Atlanta's Olympian Indifference

Like every other recent host of the Olympic Games, Atlanta has used the event as a chance for a windfall round of urban renewal. The city hopes to do even better than Los Angeles did in 1984 (when LA cleared some $220 million in profits) and is pulling out all the stops. Where Los Angeles made do with refurbished college dorms for its Olympic Village, Atlanta is building all-new housing for all the competitors.

In a stroke of marvelous good fortune for real estate interests, much of the Olympic housing is being built on the site of a large housing project called Techwood. The project has been a thorn in the side of gentrifying and redeveloping plans for decades, but until the huge "Ka-ching!" of Olympic dollars, it wasn't so easy to get the people out. Now, the nagging question of where to put the project's residents has been lost in the excitement. Rents are rising, of course - an inevitability that is leading to a bull market in temporary rentals in and around Atlanta - spurred on by every imaginable tourist attraction.

The inevitable sweeps of Atlanta's homeless (a population that has been swelled by the Olympics-induced high rents and housing dislocations) have begun - and have been getting far more national attention that the city would like, with major reports appearing in the New York Times, the Village Voice and literally all over the web. Homeless advocates have ever created a cartoon mascot, "Spoilsport," to rival the Games's mascot, a development that has the Atlanta Journal-Constitution seeing red!

In this story the newsworthy item has apparently been Atlanta's windfall-besotted callousness toward its poor residents. But such callousness is by no means unique to Atlanta. It seems to me that none of the current finger-pointing coverage is asking the question that needs to be asked - the question that links Atlanta's "urban renewal" efforts with those of cities everywhere. Why is it that an event that brings in tourists, money, construction, TV revenues, and who-knows-what-all profits into a city would actually increase housing costs and drive poor people away? Why is that? We know who is suffering from all this sudden prosperty - but who is getting all the benefits? What can be done about the modern urban dilemma?

Lindy Davies - July 3, 1996