Photograph by Rebecca Burns
Shortly after its 2012 launch, Kwanza Hall’s “Year of Boulevard” initiative—aimed at transforming a long-blighted and notorious intown street—was nicknamed “Yo Boulevard!” and the snappy slogan was chanted at community meetings and plastered on fliers and banners. Last January, as the project entered its sophomore year, Hall dubbed it “Mo’ Boulevard.”
Will there be a new pet name for Hall’s pet project when it kicks off year three on Monday evening? “No special name,” emailed Hall’s chief of staff Jay Tribby. “We’re calling it Year of Boulevard 2014.”
Home to the Village of Bedford Pines subsidized housing complex—the largest in the Southeast—as well as gentrifying swaths of the Old Fourth Ward, the Boulevard corridor is one of the most diverse sections of the city. Hall conceived the initiative in 2012 as a “living laboratory,” in which the challenges of crime and poverty on Boulevard would be addressed alongside revitalization. The goal: Avoid the typical patterns of gentrification in which wealthier newcomers replace the original residents of a poor community.
The 2012 Year of Boulevard project focused on reducing crime (an APD mini precinct) and creating opportunities for the youngest residents of Bedford Pines (new summer camps). Its most important accomplishment, however, was fostering improved relationships between Bedford Pines residents and homeowners in the surrounding area.
Last year’s highlights included: expanding programs for kids; new programs for young adults and seniors; progress on redeveloping part of Bedford Pines; a new dog park; demolition of dilapidated properties; and more coordinated efforts between residents, business owners, and APD to reduce crime.
For 2014, a major focus will be food access and security. Boulevard is relatively close to major supermarkets like Kroger and Publix, not to mention the Truly Living Well urban farm. But for many residents, transportation to fresh food sources is a challenge. This is coupled with concerns about cost; despite all the gentrification, the Boulevard corridor still represents one of the highest concentrations of poverty in Atlanta.
The 2014 Year of Boulevard kickoff meeting starts at 7 p.m. on Monday at Fort Street United Methodist, 562 Boulevard NE. (Early arrivals can take part in a community dinner, provided by Highland Bakery, beginning at 5 p.m.) For details: facebook.com/District2Atlanta