Home > Community, development > South DeKalb failing like parts of Atlanta did 20 years ago

South DeKalb failing like parts of Atlanta did 20 years ago

December 13, 2010

Is South DeKalb the Atlanta of 20 years ago?

I have been in Atlanta for nearly 23 years save a six year stint in the service, when Atlanta became a destination more so than home to me. When I left the military, Atlanta metro was a natural choice for me. I was young Enthusiastic and ambitious. My new bride and I settled on Memorial Drive in the mid-90’s. The glory of Memorial had been gone for a while, but it was still an OK place. We both were on the cusp of finishing up college and planned for a better life in the future. As our careers started moving forward so did our desires for a better place to live. We moved to an apartment in the Emory area that was close to my wife’s job, and allowed me easy access to MARTA, after all we had only one vehicle at the time and we had to stay near MARTA. We enjoyed our time there, but longed for a house with a yard for kids and a dog and some privacy. We looked in the Emory area( too expensive), we looked in Douglas(too far out), Cobb(Couldn’t see it) and DeKalb. DeKalb was a nice mix. It was not too far away from the things we liked to do. It had a nice mix of social strata, and it seemed a great balance between city and suburb. We settled on South DeKalb for many reasons, but price and proximity to my mother-in-law led the Way. We wer young and Idealistic at the time. We had no kids so we didn’t even think about schools. We thought we would buy this house, do some work on it and try to sell it after 5 or so years. that was the plan. Had we known in advance that we were moving into what was going to be a massacre of foreclosures, we would have stayed in our cozy little apartment, but hindsight is always 20/20. Now some seven years later, South DeKalb, has become home. My wife has several family members in South DeKalb, and we love the proximity to Stonecrest, Downtown, and Decatur. The problem is that there is nothing for us in South Dekalb outside of family and our home. It has made us think whether or not we should hold out for an eventual resurgence or if we should cut our losses and abandon South DeKalb. For those who have been in Atlanta for a long time, you can see the resurgence that happens when capital and desire flows into an area. East Lake and Kirkwood were horrible places to be in the 80’s. Now one is a model for resurgence and the other is a go to destination for entertainment and living. East Atlanta, and even Grant Park were areas where people avoided. Now they are hot properties. Glenwood Park, Edgewood, the list goes on and on. So I have to ask myself, will the same resurgence happen here. I look at South DeKalb mall and think to myself what a great location. It is less than a ten mile drive to downtown. It is a straight shot to downtown Decatur, and even Stonecrest is an easy drive. It sits between two interstates and has quick access to the airport. It is a very walkable area because of the density of the homes and businesses in the corridor. Yet it is suffering, with little relief in sight. I cannot think of any major redevelopment in the Candler corridor in more than ten years. South Dekalb mall has had makeovers, possibly to it’s detriment, but the areas around the mall are third rate at best. No quality entertainment. No quality dining. Nothing that says this can be the next happening place in the metro. Leadership at the county and community level needs to step up. South DeKalb needs to shape an identity. Be it entertainment, specialty shopping, or even a sporting destination. Land prices there are be ripe for redevelopment when the economy turns the corner. County leadership and community leaders should be prepared to jump on the opportunity when it arrives. If we all sit back and wait, then South Dekalb will be Atlanta all over again. I Hope to see a resurgence soon, because I do not know how much longer I can hold on. And I am sure there are many who think similar to me on this issue.


  1. Dekalbite
    January 16, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    This is an article written by Mr. Blackwood, a Social Studies teacher at South West DeKalb High School. Some parts of it are eerily similar to what you describe in this post and a number of other posts with regards to South DeKalb.
    while reading his essay, I wondered if he was reading your blog.

  2. Dekalbite
    December 23, 2010 at 11:46 am

    The market is overbuilt and the correction will take time – some estimates are 7 to 10 years. Much depends on the educational level of our students. Can they compete on a global level for those highly skilled, technology, smart energy, and science jobs – all high paying and destined to keep much of our populace from falling into third work status? A solid middle class is necessary for any powerful and prosperous country. Ensuring no group is left out is just as critical. Mental ability and skill attainment is found in every “group” of people, and countries who educate only a select portion of their citizenry are destined to the dustbin of competition. Look at the middle eastern countries who make little use of the intellect of 50% of their populace – namely women. By cutting out this gender which represents fully half of their population from meaningful educational and work opportunities, they have handicapped their countries’ ability to compete in the world of the future. As their oil runs dry, they will experience a painful social dislocation.

    Maybe we don’t need huge homes, SUVs, and more outfits than we can wear in a year. Maybe we will evolve into a populace who values smaller, more energy efficient homes and cars. Perhaps we will spend less time shopping and more time with friends and neighbors. I don’t think the U.S. can continue to be the “consumers” for the rest of the world. Have our debts and possessions made us a happier, healthier group of people? Maybe these are some things we need to think about during the Christmas season.

  3. Former Realtor
    December 19, 2010 at 6:14 pm

    Saw a documentary several years ago that showed neighborhoods being gentrified over a long period. It starts with male gay couples buying old homes with “good bones” and restoring them. Then a critical mass is reached and young couples move in. Then the young couples have children and the children get old enough to need schooling. That’s why it can easily take 20 years to see progress.

    From your comments, this does not seem to be happening in your area. The general real estate market is not going to improve any time soon, and all of the suburban Atlanta markets (including South DeKalb) started declining in value in 2006 and have gotten continually worse not better. Better start planning your move, even if you need to mail your keys to the bank.

    You are best off moving to a rural area where you can grow a garden and raise chickens. However, if you move into an urban area, rent so that you can move quickly if people start fighting over food. Buy junk silver coins whenever possible so you will have an emergency fund that does not lose value. A pre-1965 dime is currently worth about $2 and quickly rising in value (meaning that the value of the dollar is sinking). This depression is more likely to get worse before it gets better.

  4. Name One
    December 14, 2010 at 6:30 pm

    Follow the school system money:

    The Central Office spends more than ever before, but not on students, but on itself!!

    Put that money directly into the school house, and I guarantee improvement no matter what the income level of the student body is.

  5. Just Watch
    December 14, 2010 at 7:09 am

    Gentrification takes a long time. I was involved in projects in the Grant Park areas and other areas nearby nearly 20 years ago. While I see progress, I am amazed at how slow it has been. Many of the neighborhoods you discuss in Atlanta have really charming housing stock that made those areas appealing.

    I will say that a great deal of credit for the changes in Grant Park go to Neighborhood Charter School which has enabled parents to raise families there without the expense of private school. There is now a charter middle school as well.

    Neighborhood Charter School was a totally grass roots effort.

    No matter who is on the Board of Ed and who is superintendent the residents of S. DeKalb have to take ownership of their schools and demand more. First, from themselves and then from the schools.

    Fixing the schools is the first and most important step to turning around S. DeKalb, in my opinion.

    • December 14, 2010 at 4:00 pm

      It is sort of a chicken and egg scenario. Do the schools improve and bring in higher achieving families, or do higher achieving families move in thereby creating better schools. I think it is safe to say that many of the schools in gentrified areas of Atlanta are not model schools. There may be one or two that have shown some success, but in general the performance of many students is still sub par. I totally agree with you that residents of DeKalb have to take ownership in the problems facing schools especially in South DeKalb. The problem is that there are not enough residents who want to take ownership. Be it in the schools, the neighborhoods or in business. South DeKalb’s biggest problem is that far too many people who live there just don’t care.

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