Sunday, May 29, 2011

Hidden Slums in the City of Celebrations

Posted by Nia Reed, SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – The world famous Opera House brands Sydney like the Eiffel Tower brands Paris, and the Sydney your typical tourist sees is one of striking beauty matched only by the charm of its people. When Oprah Winfrey shot a live show in Sydney during late 2010, Americans saw wealth, extravagance, and splendor. Indeed, Sydney is one of the country’s most expensive cities, and perhaps one of the more expensive places to live in the world. Ironically, however, Sydney’s luxurious apartments, where the likes of Russell Crowe reside, sit less than 10 minutes away from impoverished Aboriginal communities where dilapidated buildings litter the landscape. These are the hidden slums of "The City of Celebrations".
The Redfern Community contains some improved housing, but scores of run-down, make shift buildings where people live – some even boarded up – are readily visible as well. Broken windows are numerous, and stray cats are everywhere, roaming the neighborhood looking for food. Garbage is piled up on the sidewalks because the city doesn’t have regular garbage pick up there, an indication of official disinvestment and neglect.
Tensions between the Aboriginal people of Sydney, city officials, and do-gooders are long standing. A teenage boy was killed after falling off his bike and impaled by a nearby fence in 2004. Soon after what are now known as the Redfern Riots erupted. The Aboriginal community claimed the boy was being chased by the police; city officials deemed the incident an accident.
Several Sydney organizations, including the Redfern Aboriginal Housing Company, continue to actively pursue real change in the housing conditions for the Aboriginal citizens. There has been some improvement, but the work is slow and arduous.

Nia Reed is a Doctoral student in the Sociology Department at Georgia State University. She also received a Master’s degree in Gerontology there. She is a Team Leader on the GSU Urban Health Initiative, a project examining the impact of public housing demolition and relocation in Atlanta, and a professional back-up singer. You can contact Nia at

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Unlikely Neighbors

Posted by Chandra Ward, OLD FOURTH WARD, ATLANTA, GA – This is a story of unlikely neighbors across time and space. It is one about a once segregated middle class black neighborhood – which just happens to be the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr. -- evolving into an increasingly affluent white neighborhood over the last few decades. Through this process new identities compete with the old, and some are left in between.

I really didn’t anticipate engaging in a cultural-historical moment, but that’s exactly what happened.  Early one evening not long ago I was walking my dog and we ventured into the neighborhood next to mine called Old Fourth Ward. We normally don’t walk this way so the neighborhood was unfamiliar to us. On our walk, I began to notice stark inconsistencies in the neighborhood environs. I saw young, white hipsters biking around, and a couple of flip flop-clad white men walking their dogs, one of whom stopped to talk to me about our respective pets.  I also saw a hunched over old black man in something like a trench coat pushing a cart. I ran into him twice.  And I saw a sistah talking on her cell phone outside a rather run-down apartment building.  We exchanged smiles. 

The most dramatic incongruence I noticed concerned the residences.  New or newly renovated houses stood beside or across the street from what looked like low-income red brick apartment buildings similar to the one where the sistah was standing.  These apartments had old window air conditioning units, while many of the houses next to them had enclosed porches with beautiful ceiling fans.  The sizes of these houses were literally as large as the entire apartment building next to it.  While several families lived in these multi-unit buildings, single families lived in equivalent-sized houses.  The tenants of the apartment buildings were black and Latino, while those of the large houses were white. What I was observing was a neighborhood of interdictory spaces, a neighborhood deep into transition.

I came back a few days later with my camera and began taking pictures on John Wesley Dobbs Avenue.  The fact that I was on John Wesley Dobbs is ironic. The man John Wesley Dobbs (1882-1961) was considered the “unofficial” black Mayor of Auburn Avenue.  Auburn Avenue is a street in the Old Fourth Ward that was once a thriving business district for African-Americans during the Jim Crow era.  The street was considered to be “paved in gold” because it was home to more financial institutions, entertainers, professionals, educators, and politicians than any other in the segregated south.  Mr. Dobbs helped start the Atlanta Negro Voters League.  In 1936, he started a voter registration drive.  In 1948, he helped integrate the City of Atlanta Police Department.  He was also the Grand Master of the Prince Hall Masons, the first African-American Free Masonry group in the United States, and he was the grandfather of the late, Maynard Jackson, two-time Atlanta mayor and Atlanta’s first black mayor.  John Wesley Dobbs passed away in 1961. His death occured on the same day the Atlanta School System became desegregated. 

