On Monday, Nov. 21st, residents of Peoplestown and Housing Justice League members marched to the Atlanta City Hall to testify in front of City Council members who voted to authorize eminent domain proceedings against Mrs. and Mr. Darden and Tanya Washington. Protestors brought “Thanks-taking” themed posters plastered with the face of Mayor Kasim Reed, highlighting Reed’s gentrifying tendencies and impassivity in meeting with residents. The contingent group outside City Hall was only a small part of the 6,000+ signatories who signed a petition supporting Tanya and the Dardens’ resistance to displacement.
Tensions came to a head in City Council, where individuals on both sides of the displacement issue spoke their opinions. Peoplestown residents who supported building the park, and thus the displacement of Tanya and the Dardens, reiterated their concern for flooding in the neighborhood and beliefs that park construction would subside flooding. They cited conversations with engineers and watershed department officials who suggested the park construction was a useful response to the flooding. Indeed, many of these residents were well-dressed white professionals.
Following their narratives, Tanya Washington spoke. Many of her supporters yielded their speaking time, giving Tanya 16 minutes at the podium. Articulate, visceral, and honest, Tanya spoke about the timeline of park construction within the neighborhood and her commitment to staying in her home. Tanya highlighted that the current park construction plan was not the best plan possible. Initial drafts of park construction placed it close to the Turner Field stadium, away from the 100 block of Atlanta Avenue. She noted the City wished to advance this park plan because they had already displaced most residents on the block. “But going forward with a wrong displacement project doesn’t make it right,” Tanya noted.
The city’s legal takeover of the block is un-coincidentally occurring with the sale of Turner Field, Tanya noted, and hints at a larger project of making over the Peoplestown neighborhood. This may not be problematic, except that it is happening at the expense of long-time black homeowners and for the benefit of wealthier white homeowners. The force of gentrification is heavily suggested by the fact that most of the pro-park advocates in City Hall were white, and at least in their immediate dress, white-collared, while the displaced residents have been older, black, and medium to low income. The City’s legal takeover of the Peoplestown block is a dangerous precedent in Atlanta, where resident-displacements in other neighborhoods, such as Vine City, are foreseeable and looming.
Park development without displacement in Peoplestown is not only possible, but has been recommended. At the beginning of the building process, the Department of Watershed had nearly twenty-two site options to choose from when deciding a location. Building on some of these site locations would not have required resident-displacement at all. Nonetheless, the City advanced with building on the 100 Atlanta Avenue block, more or less evicting the majority of its residents. Even now, in the final stages of the block takeover, displacement need not continue. Housing Justice organizer Tim Franzen noted that developers already plan to build around resident Mattie Jackson’s home, which sits in the middle of the block. If this is possible, Franzen noted, it is also possible to build around the block-corner homes of the Dardens and Tanya Washington. Even amidst the City’s relentless displacements and subsequent public defacing, it is possible for the City to maintain dignity—by not displacing the Dardens and Tanya.
After the public testimonies, residents and Housing Justice members walked to Mayor Kasim Reed’s office in an attempt to meet with the Mayor and request his intervention in the eminent domain proceedings. His office doors were locked, however, even though Reed was visibly present in the mayor’s room. For half-an-hour, Housing Justice remained outside the office calling for the Mayor. But the Mayor’s Office denied communication, and Kasim Reed did not speak with residents.
The eminent domain proceedings will be taken to court in the coming weeks, and Tanya Washington has promised a strong resistance. “These displacements are being fueled by a project of economic development rather than public safety,” she noted, “and will likely benefit private developers among others. Somebody is receiving large sums of money from this process, and it’s not the residents.” As Peoplestown residents continue fighting against displacement, the Housing Justice League remains relentlessly by their side. Testimonies and actions will continue as long as necessary to keep the Dardens and Tanya Washington in their homes.