Atlanta Must Reads for the Week: the return of highway protests, a gentrifying grocer, and a beginner’s guide to Newt Gingrich

Plus, why people still visit the ‘Into the Wild’ bus and how Atlanta’s Olympics transformed Georgia State
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich introduces Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during a July rally at the Sharonville Convention Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.

John Sommers II / Stringer

Emily Badger for the Washington Post on the purpose of highway protests

Badger recounts the long history of highways, including Atlanta’s Connector, and the politics of protests that come with blocking those roads:

Block a highway, and you upend the economic life of a city, as well as the spatial logic that has long allowed people to pass through them without encountering their poverty or problems. Block a highway, and you command a lot more attention than would a rally outside a church or city hall—from traffic helicopters, immobile commuters, alarmed officials.

“We’re the home of Dr. Martin Luther King,” anxious Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said on Saturday, acknowledging the city’s legacy of protest but drawing a line at the interstate on-ramp. “The only thing I ask is that they not take the freeways. Dr. King would never take a freeway.”

That is not strictly accurate: King led the 1965 march that iconically occupied the full width of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. But as protests in Atlanta approached the high-speed artery that courses through the city’s downtown, Reed understood that the stakes were much higher, both for the safety of the protesters and the functioning of the region. That, however, is precisely the point.

Read: Why highways have become the center of civil rights protest

Larry Fitzmaurice for VICE on the puzzling pilgrimage to the Into the Wild bus

The tale of Chris McCandless, the Emory alum who starved to death in 1992 in the Alaskan wilderness, is one that’s grown popular over the past quarter century after he became the subject of a Jon Krakauer book, which was later adapted into a movie. Fitzmaurice looks at why people still attempt to retrace his steps—one that’s continued to have fatal costs:

When Eddie Habeck booked a hiking and trail-running excursion through Alaska in 2012, he wasn’t planning to visit Fairbanks Bus 142. The 39-year-old Vermont resident only realized in the process of plotting his trip that he was heading to the state that houses the bus where Chris McCandless, the post-college vagabond subject of journalist Jon Krakauer’s book Into the Wild (as well as the film that followed) was found dead of apparent starvation on September 6, 1992, after spending four months in the Denali National Park and Preserve on a solo adventure into the wilderness.

“I realized, Wait a minute, that story took place in Alaska,” Habeck, who works for the state government and runs an aerial photography business in his spare time, told me. “I realized that it might be a possibility to go out there.” Habeck mapped out his journey to the bus—located near the Stampede Trail in the 6-million-acre national park—and hit the trail on his own in May of that year.

Every year, travelers from across the world take to the Stampede Trail in search of that defining moment that Habeck describes—to achieve a sort of survivalist, solitudinous nirvana, to retrace McCandless’s final steps through the Alaskan wilderness without succumbing to the same fate. When it comes to that last objective, not everyone is successful: In 2010, 29-year-old Claire Ackermann from Switzerland drowned while trying to cross the Teklanika with French hiker Etienne Gros en route to the bus, and people have to be rescued from the trail every year.

Because hiking the Stampede Trail doesn’t require a permit, there are no official statistics on how many are rescued annually. Lynn Macaloon, the acting public information officer for Denali National Park and Preserve, told VICE that she estimates “several” rescues on the trail take place each year, with park rangers, the local fire department, and Alaska state troopers among those tapped to pitch in.

Late last month, hikers Michael Trigg and Theodore Aslund were the subjects of a rescue operation that involved more than 20 people and one helicopter, after making it to the bus and taking longer than expected on their return journey. “They left with an unrealistic idea of when they’d be back,” hiker and Alaska native Erik Halfacre told VICE. “They could’ve ensured that someone wouldn’t launch an expensive rescue for them by having a turnaround time and sticking to it—but they didn’t.”

Read: Why Do People Keep Trying to Visit the ‘Into the Wild’ Bus?

