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“A Beltline For All,” or a Beltline for an Affluent Few?

by Mackenzie Mitchell

The Atlanta Beltline, originally a beacon of hope for Atlanta’s black, lower-income families has fed these individuals empty promises and created a culture of residential displacement. The Atlanta Beltline is a green urban development, which has contributed to mass displacement of long-time residents due to the driving up of housing costs. Once designed to bring community green space and affordable housing to thousands of residents, what the Beltline has actually done is displace residents of historic neighborhoods. The Beltline is a 22-mile path around Atlanta, passing through a number of neighborhoods, from Midtown Atlanta to the Westside. This alleged “sustainable development,” funded by private sectors, is only sustainable for people who can financially sustain it. The number of affordable housing units along the Beltline is actually decreasing as development expands. 

Beltline planning meetings are conducted to allow community members to voice their opinions regarding the types of businesses, green space, and other developments they would like to see. Like most things impacting urban development, there is a catch. These meetings lack the voices of the long-time residents the developments will impact. While bringing more green space and businesses to an area sounds like a great plan, it inevitably drives housing costs up. Without policies protecting these long-time residents, the Beltline cannot truly be what it is coined to be, a “Beltline for All.” 

Planning for the Beltline started in 2005, with a goal of providing 5,600 units of affordable housing. After nearly 20 years of construction, only 38% of this goal has been reached while simultaneously increasing the amount of high-income housing at a much more rapid rate, a phenomena better-known as gentrification. For the communities suffering from displacement, this means their already staggering lack of resources is perpetuated. An example of this is the harm being done to the Westside Atlanta neighborhoods, including Adair Park, Peoplestown, Grant Park, Pittsburgh, and Mechanicsville, with the average income in these neighborhoods

increasing since the beginning of the Beltline development and the number of lower-income, long-time residents decreasing. 

The Beltline has yet to help low-income families. Private sectors that fund the Beltline profit off of the businesses that are placed in these neighborhoods. Residents of these neighborhoods have asked for practical improvements and services, yet are met with impractical developments that increase the cost of living in their neighborhoods. The Westside Atlanta neighborhoods are majority black neighborhoods, yet with the rapid development of higher-cost luxury homes and shopping centers, white, higher-income Atlantans are moving into these areas. Not only is this harming the plentiful history of these neighborhoods, but also forcing these black families further out of Atlanta where even fewer resources can be found without access to public transportation Atlanta provides. 

There have been many attempts to ensure affordable housing along the Beltline. There are many plans in place, like the promise of 5,600 units of affordable housing. An advisory board of affordable housing experts was established in 2018 to consult on this issue. The goal of this board is to follow through on the Beltline’s original promises of housing, allowing for options for “seniors, working families, and legacy residents” to stay put. Creating these options is admittedly not an easy task, as there have been many failed attempts over the years to create affordable communities in the Atlanta area. A major example of these failures is a housing community previously known as East Lake Meadows. This was a major development in the 1970s in which hundreds of units of affordable apartments were made available in Dekalb County. After a few successful years, the Atlanta Housing Authority turned a blind eye to this community, allowing for structural catastrophes such as standing sewage water and incomplete green space. Eventually this development became overrun with violence, ultimately leading to the demolition of this community in the 90s. This resulted in a new mixed-income development that had a screening process that excluded many of the former residents. With this history of neglect of low-income families, can the Beltline succeed? Past failures do not mean these communities should be given up on. Everyone deserves to have a safe and affordable home.. If the Beltline planning committees are invested in providing affordable housing, why did it take 12 years for an advisory board to be formed? There is no excuse for this oversight, especially since only 38% of the affordable housing goal has been achieved. 

The Beltline is and always has been a tool in the machine of systemic racism. In theory, the Beltline is a gold mine of community connectedness and much-needed green space, unfortunately, in practice, the Beltline is nothing more than another driving force behind gentrification and black displacement. The Atlanta Beltline is en route to causing a public health disaster as well as worsening the housing crisis in Atlanta. 

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