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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Racialized land use: Decatur, Ga.

It is a safe bet that few Decatur, Ga., residents know Cotis Weaver and Atef Mansour. Despite their relative anonymity, both men occupy important places in the city’s land use history. In 2003 Weaver and a handful of residents in the city’s Oakhurst neighborhood fired the first shot in Decatur’s 21st century gentrification wars when they sued the city over a proposed rezoning and subdivision. Mansour, in 2005 and 2006, made headlines when he demolished a 1,450-square-foot one-story Lamont Drive home on the city’s north side and began building a 5,000-square-foot two-story replacement. Both cases illustrate one role race plays in Decatur’s hot real estate market and the different outcomes of opposition to new development. 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 1,000 year house

Decatur, Ga., builder Clay Chapman boldly claims that he’s building what he calls a “Thousand Year House” in a project he has dubbed Hope for Architecture. I first reported on Chapman’s project in a December 2013 post, Day Zero: Brown is the New Green.

@1000yearhouse tweet.

@1000yearhouse tweet, May 14, 2014.

Chapman’s construction project is part publicity stunt, part marketing campaign for architect Steve Mouzon’s “original green” concept. Since breaking ground last year Chapman has published regular blog posts and tweets illustrating progress at the site. And, he has hosted high profile visitors, including noted new urbanist architect Andres Duany and local leaders.

Chapman describes the new 5,300 square foot house built where he demolished a 1,541 square-foot home as “sustainable” and affordable. To date, the new house has required more than 124,000 pounds of concrete and has taken delivery of more than 100,000 bricks.

I rode by the “1,000 Year House” earlier today and here’s what I saw:

241 Maxwell St., Decatur, Ga. May 11, 2014.

241 Maxwell St., Decatur, Ga. May 11, 2014.

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Day zero: brown is the new green

Daulton House, Decatur, Ga., 2011. Photo by author originally published by Patch.

Daulton House, Decatur, Ga., 2011. Photo by author originally published by Patch.

Over the past few years Decatur, Ga., builder Clay Chapman has erected a solid reputation as a designer and builder of baronial brick manses. One of his 2011 projects was built in Decatur’s MAK Historic District. It drew fire from the city’s historic preservation commission and local residents for being out of scale and character with the more modest neighboring historic homes built a century earlier. Continue reading

Decatur, Ga., protects trees, not people

Last night the Decatur, Ga., City Commission unanimously voted to enact a 90-day moratorium on tree cutting and then voted to defeat a temporary moratorium on the demolition of single family homes. The city will protect trees and not people. The three commissioners who voted against the teardown moratorium abrogated their responsibilities to the city’s most vulnerable citizens. Continue reading

Decatur, Ga., proposes single-family home teardown moratorium (updated)

Street sign posted on Ansley Street advertising pre-teardown garage sale. Photo by author, March 3, 2012.

Street sign posted on Ansley Street advertising pre-teardown garage sale. Photo by author, March 3, 2012.

Decatur, Ga., City Manager Peggy Merriss released a memo today proposing that the Decatur City Commission consider establishing a temporary moratorium on the demolition of single family homes. The city manager’s memo comes eight months after I made the same request in a petition [PDF] delivered to the Decatur City Commission and more than 18 months after I first suggested it as a Decatur resident. Continue reading