Many folks see dog parks, cupcakes, bike lanes, and coffee shops as markers for gentrifying neighborhoods. Once these places begin appearing, many longtime residents think: “there goes the neighborhood.”
Decatur, Georgia’s gentrified Oakhurst neighborhood has a dog park; a cupcake bakery; a coffee shop (locally owned, of course – no Starbucks there); and, bike routes. It also has a designer doughnut bakery; a doggy bakery; craft beer; and now, a “cask room.”
Oakhurst’s yuppie gentrifiers love their bakeries, bars, and bike lanes just as much as they love their doggies. Whether it’s the rescued pitbulls that give them social awareness cred or their designer doodles, Oakhurst’s newer residents adore their dogs.
They love their dogs almost as much as they love their property rights. Only one thing trumps property rights in that moatless neoliberal rich white ghetto: amenities. Threaten to take away one of those and all bets are off.
Several weeks ago rumors began circulating in Oakhurst that the Boys and Girls Club plans to sell to a developer part of a parcel it leases to the City of Decatur as a dog park. The Oakhurst dog park. Those rumors were confirmed this week when the club hosted a community meeting where a developer laid out plans to build two single-family homes in the parcel.
Pretty soon blogs, Facebook, and the neighborhood listserv lit up with the outrage: What right does a developer have to come in here and take part of our dog park?
One resident who appears to not know the methods by which many developers in Oakhurst get properties before they are listed for sale commented in a local blog, “Do we know why there is a particular developer involved? Why not sell the parcels on the open market?”
What open market is that? Is it the one where builders cut backroom deals with land use attorneys and bankers on financially distressed properties? Or is it the one where property owners deal directly with builders who plan to tear down homes?
On Facebook, one woman wrote, “This breaks my heart.” Another resident posted an appeal for technical assistance, “Anybody have a gopro camera we can rent or borrow to make a video to help save the dog park?”
Over on the Oakhurst Neighborhood Association’s listserv, Lee Goldsmith (a 2013 Decatur Hometown Hero) wrote, “it’s the beginning of the end of the best part of Decatur.” And the subject line to Goldsmith’s message: “your quality of life in Oakhurst is about to go down!” Kate Tuttle, a Boston Globe freelancer who lives in Oakhurst, wrote in a post titled, “Please help save Oakhurst Dog Park“: “it is an irreplaceable part of what we love about Decatur.”
Best part of Decatur.
All this fuss over a fraction of one of Decatur’s three dog parks.
Yet, in the past three and a half years I have watched as developers used any and all tactics to accelerate the racial, age, economic, and architectural churn in Oakhurst. I have never seen a similar mobilization to fend off displacement or even the police profiling that permeates the entire city. The take away for me is that property rights in Oakhurst stop at the dog park gates.
In the documentary video I screened earlier this year, one lifelong African American resident who patronizes the Oakhurst dog park says, “My dog gets more respect in the city than I do.” No kidding.
Update: (Dec. 7, 2014): Decatur residents have created a change.org petition to “save the dog park”:
Update: (Dec. 10, 2014): Yuppies prevail: Oakhurst residents convinced the Decatur Planning Commission to table the property owner’s proposal to subdivide the property. Next up, according to social media posts, a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to buy the parcel.
Update: (April 2, 2015): The market prevails: The Decatur Metro blog reported that the dog park subdivision is on the April 2015 Decatur Planning Commission agenda. Privileged puppy pundits unload on city officials and each other.
I can’t wait to see what happens once the new homes are sold and the new owners begin complaining about water ponding in what remains of the neighboring dog park creating the intermittent Lake Dog Poo as some residents have dubbed the phenomenon.
Update: (April 23, 2015): Local media reports that the City of Decatur is in negotiations with the Boys and Girls Club to purchase the entire property, including the portion slated for development. Atlanta NPR affiliate WABE reprinted part of an email statement from the club:
“We are open to exploring these conversations [with the city of Decatur], while also honoring the current purchase agreement we have with Weaver Capital. Weaver Capitol is following the process to get approval for the subdivision of this land, but as of the last planning commission meeting, it is still not clear how this will manifest.”
Is cupcakes & kibble a Decatur, Ga., variant on the old bread and circuses? It sounds better than the phrase David Ley coined to describe gentrified Canadian neighborhoods: “croissants and opera.”
Update: (May 18, 2015): The Decatur city commission unanimously voted to deny the developer’s request to subdivide the property. The vote and the socioeconomic circumstances are remarkably similar to another case of racialized land use decision-making in Decatur: the 2003 case of Weaver et al. v. City of Decatur.
© 2014-2015 D.S. Rotenstein