Former Public Housing Projects as Socio-Ecological Nodes

Authors: Cassandra Gaither*, USDA Forest Service, Denzell Amir Cross, University of Georgia
Topics: Land Use and Land Cover Change, Urban Geography, Environmental Perception
Keywords: green space civic engagement, Atlanta GA, public housing, ANT
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:20 PM
Room: Virtual 25
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Coinciding with Atlanta, Georgia’s designation as 1996 Olympics host, the City of Atlanta demolished its 43 public housing projects (home to ~14,000 people) during the first decade of the 2000s. The first of these communities opened in 1936. The city aimed to replace these “big government”-era communities with mixed-income housing financed in large measure by public-private investments. Several of these reimaged communities have been lauded as exemplars of community revitalization. However, four of the former, public housing sites have not been redeveloped although all housing and other structures have been removed—resulting in roughly 75 acres of vacant lands in southeast Atlanta. Since the last buildings were removed in 2010, woody vegetation has increased by 227%, for all the sites. Because these properties have been left to regenerate with minimal interference, site-level vegetation is providing important ecosystem benefits. An I-tree Hydro simulation of stormwater effects indicated significantly more water retention on the sites since the buildings were removed and consequently less pollutant runoff. In effect, the sites have been transformed from places of, arguably, social dysfunction to spaces providing important ecological benefits. This study considers these benefits in light of nearby residents’ perceptions and engagement with these properties, in particular how structural factors, including high rates of resident transiency in communities adjacent to the sites, constrain civic engagement with these green spaces. Actor Network Theory is suggested as one possible means of explaining these interactions.

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