Imagine living on a street where four out of 10 homes are vacant, nearly half of your neighbors live below the poverty line and a quarter don’t go to a job every day.
That place exists only two miles from downtown Atlanta, despite more than $100 million spent to revitalize the area since the 1990s.
It didn’t happen then, and questions remain whether the neighboring Mercedes-Benz Stadium, set to open in 2017, will bring a second chance to these communities.
Maurice White lived in English Avenue and witnessed the first wave of hope for revitalization.
Today, he chairs the Land Use and Zoning Committee of Neighborhood Planning Unit (NPU) L, which serves Vine City and English Avenue.
I sat down with White to ask what might be different this time.
On people who live in Vine City and English Avenue
"Vine City and English Avenue have a very long history. It is very common for me to come across property owners, neighborhood residents, who have been there 30 plus years. It has a high level of community pride. I think that the history over the last 20 or 30 year period, with probably being the epicenter of the heroin problem in the United States, those people have been severely marginalized. But they're still there. There's enough of that foundation still there that hasn't fled to the suburbs or hasn't left the neighborhood to its own devices."
On two neighborhoods intertwined
"The locals would certainly say it's two different communities. The word that I've heard used is 'sister communities.'"
On code enforcement
“What I've seen is that code enforcement is very active and that they are open to community input. But we're still dealing with city government. They have a huge scope of work. What we're concerned with are the two neighborhoods."
On absentee landlords
“I would say there's a huge problem with the owners being absentee landlords or absentee investors. There's no doubt. I think that's probably the biggest problem. That's probably the one of the biggest issues that code enforcement even attempts to address.”
On the impact of abandoned houses
“I think it's total. From the health and welfare, both physically and mentally, to the youth who are growing up in conditions where trash and refuse and boarded up buildings, possible illegal activities in the properties. That's par for the course. It really lends to the overall stagnation in the community I would say.”
On the failure to revitalize
“There was an era, probably in the mid to late 2000s, where there was a lot of construction, a lot of building, a lot of the infill lots were getting put in with new construction. It really looked like there was a positive change at that point. But the prevailing problem was sub par construction."
On history repeating itself
“I think the difference now is that we've been through that. We weathered that storm. I think we're a lot better prepared this time.”
On who’s responsible for Vine City and English Avenue
“I would argue everyone. The neighborhood stakeholders, the current residents, certainly the City and the public services are responsible. The private sector. The [Mercedes-Benz] stadium. We have MARTA, we have Coca-Cola on the fringes of our neighborhood, we have Georgia Tech. I think that it's a partnership that is going to allow any neighborhood to be revitalized or be successful."
On the pros and cons of opportunity
"Opportunity is going to be good because opportunity denotes possibilities. But, again, we have to be aware of our history and of the things that happened here so we don't repeat those same mistakes. I want to really be focused on the positive side as opposed to saying what didn't work and have a very proactive ideas and very proactive action in terms of making some things work and putting together effective programs that will be sustainable so that there won't be someone else in my seat 20 years from now having this same conversation."