AGAINST FALSE PROMISES: A Few Thoughts on the BeltLine & Ongoing Gentrification in Atlanta
It is almost 6 A.M. on October 1, 2012. I am staring at the view outside my front door and find myself forced to document it. This is the perfect hour to do so. There's a silence that hangs in the air, accompanying the fog from last night's rain. I can't see as far as usual, but I don't miss the views of construction and in fact I want these sites to disappear with the fading of the fog.
I remember the stillness of late 2007 when all construction--finished or unfinished--stopped entirely; how drastically the value of most things dropped. We were eighteen and running through empty houses in half-way constructed neighborhoods. Sometimes the neighborhoods only got as far as paving the roads and installing light posts on each lot before the stillness struck. So many of them were like this--a maze of streets and cul-de-sacs weaving throughout fields of light posts. Everything was eerily abandoned; the Georgia clay left exposed until the grass grew and overgrew.
Atlanta is stained burnt-orange. It's the pigment of the ground outside most of our doors. It's where grass no longer grows. I hate construction sites and the way they expose the boldness of the ground's underside--I hate the color of Georgia clay and the way it cries for attention. Atlanta's always paving over, dumping, bulldozing, and endlessly pushing forward in spite of dehydration.
Since I moved here, I've watched a parking lot turn into a strip of cleared land about 100 feet wide. It sits between me and the patio of a restaurant called some name I cannot pronounce. Rich people come here to laugh and drink wine. They can be seen perfectly from where I'm sitting right now; fragments of their conversation crescendo but I never care enough to listen. For a while I couldn't tell whether I was the viewer or the viewed or both but I stopped giving a shit once a paved bike path appeared on the naked medium of overturned land. A neighbor once referred to it as a border and since then, I've struggled to see it as anything else.
A few weeks ago, I learned of a parade on the Beltline when I saw hundreds of yuppies slowly walking down the path holding iridescent lanterns. We stopped to watch them as they stopped to watch us. They kept pointing and as if we were something controversial before continuing to tip-toe down the paved line that separates historically rich and poor neighborhoods. Photographers, media cameras, flame-throwers, jugglers, a marching band, hundreds upon hundreds of people and their fucking lanterns. Home felt as safe as any tourist attraction. Throughout the night people pressed their faces against our windows, eager to peer inside; their eagerness has yet to subside. Shock, violation, and confusion turn and sink in my stomach as a harsh realization: a year from now I won't be able to afford where I live anymore because of the BeltLine.
And all of a sudden there's a constant flow of yuppies passing the dock throughout the day and none of them seem to question what was demolished and paved over. All of a sudden, the state wants to fund a 25-year project for skewed conceptions of things like "community" and "art." All of the sudden there's a cemented circle running through all of Atlanta's neighborhoods. All of a sudden, there's a new perimeter well inside of I-285 and I can see it out my front window.
The BeltLine defines an outside and an inside within the city itself, but the BeltLine does not cause gentrification. Rather, it is the investment in gentrification as a progressive and "community oriented" strategy that aims to reconstruct Atlanta and give birth to an economic boom that the 1996 Olympics failed to bring. Tactically, the BeltLine Project will concentrate wealth inside these new, more intimate contours and further displace the poor through manipulation of political boundaries, rather than physical migration of people. The BeltLine is a border on a map. Borders are drawn with intention to divide us, to centralize wealth.
Eviction is a device of Gentrification and the evidence is in the pocketed areas of absence and silence. About one-third of all Atlanta's buildings are abandoned, making it the second most vacant city in America, behind Detroit. Vacancy has become an outstanding characteristic of Atlanta. Neighborhoods without neighbors. Schools without students. Flecks of emptiness, exacerbating an aura of isolation. No one cares about these places: hollow places unworthy of resurrection; too expensive to demolish.
They've become ignored potholes of struggle constituting most of the city, precipitated by the police. State-sanctioned armed robbery blames the burglarized. And the spectators rubber-neck or stand and watch it all the same way they do television: completely disengaged. Foreclosure? Well they should have just paid their mortgage. They were in debt? Maybe they shouldn't have taken out a loan they knew they would never be able to pay back. Inaction is the spectator's passion, as inaction breeds the spectacle.
Although the hollows of Atlanta may compliment themselves, it's resistance that draws attention to them. When the city's pockets of poverty started to deter tourism and inconvenience the rich--when these cavities became colorful distractions from capitalism and breeding grounds of dissent--suddenly emptiness became a painful eyesore, and homelessness and graffiti now need task-forces to buff away signs of struggle. Atlanta's abandonment is the new muse of urban redevelopment projects. Capitalism is convalescent.
It isn’t travel that we oppose, but transportation. We used to wander the unpaved trails of the abandoned railroad tracks. Now, we have a concrete bike lane to circulate us from work to home, to the gym, to the bar and back home again. We have green spaces to make the desolation bearable and aesthetically appealing; and Living Walls as compensation for the silenced graffiti scene and the indictment of its writers. The places we used to live are becoming in-between zones of capitalist reproduction. Our neighborhoods and secret hideouts have become neither here nor there, neither landmark nor destination. Everything we love is being plugged into a network of highways, both literal and digital, upon which only misery may travel. We never wanted the BeltLine Project or any other solution. We don't want capitalism, or any of its false alternatives. We desire something else.
The BeltLine Project is the largest urban revitalization project in America. The official dedication of the BeltLine's Eastside Trail is set to take place today October 15, 2012 at 10 a.m. This is a callout to all who hate the BeltLine: October 15, 2012 is just the beginning. October 15th marks the declaration of indefinite resistance against the BeltLine Project and all devices of gentrification in Atlanta. This is a call for action: short-term and long term; overt and covert; with neighbors, with affinities, with each other. This is a call for action that refuses to negotiate and leaves no room for compromise.
"What we are and what we want begins with a no. From it is born the only reason for getting up in the morning."