Julia Ioffe for Politico on the return of Newt Gingrich

If you’re a millennial, you might not remember who Newt Gingrich is, or why he’s on the short list to become Donald Trump’s running mate. Ioffe has all those answers in a thorough refresher on the complexities—and hypocrisies—of the one-time U.S. House speaker:

If you’re encountering Gingrich for the first time this year, it might be easy to imagine that, with his mop of white hair and long track record in D.C., he’s a quintessential Washington graybeard, just the man to lend some policy and legislative expertise to a candidate who has never held public office of any kind. “He’s a one-stop shop of policy knowledge on such a wide array of issues, more than anyone in Washington,” says Republican lobbyist Ed Kutler, who worked with Gingrich in the House in the 1990s. “As much as he was a big thinker, he was a really good legislator. For a guy like Trump, that would be very helpful.” He’d be the link, the thinking goes, between the rodeo that is Trump World and the stuffy Washington establishment.

But hold up. Seriously? Newt Gingrich? For anyone who lived through his first, scorched-earth tenure in Washington, the idea that he’s reemerging as some kind of reality-based, ambassadorial elder statesman is nothing short of bewildering. Gingrich, former Obama adviser (and Gingrich friend) Van Jones told me, “was a bomb thrower’s bomb thrower.”

“He’s always been on the edges of what was acceptable,” said one former Hill staffer from Newt’s congressional heyday. “Donald Trump is making Newt look like a fairly conventional politician,” the staffer said. “Nobody would’ve said that back in the day.”

Read: The Millennial’s Guide to Newt Gingrich

Oscar Perry Abello for Next City on a grocer that’s gentrifying Atlanta

There’s a new Kroger in town! Off the southeast portion of the Atlanta BeltLine, the grocer built the $36 million project that was partially paid for by tax credits. Though it’s been wildly popular so far with customers, some wonder whether the tax credits will benefit longtime residents of the area:

Kroger was still the primary instigator, as they originally went to Invest Atlanta, who eventually introduced them to Reinvestment Fund, who was interested in taking on an Atlanta project as well as mitigating food deserts. According to Reinvestment Fund’s estimates, 43,000 people live within 2 miles of the store who currently do not have easy access to another supermarket.

But as [longtime local Tené] Traylor points out, there’s the risk that the working-class families of color that have been long-term residents of the neighborhood may still get displaced as property taxes and rents rise adjacent to the BeltLine. The signs of change are there: Maynard H. Jackson School’s demographics have shifted, from 98 percent black in 2011 to 73 percent black and 27 percent white in 2015. Enrollment shot up, indicating the shift was due to an influx of new, whiter residents. Whether the current black population will be able to afford to remain in the neighborhood is not clear.

“The question is not how did the Kroger get there, but who is the Kroger for,” says Traylor.

Read: New Atlanta Grocery Highlights Challenges in Equitable Development

Michell Eloy for WABE-FM (90.1) on how the Olympics transformed Georgia State

In part of a series celebrating the 20th anniversary of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Eloy looks back how the summer games turned Georgia State from a commuter school into a well-respected academic institution with more than twice as many students:

On a sunny summer day in downtown Atlanta, students dart across the main plaza of Georgia State University, with very few students lingering in the stagnant, 90-degree heat.

Nestled in between the school’s library and Langdale Hall off Peachtree Center Avenue, the plaza, with its bubbling fountain and sitting areas, has been the heart of the campus since GSU’s days as a commuter school. During the school year, more than 32,000 undergraduates and graduates roam the downtown streets of the urban campus. When factoring in Georgia Perimeter College, which GSU acquired earlier this year, that number jumps to more than 50,000.

For comparison, in 1996, when Atlanta hosted the Olympic Games, GSU’s student body was around 24,000. Soon, the university will acquire Turner Field, formerly the Olympic Stadium and centerpiece of the games. That acquisition has left some to ask whether, looking back 20 years, GSU turned out to be the biggest beneficiary of the games.

Read: Atlanta Olympics Helped GSU Shake Off Commuter School Image