Council member Ivory Lee Young Jr. has been three years in office

In last 30 years, Vine City - one of Atlanta’s oldest inner-city neighborhoods and first black communities—has seen a loss of population, property disinvestment, and general economic decline (Redevelopment Plan). Vine City is now a neighborhood of deteriorating houses and high crime (Metro State, 1987). There is, of course, a close connection between on-going deterioration of Vine City and loss of population. As an attempt to explore how black populations residing in Vine City negotiate the predicament of leaving or staying, we spoke to Councilmember Ivory Lee Young, Jr., to gain a political perspective on this migration. Councilmember Young was elected as councilmember of Atlanta City District 3 in 2001, and is now serving his third term. He and his family were associated with community activism for many years before Young was elected as a councilmember. Young has been living in Vine City for the last 21 years.

Speaking to Young, it quickly became evident to me that there is a chronic lack of opportunities and choices for the people living in Vine City. Young’s rhetoric constantly emphasizes how he and his administration have embraced creating choices as one of the main components of encouraging people to stay. He was excited to share some of the work his administration has initiated. Other than starting a “building home” project and providing quality health care, he enthusiastically said that they started a grocery store inside the neighborhood to provide opportunities to community people and to help them gain access to basic needs.

During one of the exploratory trips to the Vine City, a member of our group and I drove through the neighborhood. The abandoned houses make the place look deserted. Some of the people we saw around the neighborhood were either children or older people. According to Vine City Redevelopment Plan, the number of occupied units has fallen from 3,253 in 1970 to 1346 in 2000 (Redevelopment Plan). Young mentioned that young adults, skilled tradespeople, and residents with higher levels of education are moving to places where they can have a better life. He said it is hard for people here in this neighborhood to earn enough to survive and moreover, life is very difficult. As he talked about the challenges the community as a whole is facing, he said something about the mechanism of the phenomena of Vine City exodus that caught my attention. Young claims “segregation” was difficult for the black community, but he feels desegregation is one of the reasons that have perpetuated the mass movement of people from this region.

As we talked, I started to ask myself if I was only hearing political rhetoric, but I quickly told myself to look at the deeper consequences of segregation and try to glean more information from someone who is part of a community subjected to segregation. This propelled me to ask Young to expound on his thoughts about segregation. For Young, post-desegregation created a situation where black people were able to go to places where they could not go before. They were also able to get access to public facilities that were restricted earlier, and moreover, these people who were completely pushed aside could now look for opportunities and choices outside of their community.

Young implies that having the freedom to move freely and improve their lives was a huge impetus for people to start moving out. This, according to Young, created a web of ceaseless movement of people. He asserts that when people began moving out, houses were abandoned. These vacant houses quickly became a venue for drug trafficking and crime, and these illegal and dangerous acts further propelled community residents to migrate to other part of the city. This chain of migration and crime has evolved into a vicious cycle which needs a strategic means to arrest it. In this context, Young’s initial comment of investing in creating opportunities and choices makes sense since it has the potential to stop people from seeking those opportunities outside of their community.

It is not always easy to ascertain the underlying cause of historical changes that are non-linear and move freely between the past and future. However, the political discourse that came out of interaction with councilmember Young holds its place in making a point about the phenomena behind mass movement of people out of Vine City. The lack of opportunities, choices, and other basic needs could be the source of people leaving the neighborhood, but it seems that the desegregation of this area in Atlanta played a major role in the movement of the Vine City people. Perhaps, creating opportunities and choices, as Young has proposed, is a way to go.

Metro State (Nov 1, 1987). Atlanta, GA Urban Collage, INC. in collaboration with Robert Charles Lesser & Co. (2004). Vine City Redevelopment Plan. Vol. 1 – Final Report.