Atlanta elected its first black Mayor in 1973 showing a shift in demographics in the city limits. Mayor Maynard Jackson accomplished many things, including the construction of the MARTA rail system from 1975 – 1979 and the opening of the Georgia World Congress Center in 1976. This along with the modernization of Atlanta’s airport prepared the city to open its doors to the world.
The ever expanding suburbs also drew many people outside the city limits. The city population dropped 100,000 residents (20%) between 1970 and 1990. A stunted economy, out of control inflation and mortgage rates steadily climbing into the double digits (the average was 11.2% in 1979) caused people to move farther out. The lines of what was considered Atlanta began to blur as towns that were always considered outside Atlanta became part of the ever expanding metroplex. Dunwoody, East Point, Vinings, Norcross, College Park, Smyrna and Decatur filled in and spilled over beyond.
Photo courtesy John John Deere
Historically significant neighborhoods, such as Inman Park, fell in to disrepair. Grand mansions became boarding houses along Ponce de Leon. The Bass district, now known as Little 5 Points was riddled with thugs and drug dealers. Banks were refusing to lend in many Intown neighborhoods. Whole sections were labeled “worthless” and pegged for demolition. In 1970 a small group of people were fed up and wanted to take back the historic neighborhoods of Candler and Inman Parks. They formed the BOND Community Credit Union with a $2,500 loan from a Mennonite Church and actually sold peaches to allow dividends for their members in the first year. In the next few years they offered mortgages and home improvement loans that other banks had red-lined and literally saved much of the historic property in the area.
Map courtesy of Wikipedia. Notice the dotted lines for the proposed highways.
Then there was route 1-485 & GA-410. If you have wound down what is now John Lewis Freedom Parkway, past the Carter Center to Moreland Ave, you have driven part of what was slated to be I-485. Freedom Park, which seems like a linear park in Olmestead style reaches to Candler Park. It wasn’t supposed to be a park. Homes once stood from Old 4th Ward to Candler Park. Demolition began in the 1960’s through these “blighted” neighborhoods. There were a few different plans. One had it as a connection to the Stone Mountain Freeway. Another as a connection to the soon to be constructed GA-400, straight through Virginia Highland and Morningside. Once again the neighbors said no. Actually the name Virginia-Highland did not exist for the area prior to this fight. There was a small area of the neighborhood marketed in 1922 as Virginia Highland(s), with an S. This was just a small section next to Atkins Park, Highland Park and Virginia Park. It was the road controversy that united the neighborhoods into a fighting force know as the Virginia-Highland Civic Association. These passionate neighbors won. Chaining themselves to trees and bulldozers in both Candler Park and Virginia Highland. So when you are complaining about the traffic, just realize it is a compromise to the preservation of some of Atlanta’s most beautiful neighborhoods.
1985: Protesters attempting to block construction of Freedom Parkway
PHOTOGRAPH BY DWIGHT ROSS JR./ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION VIA AP