Atlanta has a well honed reputation as a "city too busy to hate," but sadly, we live in a community where people still try to disguise their prejudices as well-intentioned behavior. I refer to the controversy surrounding proposed commercial re-development of a parcel in Atlanta’s District One, a community of historical significance to the inner city’s longtime African American residents.
There is a nasty spat underway there that appears to be about protecting the BeltLine project’s environmental aesthetic — green spaces, pedestrian traffic, etc. The truth is this is just another attempt by the haves to limit the economic empowerment of the have-nots. And, unfortunately, minorities are again on the losing end of the proposition.
All around Atlanta, other traditional neighborhoods already have been transitioned by the gentrification of folks who moved here from somewhere else to live closer in and near their careers, academic pursuits and the leisure time amenities our great city has to offer. These are fortunate people with great jobs, thriving businesses or just family money. They have bought homes, raised property taxes that increased the burden on seniors still living there, and methodically displaced families who always resided inside the city limits in large numbers — without regard for their fates. Meanwhile, the flight of large-scale commercial retail development to the suburbs may have made room in the city for more upscale housing and small businesses but it also took away the availability of ordinary, median income jobs near the homes of indigenous residents.
Now comes an opportunity for the creation of jobs through this proposed development and a few are railing against it — not because it’s a bad plan but because it‘s what their new constituents in a majority black district oppose. But who are they, really? And what do they know about economic depression? Soon a meeting of the City’s Board of Zoning Adjustment will address the issues related to allowing this already-city-approved progressive development to take place. The opposition factors are well-organized behind their “good intentions” but they are so tragically misinformed about what this opportunity can mean to their neighbors and the urban communities.
New Atlantans will be the first to boast of the diversity that makes intown living so special. Yet, they may find themselves in an economically homogenous society once their neighbors are unable to bear the cost of having to travel far to find employment. Perhaps they are unaware that bringing business back to the city is one way to empower their less-well-off neighbors. The bucolic benefits of the BeltLine’s plan may need to be re-examined closely for signs of discrimination against anyone who cannot afford the lifestyle it supports. Fortunately, some elected officials understand how creating jobs inside the Perimeter portends positive outcomes for the entire metro area.
Our nation’s financial woes are local, not national. They begin with communities like District One, where self-centered individuals are turning their backs on their neighbors. Their attitudes impact political decision-making that keeps prosperity at bay for ordinary folks who just want an opportunity for and access to a job. An economic development is on the table that can make this happen, and I support it wholeheartedly. At the end of the day, this development can help improve the economic condition of hundreds of people at a time when jobs are scarce, particularly for African Americans. This cause needs a champion, not self centered opposition.The Rev. Beasley, chief executive and founder of the Joe Beasley Foundation, is director of the Rainbow Push Coalition's Southeast Region.