Monday, August 15, 2011

Take Three: Rust Belt Chic Atlanta

In the span of a decade, Atlanta has gone from Southern Belle to Rust Belt Harlot. I kicked off August with a post about ruin porn in Atlanta. I'll celebrate the Ides of August with another New York Times story detailing the rapid decline:

Robby Astrove works with Concrete Jungle, a fruit-foraging organization in Atlanta that in 2009 began building a database of untended fruit and nut trees on commercial and public land. The group donates most of the food to agencies that feed the hungry.

Although Mr. Astrove and his colleagues have harvested abandoned community gardens and he has planted pear and fig trees on empty commercial property, the organization cautions volunteers against trespassing and does not pick fruit on foreclosed properties.

Still, he thinks it is a great idea, especially for cities like Atlanta, where one in 50 homes is in foreclosure. Already, he said, there is an underground network among the homeless who work the gardens and trees around vacant homes, he said.

“It’s a perfect storm of vacant properties and people who need a quality food source and an unused resource,” Mr. Astrove said.

Feral Atlanta is ripe for the picking. I'd expect to read about such urban innovation in Detroit or Oakland, California, but Atlanta? Take Texas out of the equation and you'll find a Sun Belt that has lost its mojo.

Atlanta is another real estate boomtown that the current financial crisis is pummeling. Suburbia is getting whacked. What is left is a neglected core that will take decades to revitalize. Worse is the blind belief that the regional economy will return to normal and the South will rise again, again. The same hubris still plagues some Rust Belt cities, usually those that didn't experience the "Magic of Failure".

The future would seem to be in Greenville, SC and Chattanooga, TN. These Sun Belt brownfields are lean and mean, not sprawled into oblivion. In many ways, urban Appalachia looks like the place to be until the macroeconomic shock.

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