Decatur urban renewal plan: 1963 map

BeaconHill1963cOn October 14, 1963, the Decatur, Ga., City Commission enacted a new urban renewal plan for the city’s historically black Beacon Community. The new plan included land use restrictions and zones targeted for new commercial development and housing. The plan included building height, setback, and parking restrictions and it limited the types of business that could operate in the urban renewal area.

Two zones for new businesses were created: a “Local Commercial Area” and a “General Business Area.” The former allowed 22 business types, from “apparel shops” to “tailor shops.” The latter permitted 26 additional uses, including “Any use allowed in local commercial use areas within this project.”

Souper Jenny restaurant in urban renewal area along West Ponce de Leon Ave., March 2014.

Souper Jenny restaurant in urban renewal area along West Ponce de Leon Ave., March 2014.

After meeting resistance to the proposal to relocate African American families to an area in unincorporated DeKalb County, Decatur designated part of the new urban renewal area for multi-family housing. Density in the new housing — which became the Gateway Apartments (now slated for redevelopment) — was limited to 21.6 “dwelling units per acre.”

Gateway Apartments, 2014. Slated for demolition and redevelopment.

Gateway Apartments, 2014. Slated for demolition and redevelopment.

© 2014 D.S. Rotenstein

The Decatur “Plan”

“The Plan” is deeply embedded in Washington, D.C., urban lore. According to Washington author Harry Jaffe,

“The plan” is a persistent conspiracy theory among many blacks in the District. It assumes that whites have had a plan to take back the nation’s capital city since the advent of home rule in the 1970s, when the city started electing blacks to local office. The white power structure is bent on moving blacks out and whites in, and it will always control the levers of power.

The Washington “Plan” is easily dismissed as contemporary conspiracy theory that dates to 1979. Academics, journalists, and pundits generally agree that despite demographic changes to the city once dubbed “Chocolate City,” there is no systematic plan to relocate Washington’s black residents beyond the District limits.

Decatur-Dekalb News, 1960.

Decatur-Dekalb News, 1960.

Although Decatur, Ga., has never had an African American “power structure” despite having a whole two African American city commissioners in its 191-year history, longtime black residents believe that Decatur does have a “plan” to eliminate them from the city’s ranks. Like Washington, the demographic data support popular observations that Decatur’s black population is declining. And, like Washington, that trend is easily explained by market forces and gentrification. Continue reading