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April 2009

The Plan and The Myth


Driving home from Florida last weekend, I was fascinated by a This American Life podcast called "Human Resources." You cannot beat that show for sheer weirdness in nonfiction. The episode was broadly themed around the shadowy forces that control our lives or "the uneasy interaction between humans and their institutions." Act 2 was an epiphany for me and probably for a lot of white listeners:

Act 2: The Plan
American cities have gone through a massive wave of gentrification in the last few decades. To some people, it's not a natural ebb and flow of the real estate market, but a plot, by rich, mainly white people, to take over the neighborhoods of poor, mainly black people. This American Life producer Jon Jeter reports on how, in neighborhoods all over the country, the plot has a name, "The Plan," and most people you talk to know about it.

Jeter talks to black people in Oakland, DC, Chicago and New Orleans, but he certainly could've found the same sentiments in Atlanta. The Projects get torn down and replaced by loft condos. When white people show up - inevitably walking their dogs - there goes the neighborhood. When long-neglected sidewalks and streets and public parks are suddenly the focus of repair and revitalization, look out. "It's not for us," they said. It's for the white people who are moving in, gentrifying the neighborhood. "Hey, I walk my dog," I thought. And, "So this is why Stumptown's city council fought so hard against restoring the Velodrome!"

On the other hand, I was reminded of the same stories I've grown up with about "blockbusting." My parent's generation still mutters about how some powerful institution- the housing authority or the federal government - starting moving black families into white neighborhoods to force integration. The culprit was some heinous mashup of institutional racism and the "natural ebb and flow of the real estate market."

Only so much of this can be written off as "conspiracy theory" talk. Whether there's a well-funded, sinister "plan" or not, the myth and the net effect are the same. Poor tribes, black or white or indian, always get pushed out. We occupy ourselves with racist theories about the cause while real estate developers laugh all the way to the bank.

Justifying the Airport

I’m more than a little sensitive to construction at the Atlanta airport. Let’s just say I get freaked out about it. As a southside resident and homeowner,  I’ve become convinced of the correlation between the growth and dominance of the airport and the decline and collapse of its surrounding communities. Three of my own childhood homes have been erased–indirectly–by airport expansion. Decimated property values, accelerated white flight and the subsequent collapse of local public institutions– I blame it all on the ever-growing, blight-generating “World’s Busiest Airport.”

And yet the airport indirectly employs us all. It's relatively cheap to fly. We should be grateful. It’s like our very own coal mine or something that simultaneously feeds and eats us. It’s always been a kind of poetic vendetta of mine… blame the airport/thank God for the airport.

A recent announcement of new proposed runway changes tipped me from theoretical musing to a quest for facts. Today I downloaded 75MB worth of PDF materials that constitute the official City of Atlanta/Department of Aviation “DEA” or Draft Environmental Assessment for the project.

It’s really hard to read. I quickly got discouraged and found myself skipping huge chunks of FAA legalese to get to the charts and graphs. Who, exactly, was this written for? Attorneys? Scientists? I think of myself as a citizen with above-average reading comprehension skills, but I couldn’t follow it.

Basically, they want two things: a longer runway and greater departure vectors. International flights, “ultra-long haul departures” and cargo flights are too obese and they struggle to get up on days hotter than 86 degrees, resulting in “lost revenue-producing opportunities.” The longer the runway, the bigger plane, longer flight duration it can support.

Here's the general argument:

Part of maximizing the Atlanta area’s [economic] competitiveness is to provide appropriate aviation infrastructure. While Hartsfield-Jackson has excellent facilities, it currently lacks a runway of sufficient length that would allow the runway length-constrained aircraft to take-off at maximum or near maximum load.

You know what else might help maximize Atlanta’s economic competitiveness? Decent public schools. Steady property values. Neighborhoods that don’t reek of jet fuel.

The document tries to be unbiased, but it was commissioned to prove its own conclusions. The sections on socio-economic impact were laughably thin. I kept smirking at tidbits like this chart that shows how several recent construction projects have been nothing but good news for the area. See the column below. Isn’t it a miracle?


