Vacant Atlanta Public Housing Communities as Socioecological Nodes

Authors: Cassandra Johnson Gaither*, USDA Forest Service, Amanda Aragón, University of Georgia, Wayne Zipperer, USDA Forest Service, Eric Kuehler, USDA Forest Service, Marguerite Madden, University of Georgia, Sergio Bernardes, University of Georgia
Topics: Urban Geography, Land Use and Land Cover Change, Ethnicity and Race
Keywords: vacant property, Atlanta, environmental services
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/9/2020
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Beverly, Sheraton, IM Pei Tower, Terrace Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Coinciding with Atlanta, Georgia’s designation as 1996 Olympics host, the City of Atlanta began demolishing its 43 public housing projects (home to ~14,000 people), the first of which opened in the 1930s. The city aimed to replace these “big government”-era communities with mixed-income housing financed largely by public-private investments. Several of these reimaged communities have been lauded as exemplars of community revitalization. However, five of these former housing sites have not been redeveloped, although all housing and other structures have been removed. This analysis focuses on one of these, the former Leila Valley Housing Project (Leila Valley) in southeast Atlanta, an area of roughly 14 acres (5.66 ha). Since the last buildings were removed from Leila Valley in 2008, woody vegetation increased from 17% to 62% in November 2018. Tree cover is early seral-succession forest fragmentation. Because Leila Valley has been left to regenerate with minimal interference, site-level vegetation is providing important supporting and regulating ecosystem services such as species habitat and pollination, pollution removal, and temperature cooling. In effect, Leila Valley has transformed from a site of social dysfunction to one providing important environmental benefits. This study measures ecological services associated with the site using the I-tree protocol for quantifying forest structure and environmental services of vegetation. We also examine the extent to which residents living in adjacent, single-family homes perceive these ecological benefits and their views of how this vacant property impacts their perception and navigation of the wider community.

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