Sunday, August 26, 2012

Displacement Can Happen Anywhere -- Even In Williamstown

Posted by Deirdre Oakley, WILLIAMSTOWN, MA -- Last August Tropical Storm Irene hit the Northern Berkshires with almost 48 hours of non-stop torrential rain that took out not only the power but entire roads and flooded the Spruces Mobile Home Park,  a retirement community conveniently located in Williamstown, MA within walking distance to stores and a reduced-price bus ride away from free museums, theatre and many activities on the Williams College campus. All of the 226 homes were ruled conditionally uninhabitable due to wet electrical systems, flooding and spilled petroleum products coming from the overflowing Hoosic River. Most of the residents stayed with family and friends while local and state health officials inspected each home. Residents whose homes were subsequently certified habitable returned. But unfortunately most of the homes -- about 160 of them --  were ruled uninhabitable and could not be reoccupied. Because the community sits on a flood plain, residents did not have insurance and FEMA was slow to step in. 

Unlike Katrina-devastated New Orleans no one died but many seniors who had called the Spruces home for more than a decade had to find someplace else to live. Some moved to other neighborhoods in Williamstown, others to nearby North Adams and Pittsfield, but no official kept track of where everyone went. Those who came back were met with a shell of a community --  abandoned and wrecked trailers, empty lots, and the smell of sewer and petroleum. Now the smell is gone but evidence of the wreckage is not. I spoke to one resident about two weeks ago when I took these photographs who told me that his trailer is the only one inhabited on his block. Some of the others have been demolished but most sit empty and covered with mold. I didn't have the heart to ask him about rats.

Deirdre Oakley is the Editor of Social Shutter and an Associate Professor in Sociology at Georgia State University. She can be contacted at

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Moving To Opportunities In Wheat Street Gardens

Posted by Chandra Ward, ATLANTA, GA -- Summer in Atlanta is endlessly hot and humid and most people want to stay in the air conditioned indoors. But not at Truly Living Well (TLW) gardens where members of the community are promoting social change through growing fresh produce. TLW at Wheat Street Gardens sits inconspicuously in the Old Fourth Ward neighborhood next to the Martin Luther King Center.  Looking at the garden, one would never know that it sits on top of a former public housing project called Wheat Street Gardens which was demolished in 1998. 

TLW is not only an urban garden, but also a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program and a community educator offering summer camp, workshops and seminars, as well as a farmer training program.   With Wheat Street Church shadowing the garden from above and the Atlanta skyline off in the distance, children sing songs performing for a crowd of adults during summer camp.  The kids learn about healthy eating and growing plants while they engage with the natural environment.  When I happened upon the place I saw parents, friends, garden volunteers and workers cheering the smiling kids as they performed songs and danced on their last day of camp.  While the children performed, the garden's farmers market hosted a crowd of customers.

TLW is a part of a growing movement, in which citizens are reclaiming the urban landscape by establishing community gardens in vacant lots. Places like TLW are an empowering addition to poor urban neighborhoods that are not only food deserts, but housing deserts, resource deserts, and social capital deserts as well.  In Atlanta these communities are strewn with abandoned houses, closed businesses, and empty lots overrun by weeds.  Typically residents do not have access to affordable fresh food.  TLW offers employment and volunteer opportunities that both enhance the well being of the community and provide lessons in self-sufficiency through urban farming. Thanks to places like TLW, food desert communities now have affordable fresh and locally grown produce.

Chandra Ward is the Assistant Editor of Social Shutter and a Doctoral Student in the Georgia State University Sociology program. You can contact her at

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Railroad Atlanta?

Posted by Hubert and Debby Yoder, DULUTH, GA -- Atlanta’s current struggles with transportation problems are ironic given the city started as a railway hub. In the early 1800s, when goods and people moved about by railroad, Atlanta was an essential crossroad between major routes north and west from Georgia’s southern ports. Some say Atlanta’s very name is a tribute to the railway line that brought the earliest residents to the area. The legacy of this time is all around us. Pieces of the railway infrastructure have been turned into recreation facilities such as the Silver Comet Trail and the Atlanta Beltline. The Southeastern Railway Museum in Duluth was created to honor and preserve another part of this history. This working museum exhibits and restores machinery. as well as operates a train that takes visitors on a tour of the grounds. In addition to a variety of train engines and cars from across the years, the museum houses buses, taxis, fire trucks and a variety of support equipment.

Interestingly, this era is so far removed from Georgia's now almost half-century-old automobile-dependent, sprawled out and congestion-ridden highway system. In fact the Atlanta area has a shamelessly sparse train-based public transportation infrastructure. What's quite ironic is that the recent push for T-SPLOST, an Atlanta regionalreferendum that would have increased the sales tax by one percent in exchange for various transportation improvement projects was soundly defeated last month. Part of the issue may have been the implied focus on highways rather than making the region more accessible to those without cars, or those who have become tired of driving on the region's car-stuffed highways through rail transit.

Hubert Yoder is currently retired after working in information systems at McDonnell Douglas, EDS, and IBM. Photography is now his work and hobby. He can be reached at Debby is his daughter and a contributor to Social Shutter, as well as a student at Georgia State University. She can be reached at

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Homegrown Basketball

Posted by Angie Luvara, HARLEM, NY -- Recently, I had the privilege of unknowingly wandering into some of the best basketball that has ever been played. I was in New York City for a conference, and found out that some musician friends of mine were performing at a park. In my head, I envisioned an outdoor concert at a park filled with green lawns. In hindsight, my assumption made absolutely no sense, as when I got directions to the park, the address was smack in the middle of Harlem, where there are very few large green spaces.

As soon as the conference wrapped for the day, I hopped on the subway in Brooklyn and rode all the way to Harlem's 155th street. As soon as I emerged from the catacombs of the subway I knew just how wrong my assumptions were. Directly behind me stood a large set of public housing buildings, and in front of me was THE Rucker Park. The park has very little green space, a playground for children, and a basketball court that is home to some of the best street ball you’ll ever see. I had heard of this park before, this amazing court in Harlem where anyone could just wander in, for free, and see some of the best basketball players in the world play against each other—I just never knew the name. But as soon as I stepped out from the subway, I knew exactly where I was.

I sat and watched these games for hours—both before and after my friends performed between games. And yes, the basketball was some of the best basketball I have ever seen in my life. But there was something happening there that was even more amazing to me. In a park that is known around the world for the shows that it puts on, with corporate sponsors and special guests who are some of the most famous rappers and NBA players around, everything seemed very local. The announcers were unabashedly Harlem, speaking to patrons on a first-name basis. The security guards also were from the neighborhood, knowing every child’s name and what parent they belonged to. Even the photographers and videographers were from the neighborhood, and had been doing this for years.

Despite all the amazing athleticism that surrounded me that evening, this sense of local spirit amazed me even more. In a place that easily could have been co-opted by corporations and turned into something of an outsourced spectacle, there was a solid sense of local community. Children from the housing projects directly across the street, and other areas of Harlem, could walk just a few feet and see ball games that are always exciting. Their parents, and other adults were looking out for those who came without their own parents, making sure they stayed out of the court while enjoying the games. A quick stroll through Harlem will show that it is changing. It is gentrifying, and a sense of community is being lost. But not in Rucker Park. Even with corporate sponsors, it’s still all Harlem!

Angie Luvara is a photographer and Managing Editor of Social Shutter. She is also a Doctoral Student at Georgia State University. To view more of her photography, go to her blog at