Staying prayed up

Over the weekend I got a Facebook message from a woman I met while living in Georgia. “Not sure if u knew my son michael. He was kill one year oct 16, last year,” Decatur resident Veronica Edwards wrote to me.

Our paths crossed in early 2014 when I interviewed her about a statement she made in October 2013 before the Decatur City Commission. Her brief and highly emotional comments imploring the city commission to enact a moratorium on the demolition of single-family homes made a lasting impression on me. She begged her city’s leaders to protect her and her elderly neighbors as gentrification pressures were making life unbearable in the neighborhood she and her family had called home for nearly 50 years:

Of course when we came to the Decatur neighborhood, it was called the “white flight.” They took off. You all took off and went away. We endured. We stayed. Now it’s time for you all to have our back.

Veronica Edwards (center) at the Tearing Down Oakhurst program, Charis Books and More, March 11. 2014.

Veronica Edwards (center) at the Tearing Down Oakhurst program, Charis Books and More, March 11. 2014.

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Home for sale, Realtors blocked

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2014 Twitter exchange, Stacy Shelton Reno and a cyberstalker using the screen name “Scott Boulevard.”

In August 2014 a Decatur, Ga., Realtor had lunch with the executive director of a local history organization. A few hours later, the Realtor was swapping tweets with local cyberstalkers about my impending move back to Maryland from Atlanta.

The Realtor learned about my relocation plans during her lunch. I had confided about the move to a handful of close friends, including the history colleague. The Realtor, mainly because of her past absurd and malicious allegations that I had been stalking her, was one of the people we did not want to know about the planned move. Her communications on Twitter underscored the concerns my wife and I had when we decided to sell our home. Continue reading

The incipient slum

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

Formerly high-grade neighborhoods are subject to extraordinarily rapid obsolescence, since there are few takers for the aging and oversized dwellings vacated by the departing elite. Their prohibitive purchase price and maintenance expense rule out their availability to successively lower income groups and their continued use as single-family homes …. (Hughes and Bleakly 1975: 49).

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The Wilson house (Updated)

To the casual viewer, the 1,064-square-foot brick ranch house at 235 West Pharr Road in Decatur, Ga., was just another midcentury home. Set just inside the Decatur city limits in the Oakhurst neighborhood, the house recently was demolished.

235 W. Pharr Road in 2013.

235 W. Pharr Road in 2013.

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A gentrification irony

Last week I attempted to email a Decatur, Ga., real estate professional. His uninvited and unwanted letters and flyers are delivered to homes throughout the gentrifying Oakhurst neighborhood and I wanted to ask him some questions about the “as-is” house buying business.

Letter sent to elderly Oakhurst resident. The letter and envelope were printed on a laser printer to simulate personalization.

Credit: http://www.decaturish.com/2013/11/yellow-cards-stir-up-decatur-ga-residents/

Credit: http://www.decaturish.com/2013/11/yellow-cards-stir-up-decatur-ga-residents/

One of the so-called "yellow stickers" let on our Atlanta home in 2012.

One of the so-called “yellow cards” left on our Atlanta home in 2012.

After I sent my email to him, I received an automated response triggered by his email provider’s spam setting:

Re_ Oakhurst housing_Redacted

What an irony. He blankets neighborhoods with gentrification spam, much of which ends up in old-fashioned spam filters: trash cans. At least he has the opportunity to screen unwanted materials even before they reach his eyes. You can’t say the same for the elderly homeowners who receive his literature.

Postscript: As for my effort to ask the individual questions about his business, I completed the form to get beyond the spam filter and I completed a “contact-us” form on his company’s website. I received no responses.

High school field trip

Over the past four years I have collected thousands of articles, photos, and documents to write a book on gentrification in Decatur, Ga. The journey has yielded lots of WTF moments, some of which will be in the book; others that won’t. This post describes one episode that likely won’t reach print.

In the spring of 2012, Decatur High School social studies teacher Chris Billingsley took a group of students in the school’s “Close-Up Club” to Washington, D.C. Billingsley described the trip in a note to a local blog. According to the teacher, he and the kids had a “Capital [sic] Hill Day”:

The students took a tour of the Supreme Court, the Capital [sic.], met with staff from John Lewis and Saxby Chambliss offices, and had a seminar at the Heritage Foundation.

The Heritage Foundation's Washington, D.C., headquarters.

The Heritage Foundation’s Washington, D.C., headquarters.

We’ve spent more than a decade (split into two parts) living in the Washington metropolitan area. Like many residents, we frequently get queries from friends, relatives, and colleagues about places to visit on trips to Washington. And, of course, we also read local newspapers and magazines that report on the region’s most popular (and educational) tourist destinations. The Heritage Foundation — a conservative Capitol Hill think tank and influence peddling operation — has never been on any of those lists.

 

Designing a wealthy white suburb

Residents of Decatur, Ga., who question whether their elected and appointed leaders have a genuine commitment to preserving affordable housing in the Atlanta suburb can find the answer to their query among the crop of 2015 Decatur Design Award winners.

Decatur Design Award plaque, downtown Decatur.

Decatur Design Award plaque, downtown Decatur.

Last month, a home at 156 Feld Ave. was one of six recipients of a Decatur Design Award. The awards, doled out by the Decatur Historic Preservation Commission, recognize projects “that promote excellence in preservation, design, sustainability, and advocacy.”

Over the years, the Decatur HPC has given awards to teardown projects in the “sustainability” category. Under Decatur code, the Feld Ave. project is considered a “substantial alteration” to an existing building — an “addition” — and that’s the category in which it was recognized. In other jurisdictions, the Feld Ave. project likely would be considered a “teardown.”

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Invitation only

Invitations were sent out to a private viewing of a home for sale in Decatur, Georgia’s gentrifying Oakhurst neighborhood. Is this a new trend in gentrifying neighborhoods, middle-class millionaires marketing McCraftsman McMansions as though they are located in historically upscale neighborhoods like nearby Druid Hills or the gated communities of the suburban nouveau riche?

Like many of its neighbors, the Greenwood Avenue lot had a modest one-story vernacular home on it:

365 Greenwood Ave. in 2009. Credit: City of Decatur Historic Resources Survey.

365 Greenwood Ave. in 2009. Credit: City of Decatur Historic Resources Survey.

And then a developer came along and scraped it away. According to DeKalb County tax records, in 2010 the developer paid $135,000 for the teardown and then sold the new home the following year for $550,000.

After four years, the property is again on the market:

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Decatur, Georgia’s monument to white supremacy

In part, it’s a case for historical knowledge: the world of Jim Crow seems increasingly distant and incomprehensibly foreign to blacks and whites born in the wake of the civil rights movement. In part, it’s also an issue of relevance and public policy: the segregated history of the United States is inextricably intertwined with the state of modern race relations, one of the most significant unresolved items on the nation’s political agenda. Few would go as far as the man in St. Louis who suggested that every American community should preserve at least one site associated with segregation in order to remind us that there are two racial universes in the United States and that we are not a single unified nation. Whatever the merits or practicality of the proposal, his larger points will resonate for many, both white and black: the country remains divided by race, and historic preservation has a potential to inspire reform. — Robert Weyeneth, The Architecture of Racial Segregation: The Challenges of Preserving the Problematical Past (2005).

BeaconMarker-then-now

Between 2013 and 2015, the City of Decatur, Georgia erased the final reminders of its “problematic past.” In what could have been an opportunity to teach about the city’s history — preserving the city’s historic African American schools — Decatur leaders and residents instead chose to build a monument to enduring white supremacy: the Beacon Municipal Center, which the City officially dedicated last month. Continue reading