Making history relevant

I have worked in and around historic preservation for more than 30 years and I don’t how many times I have tried to explain why historic preservation is relevant to life today. The examples I cited in the past always came from work done by others. And then I encountered Decatur, Ga.

As Decatur systematically erases its black history from the urban landscape and the city continues to hemorrhage African American residents, the linkages between how the city’s white privilege renders past and present residents invisible become more evident. One former black resident agrees that Decatur’s treatment of African Americans and their history is tantamount to ethnic cleansing.

Read “A lesson in racial profiling and historical relevance” on the National Council on Public History’s History@Work site. The day the article appeared, the Decatur-Avondale Estates Patch site asked to reprint it. As a historian who practices public history, this underscores how the NCPH defines the field: “public history describes the many and diverse ways in which history is put to work in the world.”

An isolated historical marker outside the former African American school describes Decatur's Beacon Community. Photo by author, February 2012.

An isolated historical marker outside the former African American school describes Decatur’s Beacon Community. Photo by author, February 2012.

Former equalization schools after about 90% demolition. March, 2014.

Former equalization schools after about 90% demolition. March, 2014.

Beacon Demolition, April 2014.

Beacon demolition, April 2014. The orange construction barrels are parallel to the point where the historical marker shown in the first photo was located.

 

© 2014 D.S. Rotenstein

Scenes of resistance: Druid Hills and Clifton Ridge

CliftonRidge-00Last week I had a conversation on gentrification with a couple of historians who teach in Atlanta area universities. At one point the conversation turned to a residential development project in Atlanta’s historic Druid Hills area.

For the past several years, an Atlanta attorney and property owner has challenged the DeKalb Historic Preservation Commission’s jurisdiction over the subdivision of undeveloped properties in historic districts. The property owner was unable to find relief in the state’s courts so he turned to the Georgia legislature in several consecutive years in an attempt to amend state’s historic preservation and zoning laws. Continue reading

History at face value (Updated)

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Former Antioch AME Church, Jan. 2014.

Decatur, Ga., blogger Dan Whisenhunt has been covering the impending demolition of a former African American church by a developer who proposes to build 20 townhomes on the site. Built in 1965 by Decatur’s oldest African American congregation after it was displaced by urban renewal, the building housed the former Antioch AME Church until 1995.

The church was not included in Decatur’s 2009 citywide historic resources survey despite widespread knowledge of its transcendental historical significance among the city’s longtime African American residents. Whisenhunt has been reporting on residents in nearby homes – many of them built during and after the 1960s urban renewal project – concerned over the new density coming to the parcel as well as the developer’s plans to cut down an old tree on the property to comply with City stormwater detention requirements. Continue reading

The path to mazeway disintegration

Some slides from the paper, “From Urban Homesteading to Mazeway Disintegration: Gentrification in Decatur.”

Diversity, displacement, and gentrification were hot topics in Decatur's newly rebranded Oakhurst neighborhood a generation ago. Then they weren't.

Diversity, displacement, and gentrification were hot topics in Decatur’s newly rebranded Oakhurst neighborhood a generation ago. Then they weren’t.

An urban homesteading property featured in an Atlanta newspaper shortly after rehabilitation (upper left) and the same home in 2012 (lower right).

An urban homesteading property featured in an Atlanta newspaper shortly after rehabilitation (upper left) and the same home in 2012 (lower right).

Oakhurst teardown, February 2014.

Oakhurst teardown, February 2014. It is a tangible metaphor for the mazeway disintegration that is underway among residents caught in a cycle of serial forced displacement.

© 2014 D.S. Rotenstein

Decatur, Ga., public meeting on racial profiling

Last month I reported on one aspect of the racial bias that permeates Decatur, Ga.: racial profiling. A group of Decatur citizens that includes religious leaders, people who have been unconstitutionally detained by Decatur’s police department, and concerned citizens kick off a campaign to raise community awareness about the issue and inform citizens of their rights. The first public meeting will be held Sunday March 30 at 4:30 p.m. at Oakhurst Presbyterian Church.

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The South-View Cemetery view

Does a cell tower built across the street from a historic cemetery adversely affect the property? If there are significant visual impacts, as this article suggests, could historic preservation laws and regulatory reviews have prevented or reduced the impacts?south-view-01

South-View Cemetery is Atlanta, Georgia’s oldest and arguably most historic African American cemetery. Yet, as Georgia State University historian Richard Laub noted in a 2010 interview with alt-weekly Creative Loafing, it’s an “unjustly ignored site” that doesn’t receive the same amount of support, recognition, and respect that its better-known Atlanta counterpart, Oakland Cemetery, gets. The article for which Laub was interviewed was titled, “Atlanta’s forgotten black history.” Continue reading

Affordable housing

In February, a consultant delivered a report to the City of Decatur (Ga.) on teardowns and their impacts in the community. Tucked away in the report were two pages on how the city was meeting affordable housing objectives laid out in a 2008 report by the same consultant.

Affordable housing was one of several topics in the consultant’s report, Decatur Infill Housing Analysis. New homes, wrote the consultant, are “more expensive” than the older homes torn down. “This is resulting in a shift in the economics of the respective neighborhood and in what income levels are needed to reside in the community.” Consultant Market+Main added, “More cities are focused on this side of the infill issue and in wanting to preserve viable housing opportunities for the income levels represented by the older homes.”

But not Decatur, Ga.

According to the 2014 report, the City has implemented only one out of ten affordable housing objectives. The City’s consultant wrote,

The Decatur Affordable Housing Study was completed in 2008 and provided a thorough review of the affordability of housing in the City of Decatur. Even as the nation and the region emerge from the economic setback of “the Great Recession,” this analysis and its recommendations are still applicable today. The following highlights from this study support the need for housing affordability in Decatur. Many of these are also un-implemented to-date and all steps should be taken to act upon and implement the findings of this study.

  • Generate and/or allocate a dedicated public funding stream to provide a partial grant and/or loan to mortgage eligible workforce affordable potential home buyers for home purchases within Decatur. NOT IMPLEMENTED.
  • Create an allocation of local public grant and/or loan funding for renovation of existing Decatur homes and purchase by mortgage eligible workforce households. NOT IMPLEMENTED.
  • Establish a down payment assistance fund to provide a portion of the required down payments for eligible workforce affordable homeownership candidates. NOT IMPLEMENTED.
  • Establish a Homeownership Rehabilitation Program (HRP) which provides developers, both for-profit and non-profit, with a subsidy for the rehabilitation of vacant and/or deteriorated houses to be sold to income eligible home buyers. NOT IMPLEMENTED.
  • Increase workforce affordable homeownership through the formation of a community land trust. NOT IMPLEMENTED.
  • Encourage the development of new for-sale housing product types in Decatur other than detached single-family homes. PARTIALLY IMPLEMENTED.
  • Encourage and exploit existing opportunities for additional infill of the Decatur downtown core. PARTIALLY IMPLEMENTED.
  • Create design guidelines that define appropriate design concept solutions to allow higher density mixed use infill in targeted areas, such as commercial corridors and the downtown core to be used in conjunction with overlay zoning. NOT IMPLEMENTED.
  • Preserve “the image of a traditional and intimate small-town center” to achieve the price points and quantities needed to fill the Decatur workforce affordability gap. NOT IMPLEMENTED.
  • Permit “granny flats” and other accessory dwelling units on existing residential parcels. IMPLEMENTED.

Source: Market+Main, Decatur Infill Housing Analysis (February 2014), pp. 6-7

 

Decatur’s fifth estate

Today the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on racism in Decatur, Ga. (AJC article is behind the paper’s paywall.) The article was published seven months after I emailed and texted Atlanta and Decatur reporters and bloggers about black men being racially profiled by Decatur police during a summer 2013 “crime wave.” None of my emails or texts received replies.

iMessage, David Rotenstein to Creative Loafing's Thomas Wheatley, July 18, 2013.

iMessage, David Rotenstein to Creative Loafing news editor Thomas Wheatley, July 18, 2013.

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The profile

Decatur, Ga., resident Don Denard was stopped by Decatur police officers for “walking while black.” After having his racial profiling complaint dismissed by a Decatur Police Department internal investigation, Denard and his friends and supporters went to city hall. The video embedded above was compiled from the February 18, 2014 session.

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Recommended reading:

 

The hex on our sidewalks

Sidewalks: we’re lucky that we have them. Just ask people who live in America’s sprawling suburbs and some of the Atlanta, Ga., region’s new cities. Author Jane Jacobs considered them essential to the urban fabric. Sidewalks move people, connect places, and they are key, wrote Jacobs to healthy neighborhoods and cities. Although Atlanta’s Candler Park neighborhood is connected by sidewalks as old as the neighborhood itself, they don’t always work well because many stretches have been damaged by vehicles and roots or have not been well maintained.

Damaged sidewalk, Atlanta's Candler Park neighborhood. Photo by author.

Damaged sidewalk, Atlanta’s Candler Park neighborhood. Photo by author.

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