That’s the history but this is now and as I stood on John Wesley Dobbs Avenue I felt like I was watching two unequal worlds colliding: on my right, stood a renovated large blue house and on my left, an old apartment building.  As I walked closer to the apartment building, I could hear the sounds of Black gospel music.  There were about five of these apartment buildings along John Wesley Dobbs.  Their presence amidst the ‘silent’ large and immaculately-groomed houses was like a pebble in a shoe: an uncomfortable reminder of something important left behind and perhaps forgotten in an otherwise upscale neighborhood.
The photographs of the apartments tell their own story with tattered blinds shading the windows and Latino children playing soccer in the parking lot next to the garbage dumpster.  What was life like behind those tattered blinds?  What was life like behind the solid and neatly finished wood door of one of the large houses?  Though presumably different, these lives spatially intersect for at least a moment everyday.  But instead of gang tags marking their spatial territory, the homeowners have signs in their yard reading “O4WP” (Old Fourth Ward Patrol).  I wondered if any of the residents of the apartment buildings were part of this patrol.  Or were they patrolled by the patrol?  I saw trendy O4W bumper stickers on the vehicles parked in front of the large houses.  Did the apartment residents have these trendy bumper stickers as well? I didn’t see any. Did their kids go to the same schools as those living in the large houses? My hunch was probably not.

I then came across a small African Methodist Episcopal church with peeling paint.  I wondered to myself, “an AME church in a white neighborhood?”  Is this a relic of African-American history?  The family home of John Wesley Dobbs, purchased in 1904, still stands at 540 John Wesley Dobbs Avenue. Fifty years after his death, I am walking through John Wesley Dobb’s neighborhood, a neighborhood that had to have been all black during his time.  So where have all the black people of Old Fourth Ward gone? What would Dobbs and King think if they were accompanying me? What would scare them more, the striking neighborhood change or my digital camera?

Chandra D. Ward is a Doctoral student in the Sociology Department at Georgia State University. She is also Social Shutter’s Assistant Editor and a Team Leader on the GSU Urban Health Initiative, a project examining the impact of public housing demolition and relocation in Atlanta. You can contact Chandra at and view more of her photographs on her Flickr page.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The People of Zanzibar

Posted by Adrienne Miller, RAS NUNGWI, ZANZIBAR, TANZANIAZanzibar is a semi-independent island of the United Republic of Tanzania and its east coast is located in the Indian Ocean.  At the northern-most tip is the town of Ras Nungwi. This photograph was taken along the beach walk to Ras Nungwi during low tide. When the tide is low, you can walk out towards the sea for nearly a mile, eventually reaching Ras Nungwi and then, soon after, the edge of the shelf.  One more step from the edge will land you in the tremendous depth of the sea – even during low tide.  But low tide is the only time you can get to Ras Nungwi by foot without having to go up to the dusty and hot village roads. In the photograph, the women’s buckets are for toting water to their homes from the water truck that makes its rounds throughout the island’s villages where running water is nonexistent.  They are waiting in the shade until they get word that the truck is on its way.

While life in Ras Nungwi is peaceful, poverty is prevalent. People work very hard for their meager sustenance, mainly through fishing in the beautiful surrounding seas. Only a very small number of citizens make higher wages in the tourism and resort industries.

