Monday, February 17, 2014

The Legacy of Community Destruction in the Name of the Olympic Symbol

Posted by Chandra Ward, ATLANTA, GA -- The iconic Olympic symbol is unmistakable, consisting of five distinctly colored, interlaced rings, expressing the activity of the Olympic Movement to bring the best athletics together from all over the world regardless their country’s political differences.  It’s important to think about this now as the Sochi Olympic Games are played out in a less than perfect venue where residents where displaced and the stray dogs left behind ruthlessly poisoned, only to have that controversy preempted by the anti-gay stance of the Russian government. Luckily the remaining stray dogs are now being sheltered and adopted and that hasn’t been a small feat to achieve. But this isn’t the first time such actions have come into play in the name of achieving the Olympic ideal. Let’s take the 1996 summer Olympic Games in Atlanta. Perhaps stray dogs weren’t poison but homeless people were forced out of the city with a one-way ticket to ‘elsewhere’. To this day you can still see the color-faded interlaced rings tower above Capital Avenue, with the skyline of downtown draped just behind, like a gateway to the city too busy to hate and the city that’s famously known as the birthplace of the Civil Right Movement. And yet what these rings really represent is the displacement and disenfranchisement of once vibrant African American neighborhoods. 

One of these is Summerhill, located next to Turner Field (now to be demolished since the Braves are moving to suburban Cobb County). Summerhill has long been a casualty of the city's urban renewal and redevelopment initiatives. Once a community with over 16,000 residents, its population shrunk to 2,500 by the middle of the1990s due in large part to the construction of the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium in the 1960's, the I-75/85 downtown corridor in the 1980’s, and the Olympic Stadium in the 1990's which by 1997 had become Turner Field and leased to the Braves. 

The country's oldest public housing project, Techwood and Clark Howell Homes, were once located nearby.  Some of the city's most prominent businesses, including Coca-Cola, had lobbied for their demolition as far back as the 1980s. Once Atlanta won the Olympic bid, they got their wish: 894 low-income houses were destroyed and Centennial Olympic Place, a mixed income community sits where Techwood/Howell once stood.

A mural of a woman running with an Olympic torch-- graces an abandoned building in Mechanicsville, one of Atlanta’s oldest neighborhoods. Neighborhoods such as this one, a few blocks from the former Olympic stadium, experienced the greatest displacement. And now the story of disinvestment in this neighborhood continues with the Braves now leaving and Mayor Reed vowing to use the land, once Turner Field is demolished for middle class housing. The 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics was almost 20 years ago and still the collateral damage continues. So what about more recent, current and future games? In part two of this series, which will be posted next week, I’ll more closely examine the paradoxes between Olympic idealism and the Olympic realities for the host cities.

Chandra D. Ward is a Doctoral student in the Sociology Department at Georgia State University. She is also Social Shutter’s Managing Editor.  Her photo essay about the history of the Atlanta Olympic Games was published in Contexts Magazine and can be viewed here: 
You can contact Chandra at


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