Thursday, October 4, 2012
East Lake success a model for other troubled areas
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
By Jeremiah McWilliams
They used to call East Lake a shooting gallery, a poverty trap and worse. The neighborhood’s massive public housing project was so violent it earned the nickname “little Vietnam.”
Times and reputations have changed for East Lake, now a mix of single-family homes with leafy tree cover and tidy apartment complexes surrounded by golf courses.
This week, more than 200 educators and community advocates are gathering in Atlanta to discuss East Lake’s successes — more people working or in training, higher literacy rates, rising incomes and falling crime.
Their focus: duplicating it in places like New Orleans, Cleveland and California.
Greg Giornelli, president of Purpose Built Communities, says he believes that can happen. The Atlanta nonprofit, which bills itself as a sort of coach and coordinator that brings professionals together in Atlanta and other cities to craft holistic solutions to poverty, is backed by Warren Buffett, Atlanta developer Tom Cousins and Julian Robertson Jr., co-founder of one of the world’s largest hedge funds.
“You have to break up the concentration of poverty,” Giornelli said. “There aren’t a lot of places in America where the middle class and the working poor live side by side. The fact of the matter is, there should be.”
Once feared as a drug and gang haven, the neighborhood five miles east of downtown Atlanta is now being held up as a national model for providing cradle-to-college education, high-quality mixed-income housing, safer streets and a web of support for low-income families.
East Lake has a farmers market and an urban garden, but it’s not Mayberry just yet. Residents cheered the opening of a new coffee shop, but much of the main drag on Memorial is still populated by hair salons, sign stores and auto shops. It’s been difficult to attract more upscale businesses. Car break-ins and thefts of lawnmowers are not uncommon.