Adrienne Miller is a recent graduate from Georgia State University with a major in Sociology. She is also a freelance photographer who has traveled the world taking photographs of everyday life. She can be contacted at . You can also view her Social Shutter post: On the Roads of India.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Remnants from Slavery

Posted by Angie Luvara, VICKSBURG, MISSISSIPPI – One of the most memorable moments in my undergraduate education was when my African-American Studies professor asked our class if we felt that African-Americans today have any ties to the slavery their ancestors experienced.
“Have any of the problems African-Americans experienced during slavery lingered around today? Or do African-Americans have their own new set of problems to deal with today?”
A huge debate ensued among my classmates. I remained unusually quiet because I really wasn’t sure of my opinion on the matter—at least until my professor explained his viewpoint. After the entire class had ample time to share their opinions, he entered into an explanation on direct ties between slavery and African-American culture today—from the use of improvisation in music and storytelling, to the prevalence of call-and-response songs in churches, right down to family structure. He opened my mind to a direct link between slavery and African-American culture today.
What my professor taught me that day has stuck with me since, but I had never had a visual representation of the remnants of slavery until a recent trip to Mississippi. When I arrived in Vicksburg, one of the first things I did was venture to the historic downtown area to look for the beautiful antebellum homes I had heard about. Much to my surprise, the former slave quarters located behind the antebellum homes were still standing—and still occupied! I was shocked to see one street full of beautiful mansions, followed by a street full of shacks which were obviously former slave quarters. The streets of Vicksburg alternated back and forth like this throughout the entire historic downtown area.
I’m sure that the residents of Vicksburg would never look twice at this fascinating juxtaposition. However, as an outsider, it was quite eye-opening to see such poverty sandwiched side-by-side with such prosperity. Not only are there social and cultural remnants from slavery, but in some places there are geographic remnants as well.
Angie Luvara is a photographer and Managing Editor of Social Shutter. You can view more of her work at

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Street Art Tunnel

Posted by Chelsea McKee, CABBAGETOWN, ATLANTA, GA – The Krog Street Tunnel is a small, unique Atlanta landmark, located at the junction of the Old Fourth Ward and Cabbagetown neighborhoods. The tunnel is covered in graffiti, political statements, event announcements, gang symbols, and murals, all of which are constantly changing. The result is a mosaic of layer upon layer of organic street art and speak.  But few people who come to Atlanta for conferences or for tourist purposes ever get to experience this palimpsest -- all they see is the antiseptic, Starbucks-littered Midtown Business District. 

Like the tunnel itself, Cabbagetown is a mosaic of contradictory landscapes. It’s funky, hippy, yuppie, artsy, racially diverse (yet racially bounded), run-down, and revitalized. Cabbagetown was originally built in the late 1880’s to house the people who worked at the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill. When the mill shut down about a century later, the neighborhood began to decline. In the late 1980s, local artists, grassroots activists, and urban farmers started moving in. Then came the private real estate developers. As townhouses and lofts began to emerge so did the yuppie presence. By the early-2000s the neighborhood was well into the gentrification process.  And today, tensions remain readily apparent between the newcomers, the homeowners and renters who have called this their neighborhood for generations, and the gangs who still claim Cabbagetown as their turf. It’s a neighborhood full of interdictorary spaces, including empty lots, run-down slum lord buildings, and luxury lofts. This presence is matched by that of the hip and cool tattooed grittsters, as well as the crunchy granola post-cool wanna-be earthies. And no place expresses this more than the Krog Street Tunnel.

But the tunnel is not a place of violent conflict. It’s not known for muggings, murders, carjackings, or any other sort of crime unless you count street art and street speak as criminal activities. It is instead a place where all sorts of people from diverse backgrounds who lay claim to the neighborhood come to express themselves with paint. In fact, the tunnel has become such an icon of street art and political activism that local officials have given up trying to white wash it. When I was taking pictures of the tunnel in mid-April there was a posting called “Stop the Hate”. This referred to the Arizona-type immigration bill that the Georgia legislature was pushing. It passed not long after. Two days later another posting had covered “Stop the Hate”. It was about an upcoming performance art event featuring people dressed as rabbits. That’s just the way the Krog Street Tunnel works.

Chelsea McKee is a senior at Georgia State University and a major in Managerial Science. She can be reached at