It was thrilled to see a map of the “noise contours” generated by jet engines- one of the mostly vaguely intimidating realities of living near the airport. Someone is actually tracking this stuff! The outer ring represents an area of 65 decibel DNL (day-night sound levels). It gets louder as you move inward. Growing up in Stumptown, we were well outside the 65 DNL blob, yet the roar of decending aircraft was loud enough to pre-empt telephone conversations and TV shows. So they’re only mapping the worst, most unliveable noise levels.

Noise contours

Also riveting was this list of “Environmental Justice-defining adverse affects.” I was trying to be serious about all this, but it reads like a poem, a poem about Stumptown. I particularly love the blunt, single word lines:

Bodily impairment, infirmity, illness or death
Water pollution or soil contamination
Destruction or disruption of man-made or natural resources
Destruction or diminution of aesthetic values
Destruction or disruption of community cohesion or a community’s economic vitality
Destruction or disruption of the availability of public and private facilities and services
Adverse employment effects
Displacement of persons, businesses, farms, or nonprofit organizations
Increased traffic congestion
Exclusion or separation of minority or low-income individuals within a given community or from the broader community
Disproportionately high and adverse effect on minority and low-income populations means an adverse effect that:
Is predominately borne by a minority population and/or low-income population; or
Will be suffered by the minority population and/or low-income population and is appreciably more severe or greater in magnitude than the adverse effect that will be suffered by the non-minority population and/or non-low-income population.

The draft goes on to assert that none of these adverse effects will be set in motion by the current proposal. And this is probably true. We're only talking about adding 500 feet to an existing runway. Will it really make life any worse? But I've read has made me wonder... have these criteria been effectively applied over the last 30 years of airport planning? The list reads like a blueprint for what has come to pass.

Close to Flannery


We went to the Margaret Mitchell House last night to hear Brad Gooch talk about his just-published biography of Flannery O’Connor. I haven’t read the book yet and generally don’t like biographies but I went to the reading just to mingle with a crowd of O’Connor fans and experts for a night. Just to be close to the author who was close to my favorite artist.

Not that he ever met her. But he met her classmates and neighbors and editors. He managed to interview many of these folks in the last years of their lives. He traveled to Copenhagen to find the textbook salesman who had a brief romance with Ms. O’Connor- and now we know what it felt like to kiss her.

The Q&A session made me realize that we all desperately miss her and want to know her. Poor Mr. Gooch didn’t get many questions on the 5 year process of researching, writing and publishing this landmark biography. He was more like a medium at a séance. What did she mean when she said this or wrote that? What was her favorite food? Did she enjoy music? What would Flannery think of the movie “Doubt”?

I teared up when I heard that she owned 39 peacocks when she died at age 39. Mug leaned over and whispered that his heart was a-flutter. I guess that’s what we came for.

Strip mall memories

postcard by R. Land

My Dad and his brothers have been passing around this Forest Park trivia game that started on Facebook. I'm including the answers that have been proposed so far. I love the urban legends and insider knowledge (see #1, 8, 10, 16, 18, 26, 39), but the majority of these fond memories are of businesses that have come and gone. Funny how retail history becomes our shared culture. In 30 years, will we reminisce about Circuit City?

1) What made traffic back up after Thanksgiving on North Avenue?
The huge Santa in the Emerson's front window

2) Where did most parades start and end?
Grant City Shopping Center

3) What was the original name of Fort Gilliam?
The Atlanta Army Depot

4) There were three Drive-In Theaters in Forest Park. Name them.
South Expressway and Thunderbird

5) What was the name of the restaurant at the end of Main Street before you entered Mountain View?
Hickory House

6) What was the name of the snack bar at Richway?

7) If you were a kid in FP in the '60s or '70s most likely who was your doctor?
Dr. Stone, Dunbar or McClellan and Dr. Kim was part of that practice for awhile

8) What was the urban legend about Judge Reynolds' Property?
He'd shoot you.

