As an intern at the Arthur M. Blank Foundation, my Mondays-Thursdays are spent at WonderRoot working on Off the Wall: Atlanta’s Civil Rights & Social Justice Journey. However, on Fridays I spend my time at the Arthur M. Blank Foundation working on community communications in the Westside area of Atlanta.
The Westside area of Atlanta is a comprised of historic African-American neighborhoods that for the past several years have been branded, as crime-ridden and poverty stricken. With the new attraction of Atlanta, as well as city-living in general, it has recently become a part of urban revitalization efforts causing gentrification throughout the Westside neighborhoods.
Arthur M. Blank is the owner of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United. With the demolition of the Georgia Dome, the Mercedes-Benz Stadium not only gave Atlanta the opportunity to transform the fan experience and host the world’s greatest sporting events, but also the chance to serve as a catalyst for positive transformation of Atlanta’s Historic Westside neighborhoods. Through revitalization efforts, we hope as a Foundation, and as a city that neighborhood transformation positively affects all, especially long time residents.
My job at the Foundation focuses on community communications by analyzing data as well as meeting with residents at community communications working groups.
The Foundation is always working on ways to ensure we are including resident voices in our strategic planning. We have been using this web-based survey application, 1Q, to help support our more traditional methods of outreach and communication. 1Q allows us to collect insights from community members through a series of survey questions. It also offers a two-fold incentive program: members can choose to be paid between $.25 and $.50 cents per question, and when they refer members within the Westside footprint to sign up, the referrer will be paid $5.00. We have outreach initiatives with our community partners to inform people about 1Q, as well as sign them up through the mobile app.
Open-ended questions help us receive feedback from residents so that we have more voices included in projects and processes in the Westside. I also analyze multiple choice questions to measure changes over time. For example, in November of 2017, we asked residents “Do you believe your neighborhood is moving in the right direction” with strongly agree, agree, neutral, disagree, and strongly disagree. We asked this same question last month in June of 2018. We are now analyzing if only the same users are answering these questions (meaning we need to do more outreach getting more people signed up), as well as if their answers have changed over the months about the direction of the neighborhood.
I also meet with residents at community communications working groups in order to learn about the stories and experiences that make up all of the Westside Neighborhoods. They also give us feedback on how they would like to move forward on preserving the history and culture of their neighborhoods with the wave of development and gentrification happening in their communities.
As I am not from the Westside area of Atlanta, I have the opportunity to work with residents and local leaders to improve our historic neighborhoods at this pivotal time in Atlanta’s history.
Some of the challenges I grapple with are the inevitable moves toward development and gentrification happening in the Westside, as well as being cognizant of the role I play in this initiative.
Though I care about this effort and try to understand as best as I can, I am always aware that these neighborhoods are very resident-based and find safe spaces within their communities. Me, as an outsider, working for a billionaire that is not from Atlanta, with the hopes to improve the neighborhood but not necessarily having the same insight is a very hard space to move through. I am always aware that though I have ideas, the long-time residents are the only ones that know what they want and need for this neighborhood to thrive. It is important that majority of the time, I take the role as a listener.
I am worried about the rapid gentrification in the Westside area, as well as Atlanta in general. As an African-American, I fear that the neighborhoods we were restricted to for decades, neighborhoods that have been built on black identity and culture, will become overwhelmingly infiltrated. I question: what will happen to the history and the culture created over the years in these communities?
To learn more about the Westside initiatives, visit: