What gentrification looks like

I think gentrification has made the neighborhood less of a neighborhood — Oakhurst resident, April 2012.

video-coverLast week the National Council on Public History released a post on its History@Work site previewing clips from the rough cut of my documentary video, Oakhurst: An Oral History of Gentrification. In its Facebook update announcing the post, the organization noted: “This is what gentrification looks like.”

An early reader of the History@Work post wrote, “This is really amazing documentation – you’re pulling it all together in such a clear and damning way.” Plans are being finalized to present the completed documentary to groups in Atlanta in programs about inner-ring suburban gentrification and its impacts. Stay tuned for dates and venues.


A familiar Oakhurst sight/site: heavy machinery perched on top of rubble bound for area landfills. Small homes demolished in Oakhurst generate about 30 tons of waste in addition to lost embodied energy and the carbon costs incurred in constructing, heating, and cooling larger new homes.

Side-by-side designer doughnuts and craft beer.

Side-by-side designer doughnuts and craft beer. Oakhurst has a boutique market (that sells milk for twice the retail price in local supermarkets) in addition to this popular doughnut shop and another specialized boutique bakery.


Teardowns masquerading as rehabilitations are abundant in Oakhurst. Decatur’s Environmental Sustainability Board chairman lives in a mansionized teardown property that under local development laws and popular opinion is considered a “rehabilitation.” In 2007, he opposed the creation of a historic district that would have imposed tighter regulatory controls over development in Oakhurst. And, in 2012, his board failed to adopt standards that would have helped preserve more affordable housing in Oakhurst through demolition bin fees and other tools used elsewhere to curb unsustainable development.

Jazz Nights-03

Oakhurst has jazz nights, hip bars and eateries, and designer doughnuts but no supermarket, bank branch, pharmacy, or post office. Festivals founded by community leaders in the 1980s and 1990s have been wrested away from their founders and re-imagined and rebranded by newer residents.

But Oakhurst does have a designer doggy bakery.

But Oakhurst does have a designer doggy bakery.


Oakhurst’s teardowns defy national gentrification models. In addition to small frame homes, sturdy brick ranch houses (like this one) and masonry multi-family housing properties are torn down and sent to landfills. Each teardown reduces the diversity of Oakhurst’s housing stock along with the neighborhood’s ethnic, economic, and age diversity.


Once affordable housing that was recycled in the pioneering urban homesteading program, now side-by-side McMansions more than twice the size of the earlier homes.


Mature trees that once formed part of the landscape of small homes are needlessly cut down and wasted to enable larger new homes to be built. Said one Oakhurst resident and environmentalist, “Ripping down the trees. Throwing tons of stuff into landfills. … I mean what’s sustainable about that? It’s a joke.”

Fayetteville Road urban homesteading property after teardown and new 3,564-square-foot home construction.

This once was the site of a dollar home. Now it isn’t. Wrote one leading architect who specializes in historic preservation, “Look out Decatur, the mother ships have landed.”

The city provides a shuttle because Oakhurst's elderly and economically disadvantaged residents suffer from food insecurity and access to basic services.

In March 2013, the city began a weekly shuttle to downtown because Oakhurst’s elderly and economically disadvantaged residents suffer from food insecurity and lack access to basic services. “I couldn’t imagine a lush and vibrant community like Oakhurst could be described as a food desert,” wrote one newer Oakhurst resident. The disconnect between community image and reality is pronounced.

Universal Joint patio dining.

Hip patio dining and drinking at the Universal Joint. Some Oakhurst residents consider the U-Joint and other local bars to be adequate substitutes for missing grocery stores and establishments that might cater to older, economically disadvantaged residents.

Oakhurst "Walk Score."

Oakhurst “Walk Score” recommends groceries at the “Hop N Shop,” a convenience store, and the site notes that “some errands can be accomplished on foot.” That’s not reassuring to elderly residents without reliable access to cars and who must depend on the MARTA bus. Decatur’s CBD is highly walkable; Oakhurst not so much.

"This house is ultimately a teardown by definition, given what the neighborhood’s done," said one of Decatur's original Urban Homesteading Demonstration Program homebuyers.

“This house is ultimately a teardown by definition, given what the neighborhood’s done,” said one of Decatur’s original Urban Homesteading Demonstration Program homebuyers. “I mean on some level – it takes away my sense of place but on another level, I’m at a point where I can see myself just treating this as an investment and moving on, too.”

For more on gentrification in Decatur:

© 2013 D.S. Rotenstein


3 thoughts on “What gentrification looks like

  1. Yes, I pine for the real ol’ Oakhurst ‘hood with 24/7 drug deals on the Hailey’s front porch, low property values, and police copters with spot lights chasing suspects through our back yards…NOT.

    As one who grew up in a real slum in a Northern city, this kind of hand wringing drivel is just that…drivel. Move the f outta here if you don’t like it.

  2. What a shame! I really think people don’t value the solid construction nor the history of these older homes. I understand that people might want more space, but there are ways to add living area while still maintaining the character of both the house and the neighborhood. I also think people don’t realize how much they can damage an entire neighborhood when they make a change to their own house. We don’t live in a vacuum. We live in a community and the decisions we make affect others.

    I look forward to viewing your documentary.

  3. I did not realize that the hipsters pushed the grocery stores and banks out of Oakhurst! Is that true? I thought those services had left years before that. I was there 10 years ago and it looked pretty deserted there, nothing except the U Joint.

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