9) Name the first home improvement store/ lumber yard on old Dixie.
West Lumber – I think West was on Forest Parkway across from the market. Longinos became Wickes

10) Name the man in the late 70's or early 80's that walked around FP real fast (speedy, walking man).
I can't remember his real name but was known as the Walking Man and was hit by a car and killed in 1999.

11) Name the only year FPHS won a state title in football.
It was in the '50s and Charley Griswell was the star player for the team.

12) Where in Forest Park did Johnny's pizza open before moving to Virginia Ave. by the airport?

13) What year was the first FPHS opened?
1951, I think.

14) Who wrote the words to our fight song and where did it come from?
I heard that Lloyd Tarpley, Florida State alum,  wrote it

15) What ever happened to the cannon that sat out by the flag pole?

16) From Forest Park Who dated Elvis Presley and was on Hee- Haw?
Diana Goodman - class of 69

17) Where Super X used to be they had the haunted house that Clayton Community Church would do every year, what was it called?
Trail of Terror

18) What did the hippy at the corner of Old Dixie and Morrow Road sale?

19) What was the name of the restaurant inside Grant's department store?

20) What was the name of forest parkway before it was a 4 lane?
Georgia Avenue

21) Where is the oldest church in Forest park?
Philadelphia Presbyterian

22) Where was the giant slide located? (Not the water slide)

23) What was the name of the water slide in Forest Park?

24) What was the name of the mobile restaurant in Clayton Plaza?

25) What is the name of the largest baseball filed at the Forest Park Rec?

26) In the '70s how much did it cost to enter Forest Park outdoor pool, and what form of I.D. needed?
25 cents and a FP recreation card and the Avengers ran the place.

27) Name the restaurant that was built in front of the bowling alley on Old Dixie Hwy in the '70s.

28) Name the restaurant inside the Farmers Market before it was Davis Brothers.

29) Where was the place you could drive slot cars?

30) Name the hobby store in Clayton plaza.

31) Name the department store on 54 going north just over the bridge to I-285 in Forest Park.

32) Name old department store just before I-285, what could you "drive thru" to pick up?
Treasure Island

33) Name the Donut shop that was across the street from Clayton Plaza Shopping Center.
Mister Donut and it was won on a Game Show in Hollywood.

34) Name the Steak Restaurant that was across the street from the 54 entrance to Ft. Gilliam.
Western Steer

35) What was the name of the Veterinary Clinic on the corner of Jonesboro Road and Watts Road?
Ford Animal Clinic

36) Where was the indoor Forest Park Theater Located?
It's across the street from Crumbley Tire and has been a Bar and a Church - go figure

37) What was the name of the restaurant at the old A&P shopping center off main street?
Anne & Bill's or Forrest House

38) What was the name of the book store in Grant's City?
Eller News Center

39) Peter's Woods are the home of what?
Maniacal Waterheads

40) If you lived in FP in the '70s and '80s where did you go the night of July 4th?
Kiwanis Field

41) What was the original name of Forest Park?
Stump Town

42) What kind of barn was on Main Street?
Shoe Barn

43) What was the name of the stop-n-go type store on Main Street?
Golden Gallon

44) For many years all seventh graders went to Fountain Junior High. Why?
Integration. It was a Clayton County Board of Education experiment. In hopes that they could exorcise the Middle School demons prior to Junior High School. And to think that folks think the CCPS Board problems are new...                                             

45) Who had a shop on Main Street and probably took your Senior portraits? Pete Smith

46) If you got a traffic ticket in the late '70s or early '80s who most likely would be your judge if you went to court?
Judge Brock

47) At FPSH what did the cheerleaders sell on game day?

48) What was the name of the group that ran the school store?

49) What was the name and the location of the pool hall in FP?
Main Street A&P

50) In the Southlake 2 complex where the movie theater was, there was a British pub what was its name?