Saturday, November 24, 2012

What Remains Where Public Housing Was

Posted by Ron Day, ATLANTA, GA -- It's been almost three years since Bankhead Courts, Hollywood Courts and Bowen Homes (among others) were demolished as part of the Atlanta Housing Authority's initiative to raze all of its project-based family public housing communities. The underlying assumption behind these demolitions was that elimination of public housing would deconcentrate poverty and therefore make the neighborhood a better place to live. All the families are now gone and the only public housing relics that escaped the bulldozer are the front entrances, now surrounded by metal gates, razor and barbed wire, as well as no trespassing signs. Peering through these prison-like fortresses one sees huge empty green spaces where the buildings stood for 40 or so years. The Housing Authority says it will rebuild mixed income communities on these sites when the economy improves. However, seeing as Bankhead Courts was built over a former landfill, I don't think the prospects for redevelopment are ideal. Both Bowen Homes and Hollywood Courts, while not built over a landfill, are not in 'marketable' locations either.

For residents remaining in the neighborhood, the elimination of public housing hasn't changed much of anything. “...the projects are gone but it’s still the same. People still pushing dope, folks still getting killed,” says Shay Gaddis, a resident of a newer apartment complex across the street from the vacant land that was once Bowen Homes.  No new businesses have moved in and, in fact, many of the old businesses have closed since the demolitions. Likewise, there are still private market slum lords renting substandard housing to very poor families, and the fact that a major thoroughfare runs through the neighborhood means that it remains an ideal spot for drug sales. All of this points to one glaring misconception: what hasn't been recognized in policy circles lauding poverty deconcentration through public housing demolition is that much of the illegal activity in the neighborhood did not come from the public housing residents themselves. Public housing elimination alone won't change the neighborhood and we'll never know if fixing it up would have because it's now gone forever, at least here in Atlanta.

Ron Day is a graduate student at the Andrew Young School of Public Housing at Georgia State University. He can be contacted at

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Atlanta's Historical West End Fade Away

Posted by Michael Bartone, ATLANTA, GA -- Atlanta’s West End (a designation that encompasses the smaller neighborhoods of West End, Vine City, and Washington Park to name a few) is home to three Historically Black College and Universities (HSBCUs), and has a rich cultural history in the "City Too Busy to Hate". From these institutions (Spelman, Morehouse, and Clark Atlanta—collectively called the Atlanta University Center or AU) came many well-known as well as unknown civil rights leaders who fought for the rights of Black Americans. Preceding the modern day civil rights movement, Dr. W.E.B. DuBois published his most famous piece, The Souls of Black Folk in 1903 while teaching at Atlanta University, which merged with Clark University in 1988 to form Clark Atlanta University.

Driving just west of AU on Martin Luther, Jr. Dr. (MLK) there is a street renamed after a leading civil rights organization, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. A plaque commemorates this organization, which was not founded in the West End but had its headquarters there. One would imagine ongoing investment in a neighborhood that was home to such an influential civil rights organization and historic universities, but that's not the case. In fact, demographic information for this neighborhood speaks volumes. Within the 30314 zip code, with a population of 27,181, 96 percent of the residents are Black; there is an unemployment rate of 16 percent; 37 percent of the residents live below the poverty line; the median income is $19,438; and homes are valued at  $68,700, far below the Atlanta average of $116,800. Following the boundary of AU, with its iron rod fence, it is easy to see signs of poverty and disinvestment. Ironically, you would not see anything like this in the neighborhood surrounding Emory University, which is predominantly White. Indeed that community is mostly White, wealthy, and home values are $259,000 greater than those in the West End.

Not far from AU is the now abandoned Paschal’s Motor Hotel and Restaurant, which was a hub for civil rights leaders in the the 1950s and 1960s.  Further down the street are more abandoned business buildings, a few soul food restaurants, and several barber shops. Across from these businesses there is a new WalMart under construction. Some residents are happy about the WalMart, while others are concerned about the impact it will have on the local businesses already in the area.

Those planning sessions at Paschal’s and the inspiring work that came from them appears to have faded away.  While there is still pride among the residents who reside here, there is also frustration. One resident asked why he should care if the political leaders of the city do not. But the West End is a historically and culturally rich community, which should be valued and reinvested in. If that were the case my hope would be that this community becomes revived with the spirit of Black pride and community activism, which existed not too long ago. Come on City Hall, help fade the West End back in, the Black Mecca needs it.

