Gentrification is a hot topic right now, and this is especially true if you live in any major U.S. city, where the population shift back to urban areas means that the process of gentrification is happening more rapidly than ever before. When more affluent people move into economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, usually the original residents end up being priced out — and unable to enjoy the sudden revitalization of neighborhoods that they spent many years of their lives investing in. But leaders in one Atlanta neighborhood have taken steps to change all that.
In 1995, the East Lake neighborhood of Atlanta, home to a public housing project called East Lake Meadows, had a crime rate 18 times the national average. When the city began tearing down public housing, real estate developer Tom Cousins saw an opportunity to create a new model for revitalizing neighborhoods that would benefit existing residents, too.
His plan involved mixed-income housing, quality schools, and services like job counseling and child care, all overseen by the nonprofit East Lake Foundation. Much of the foundation's funding comes from the East Lake Golf Course, at the center of the neighborhood, whose fortunes have improved along with the neighborhood: the previously neglected course is hosting the PGA tour this year.
When the housing project was torn down, the requirements for residents who wanted to return to the neighborhood were that they have no felonies on their record, and be either employed or in training. Although these requirements exempted only 13% of the residents, ultimately only about a quarter of families elected to return.
Those who did return have seen the neighborhood turn around: violent crime is down 95% from two decades ago. Cousins has created a nonprofit consulting group, Purpose Built Communities, that hopes to expand the idea to the rest of the country. So far they've taken the idea to 11 other locations, from New Orleans to Nebraska, in hopes that improvements made to those neighborhoods will benefit old residents as well as new ones.
You can read more about East Lake and the East Lake foundation at NPR.