meet many definitions of gentrification. Whitman’s essay has neighborhood upgrading (through reinvestment in a neighborhood that appears to have suffered from disinvestment), displacement, and all of the hallmarks of new build gentrification. Whitman wrote,

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The Duany-Mouzon antidote

Tom Slater, a UK geographer, has been writing recently on what he alternately calls “false choice urbanism” and “neoliberal urbanism.” Today Slater has been commenting via Twitter on recent European studies that tout gentrification as “an important strategic concept.”


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