Developer’s brochure re-ignites gentrification debate in Atlanta

An uproar that developed last weekend over the white faces in an online brochure advertising a large luxury development slated for one of the city’s oldest black neighborhoods started with a Saturday morning Facebook post.

“Wow,” wrote James Jay Bailey, president and CEO of the Russell Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “This is so disturbing.”

As the 34-page brochure spread through social media, the refrain of criticism provided a brief glimpse into the powder keg of anger and fear that the rapid gentrification of Atlanta has created.

Bailey and others were particularly disturbed about one photograph that showed only white people lounging and laughing in a conference room. Superimposed over the picture were the words, "A Community Created For The New Atlanta." The words "New Atlanta" in bold.

The reaction to the Quarry Yards project highlights the tension in a city where development has often displaced longtime black residents, as developers try to keep up with the strong demand among young professionals for upscale intown living.

The marketing information for the project put the developer and former Atlanta Braves baseball star on defense.

“At Urban Creek Partners, we believe the “New Atlanta” is a city where all people have a chance to succeed and communities such as Quarry Yards are created to bring people together to live, create and explore,” wrote Mark Teixeira of Urban Creek Partners, one of the projects developers, in a statement on Monday. “We do not want a city of ‘Have’ and ‘Have Nots.’ ”

Teixeira also touted that more than 10 percent of the units in the development were for people earning less than the area’s median income and that his company’s foundation, The Emerald Corridor Foundation, was working on improving the water quality in Proctor Creek.

A spokesman for Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said the brochure was poorly executed.

“The marketing materials in question certainly do not represent Atlanta, and we will be having an in-depth conversation with the developer on their plans, community impact and inclusivity in the immediate future.” said Bottom’s spokesman Michael Smith.

Quarry Yards is a planned 70-acre development near the Bankhead MARTA station that will consist of 1,750 housing units, 1,875,000-square feet of office space and 175,000 square feet of retail.

The brochure emphasizes the project’s location atop one of Atlanta’s highest points that offers sweeping skyline views.

“Quarry Yards is the only major Atlanta site to include direct access to both MARTA and the Atlanta Beltline,” the brochure reads.

The Beltline is the walking and biking path that will eventually encircle the city. City leaders have touted it as a means of uniting neighborhoods. But the path has also been criticized for inflating home values to levels that locals can’t afford.

On Sunday evening, Atlanta City Councilman Matt Westmoreland issued his own Facebook post after seeing Bailey's. Westmoreland noted that the development sits within the attendance zone for an elementary school where students of color make up 99 percent of the students and 86 percent qualify for free lunches.

“This project has literally been designed and promoted to erase and ignore the families currently living in that community,” Westmoreland wrote on Facebook.

On Monday morning, three prominent activists and one resident held a press conference at the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development downtown office to announced they had filed a complaint.

The complaint alleged that the marketing materials for the Quarry Yards development constituted an act of housing discrimination.

“The term “The New Atlanta” implies there is an “Old Atlanta,” the complaint reads. “Anyone familiar with the neighborhood knows that the Old Atlanta is Black and low income.”

The brochure had been online since October. Bailey posted only six of the brochures’s 34 pages, but did include a link to the complete document. Other pages included photographs of people of color, although the majority of those depicted were white.

The organization that Bailey runs, The Russell Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, was founded to combat some of the issues raised by the brochure.

"In the city of Atlanta, a child born into poverty has almost no chance of reaching the upper middle class – less than four percent. And more than half of those born into poverty will remain in poverty their entire lives," reads a statistic on the organization's website.

Why it matters

As the housing market has roared back, residential redevelopment in the city of Atlanta has forced tough questions on whether new housing will displace low-income, mainly African-American Atlantans. Some think housing constructed to appeal to young, affluent residents helps the city attract skilled workers and puts the city in at a competitive advantage. Others think those benefits are not worth the cost – the erosion of historic, mainly black neighborhoods.

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