Armed with a microphone and wearing a hat that said “Stay Woke,” a DeKalb County commissioner spent Wednesday morning traversing a busy corridor noting things that needed fixing.
Commissioner Larry Johnson had amassed a long list before lunch.
On a two-mile stretch of Glenwood Road, there were unkemptshrubs, homes that looked abandoned, illegal signs and ugly graffiti. Johnson, who represents the area, was singling problems out so code enforcement officials and other county staff knew to address them as part of the county’s longterm effort to revitalize the Glenwood corridor.
“We’re not suburbia anymore,” Johnson said during Wednesday’s “walking town hall.” “This is the gateway to South DeKalb. When they see this, this needs to be popping, this needs to be on point.”
Johnson, first elected in 2002, led a group of about 20 residents and staff from various county departments down Glenwood Road to get feedback on how it could be improved. Johnson, who views Glenwood as an “emerging business corridor,” said that incremental approach to cleaning up the street will be key to attracting businesses and new development.
There has been some progress along Glenwood in recent years — improved parks, better sidewalks and road repaving projects — but it still has a long way to go. The area has historically struggled with crime and a lack of public funding, Johnson said. Along the walk Wednesday, the group passed a number of empty, overgrown lots and signs of blight.
“Look at the wires poking out of that building! That’s not safe,” Johnson said as they passed a townhome complex.
Located just outside of Atlanta city limits, the Glenwood corridor stretches east from Candler Road all the way to I-285 in unincorporated DeKalb County. “White flight” in the 1970s and ’80s drove many of the area’s white residents out to the suburbs, and black residents took over many of the businesses. Crime has fluctuated since them, Johnson said, and is now on the decline.
Residents like Yvonne Jobe remember when Glenwood was a thriving business district.
“I lived here in 1973, when we had multiple grocery stores on Candler Road. You had a choice of where to go,” Jobe, 75, said. “Now, we have nothing. We’re really a desert.”
She is hesitant to believe that simply pointing out problems on the street will lead to change, and she hopes the county will be more vigilant in following up on errant property owners.
“I can only wait and see the actions,” she said.
Johnson’s vision of cleaning up Glenwood follows a pattern of “revitalization” efforts in historically black southern and central DeKalb neighborhoods that Johnson said have fallen behind other areas in terms of public funding. Several miles north of Glenwood, the county is beginning open house meetings to gather ideas for enhancing Memorial Drive.
While Johnson hopes new infrastructure funding (and future cleanup in the neighborhoods) attracts new development, he knows that could drive up property values, forcing out some current residents as more people move to South DeKalb. To avoid gentrification, he said he is teaching residents to hold onto their property and not be driven out by developers looking to buy.
Residents are generally supportive of new development along Glenwood, but “it shouldn’t be a case where people are just essentially caused to be displaced,” longtime resident Marvin Toliver said. He is a fan of Johnson’s plan to clean up Glenwood Road incrementally.
“You have to fix the smallest details in the community for it to be improved,” Toliver, 75, said, “so you don’t allow the degradation.”
Kirstina Richardson, 50, moved from Chicago to nearby Belvedere Park about a year ago, and said she has mostly enjoyed her neighborhood and time in DeKalb. While she knows crime can be an issue, she said she is mainly disappointed by major gas stations in the area that are poorly run.
“It’s been great, I haven’t had a lot of problems. I hear some gunshots,” Richardson said. “I understand it’s a work in progress.”
In other news:
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.