Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Students' impact on Atlanta - Georgia Tech

Well, I didn’t get out and drive around. But I have definitely been thinking about Home Park and Georgia Tech since my post on GSU and downtown. I mentioned in that post that the Technology Square development at Fifth and Spring Streets was an important piece of Midtown's emergence. It certainly made residential developments like MidCity Lofts and later Plaza Midtown more viable. Today I'm going to look on the other side of the highway at Tech's impact on the Home Park neighborhood.

In my previous post, I advocated for greater amounts of student housing downtown. But it would be intellectually dishonest to ignore some of the negative externalities of having a large, concentrated student population in a city. Home Park is one example of what I affectionately referred to in undergrad as a student ghetto. These are areas where students pack into old houses near campus, trash the yards, and generally piss off the neighbors with noise and depreciated home values. The Home Park Community Improvement Association describes how Tech's expanding student population affected the neighborhood:
The increasing student population was difficult to house entirely within the campus borders so many houses were purchased by investors whose sole purpose was renting them to students. The result was subdivided houses, absentee landlords, declining housing conditions and increased crime. By 1991, the owner-occupancy rate was down to 35% ...
I can't tell you what that number is now, but I'm sure it is considerably higher. Home Park benefited from the same real estate boom that pulled up East Atlanta, Grant Park, Kirkwood, etc. Plus, it's location is even better. Atlantic Station being built next door also gave Home park a boost in property values. Like these other neighborhoods, Home Park is also seeing a decent amount of tear-downs, and Atlantic Station also accelerated this trend. My rant on tear-downs and neighborhood character will have to wait for another day; besides, it's not that original.

I wonder about Tech's impact on the revitalization of Home Park. Several scattered thoughts:
  • There is still a sizable student population, which may be preventing a complete turn-around for the neighborhood.
  • While student ghettos aren't particularly good things, I would categorize them as better than actual ghettos. Did having an existing student population allow Home Park to attract gentrifying buyers easier than other west side neighborhoods?
  • As a corollary, how much of the "ghetto-ization" of Home Park was a result of large forces affecting the inner city, and can the high levels of rentals in the 80's and 90's be seen as simply filling a void, rather than pushing anyone out?
  • Georgia Tech itself has built multi-family housing in Home Park, specifically 10th & Home. I think these type of developments probably bring most of the positives of students (pedestrian activity, disposable income, youth/vitality) without many of the negatives (dilapidated housing, house parties, break-ins).
There have also been some private student housing near tech that is not in the Home Park area, but that will have to be another post. I'm thinking about the MetroPointe Lofts, but also about traditional apartments with significant student populations along Howell Mill and Marietta Street.

Overall, I lament what Home Park was, and could have been if it weren't for Tech and Atlantic Station. The city desperately needs decent affordable housing close to the city, and Home Park at one point offered that. It was in many ways analogous to Cabbagetown, without the Appalachian character and ginger-bread architecture. They both served as housing for Atlanta's blue collar families, with Home Park serving
the workers of the Atlantic Steel Mill.

That being said, I also think that Home Park has a lot of great things going for it, and I'm sure that the legions of Tech students who have lived there over the years have very fond memories of it, just as I do of Ann Arbor. It's revival is generally a success story, and I do think that students have played a positive, if mixed, role in that story.

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