The historic Old Fourth Ward sits at an intersection of two opposite Atlantas, hipster and foodie haven Inman Park and commercial and largely forgotten Downtown. Once the home of the civil rights movement, the neighborhood is now home to the largest collection of Section 8 housing (government subsidized, low income), and the biggest concentration of poverty in the Southeast. And right next door is Ponce City Market, the largest adaptive reuse project in the city’s history and one of the World’s Coolest Tourist Attractions according to Travel and Leisure Magazine. Boulevard—a stretch of road that runs through the center of the Old Fourth Ward—best embodies this dichotomy.
In 2012, Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall launched an ambitious initiative to revitalize the area. Hall started the “Year of Boulevard” project to reduce crime, provide job-training opportunities, and reform education. The overarching goal of the program is to prevent the traditional gentrification that has happened in so many parts of Atlanta, in other words, to develop the neighborhood without forcing out its original citizens.
Initially Hall’s plans were met with skepticism, as talk of fixing up the neighborhood has been common in local political rhetoric for years. But “Yo Boulevard!” as the project was nicknamed by TedX Atlanta members, turned out to be quite successful—successful enough to warrant “Mo’ Boulevard,” a continuation of the campaign in 2013, and even a third phase, which started in January 2014.
Since the start of Yo Boulevard! crime in the area has decreased by 14 percent, largely thanks to a new Atlanta Police Department precinct. The Atlanta Hawks Foundation gave $50,000 to the project to rebuild basketball courts and summer camps were started alongside programs to aid senior citizens. Wingate Companies, the owner of Boulevard’s government subsidized hosing complex the Village of Bedford Pines, has contributed to each of Yo Boulevard!’s initiatives in addition to making improvements to their own facilities.
These social programs have developed alongside many structural improvements as well. The Historic Fourth Ward Park, which sits just a few blocks from Boulevard, is connected to the Eastside trail of the AtlantaBeltLine, the city’s largest sustainable urban redevelopment program. And right next door to Boulevard, Ponce City Market, former home to City Hall East and future home to 330,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space and 475,000 square feet of office and residential space, has garnered international attention. The Living Walls project has transformed the facades of many of the neighborhood’s dilapidated buildings and the first loop of Atlanta’s highly anticipated streetcar that will run directly through the Old Fourth Ward is scheduled to be finished this year.
Since 2012, new restaurants, bars and apartments have continued to spring up throughout the neighborhood signaling the end of area’s affordability. Curbed Atlanta recently reported a 1,600 square-foot 1920s bungalow closer to Edgewood Avenue than Ponce City Market is selling for over $400,000.
This gentrification along with Yo Boulevard!’s effort to prevent the traditional gentrification that forces out the neighborhood’s original citizens has created an area as diverse as the city itself. And for that reason it is a must visit for college students. Get a taste of the city’s less-polished side at the bars on Edgewood Avenue and marvel at the vision of Ponce City Market. But to understand the city these places call home take a historic tour of Martin Luther King Jr.’s home and the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church where he preached.