Michael Bartone is a doctoral student in Educational Policy Studies at Georgia State University. He can be contacted at

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Honoring Veterans

Posted by Demetra Pappas, NEW YORK, NY -- Veterans' Day honors veterans from all services, and all wars. In this essay, I focus on one group of veterans: those who participated in WWII's D-Day invasion of Normandy in 1944. In the United States there is a D-Day Memorial in Bedford, VA and in the United Kingdom, there is one in Portsmouth. The Portsmouth D-Day Museum is Britain's only museum dedicated to all possible facets of D-Day, also known as Operation Overlord. 

Bedford and Portsmouth have something in common. Bedford was chosen for the memorial because this Virginia town sustained the greatest per capita loss of life during the invasion. Portsmouth was chosen for similar reasons and while less discussed than London, the Blitz resulted in massive devastation to Portsmouth.

Bedford and Portsmouth honor the valor, commitment, and sacrifice of D-Day in different ways, each movingly. The D-Day Memorial, dedicated by President George W. Bush in 2001, is located on an 88-acre campus of consecrated ground. This large, walkable (and wheelchair accessible) site has four major elements: the early planning and preparatory stages; the Channel crossing and the landing in France; the victory of the Allied Forces; and the consolidation of forces on the beaches of Normandy. Within each area visitors are welcome to view a series of smaller memorials and tributes to the soldiers. The D-Day Memorial site rises above the community as a reminder of the 4,500 Allied servicemen (many of whom were citizen-soldiers) who lost their lives. Special features include the inscribed names of soldiers killed, which are on bronze "necrology tablets". Visitors who are family members or descendants can create paper rubbings of their loved one's inscribed name. 

Portsmouth has a small, self-contained museum, which houses a jewel -- the Overlord Embroidery. This magnificent piece of work was commissioned by Lord Dulverton of Batsford to commemorate the progress and sacrifice from inception to victory. Sandra Lawrence, designer of the piece prepared thumbnail sketches from wartime photographs and then painted 34 full-sized watercolors. The embroidered panels themselves were created by the Royal School of Needlework. More than 50 different materials were used to create Overlord Embroidery including fabric from uniforms of soldiers who were there. 

Because my visits were at off-hours, I did not have an opportunity to thank any veterans for their service, or to pay homage to any family members or descendants; hence this essay of thanks.

Demetra M. Pappas, JD, MSc, PhD, teaches in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at St. Francis College in Brooklyn Heights, New York, where she was named the SGA Faculty Member of the Year for 2011/2012. She is the author of "Historical Guides to Controversial Issues in America: The Euthanasia/Assisted Suicide Debate,” (Greenwood Press).  She can be reached at and followed on Twitter @DemetraPappas

Sunday, November 4, 2012


Editor's Note: This poem was previously published in You Are Here: The Journal of Creative Geography, Volume 8, Summer 2006. 

Posted by Michael Ratcliffe, JESSUP, MD --

The air a mix of diesel and spices
at the concrete and asphalt corners
 of Routes 1 and 175.
Commodities flow in and out
of the road-bound harbor, from container ships in Baltimore,
unloaded in hours by man and crane
(a job that once took days and hundreds),
to trucks laden with seafood and produce
for the restaurants of Washington and Baltimore.

This is the harbor in suburbia,
truck stop and warehouses,
wholesalers and cheap motels,
and the shipping channel moves down the interstate.

Here is where the spices are packed
that once were packed in Baltimore
when its harbor filled with ships
from Asia and the Caribbean;
Central American banana boats;
buy boats filled with oysters and crabs
and produce from the Eastern Shore.

Here is where the sons and grandsons
of longshoremen who worked the boats
spend their days in warehouses
driving forklifts in and out of trailers
for barely a living wage,
or spend their days behind iron bars
and the razor wire fences
of the penitentiary
(another extension of Baltimore).

Here is where the prostitutes
work the lot from truck to truck,
where drivers find a home-cooked meal
     and a quick fuck.
Here are the suburban slums—
trailer parks and cheap motels
where families crowd a single room
rented by the week; and next door
lovers tryst on the half-day rate;
children play amid the diesel fumes,
suburban dreams a world away.

This is Jessup, where we find
the city’s rhythms in modern form;
the flow of goods in and out,
the city’s dirt, sights, and smells,
banished from the old harbor
now washed clean and sanitized,
a playground for suburbanites
who cannot stand the thought of Jessup.

Michael Ratcliffe is a geographer who lives and works in the DC area. His poems have appeared in The Little Patuxent Review, Symmetry Pebbles, Loch Raven Review, Do Not Look at the Sun, Poetry Quarterly, The Copperfield Review, and You Are Here: the Journal of Creative Geography.  When he is not writing poetry, he dabbles in census geographic area concepts and criteria, manages census geography programs, and teaches population geography.  He can be reached at and found at