Posted by Alejandro Casillas, ATLANTA, GA -- The following pictures are a collection of murals on a small stretch of Edgewood Avenue in the Old Fourth Ward District of Atlanta. Edgewood parallels Auburn Avenue in downtown Atlanta. This area was once one of the most affluent black neighborhoods in the United States. But it fell into decline beginning in the 1960s as urban renewal, disinvestment, and suburbanization eviscerated central urban districts around the country. I have driven through Edgewood for the past six years now, watching the gradual change of this once declining neighborhood. Some of the buildings have been repainted with fresh vibrant colors. New businesses, such as a "fixie" bicycle shop, a pizza place, and several taverns serving IPA brews are trying to appeal to a younger hipster crowd. A new gas station sprung up after they razed the old abandoned one about a year ago. And then came the murals.
This new push for murals by Living Walls has certainly created an arty feel. But was the graffiti there previously not art? Most of the mural artists are not from the neighborhood. So is this art for the people already living and working in the community, or art to attract outsiders? Perhaps these murals are a way for the new businesses to attract new outside revenue.
Don't get me wrong, the murals are beautiful. However, they are also clearly an attempt to decrease perceptions of disorder, and therefore tie into the assumptions “broken windows” theory. The theory in simple terms says that broken windows (and other signs of dereliction) create a perception of lawlessness, disorder, and disrepair, which in turn leads to increasing crime, more disorder, and more disrepair. The vicious cycle continues until, as Sociologist Robert Sampson says in his new book Great American City, that perception becomes durable even when the neighborhood changes. These murals aim to preempt this trajectory. And they certainly do grab one’s attention and perhaps attract hipster businesses.
Yet, for every one of these of trendy businesses that goes up, a black-owned business has been shut down. If these murals do attract more beautification projects and businesses they probably won't benefit members of the community. The jobs may not be for them, and they may not have the money to shop at the trendy bicycle stores or frufru pizza places. So while the murals may be a well-intentioned program to beautify Edgewood, we have to be aware of the potential pitfalls. Sampson provided the evidence that the historically black neighborhoods of Chicago were more likely to become all-white neighborhoods rather than all white neighborhoods becoming integrated both racially and economically. Hopefully Edgewood will defy this trend.
Alejandro Casillas is a Georgia State University student and amateur photographer. He is working towards his Masters in Arts of Teaching major in Social Studies Education. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.