by Paul Cantrell Follow @ThePaulCantrell
These—let’s call them Public Service Announcements—have recently been appearing on lampposts up and down North Highland Avenue, from above the King of Pops stand at Buddy’s to the corner by Fritti and Pure, where this photo was taken.
It’s no coincidence that that particular corner (Elizabeth and North Highland) is the site of the Inman Quarter, ground zero both for intown anxiety and excitement. Just a month ago, we were able to convince a surprising number of people that a Tilted Kilt was slated for that retail space. (Happy April Fool’s Day, everybody. Sorry about that.)
The point is that no one would have believed such a thing as an Inman Park “breastaurant” chain even possible a year or two ago. So what’s going on with these signs?
For starters, ATLCitizens.org doesn’t appear to be a real website—or if it is, the GoDaddy domain hasn’t been renewed. There are also these recent signs:
Yes, you. Just kidding; you’re great. No one ever thinks these things apply to themselves—the same way even hipsters hate hipsters. This “you” is an unclear category. Its aliases include “yuppie” and “asshole” (see above), and of course the ever popular (if not brazenly misogynistic) “douchebag.” If pressed for a more precise definition, most intown residents will unwittingly invoke U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s 1964 stance on pornography: “I know it when I see it.”
Of course, these are still a friendlier reboot of signs like this one, popularized in the 80s:
Or this one, from a little further back:
And that’s without even getting into some of the South’s more unfortunately obvious candidates.
Still, presuming that the current signs are intended to do more than just hurt people’s feelings, let’s take a look at what’s being defended so adamantly.
Going back to 1889, Inman Park was Atlanta’s first planned suburb, described by the Atlanta Constitution as “the prettiest, highest, healthiest and most desirable locality I ever saw. Everybody is friendly and neighborly. There are no negroes and not a single objectionable inhabitant. And as far as accessibility it ranks second to no residence portion of the city. [elephant-in-the-room emphasis mine]” The area went into decline once cars enabled residents to move farther out of the city.
Inman Park was also Atlanta’s first neighborhood to gentrify, beginning with the renovation of the Beath-Dickey House in 1969. It should therefore come as no surprise to find that it’s the first part of the city to exhibit this kind of backlash toward would-be yuppie intruders.
It’s also admittedly a confusing bit of in-fighting, like that old MADtv skit where Scott Stapp, Eddie Vedder and that dude from The Calling argue over who sang that way first, and then Ray Charles shuts them all up. Does this count as a turf war? Is it still class warfare when the two sides look so similar? For now, as with the signs, it seems to boil down to a question of etiquette.
These khaki-clad interlopers are of two general varieties. The first is the outright gentrifier who actually moves into the area. You may as well welcome these people because (a) they’re moving in anyway and (b) they’re your new neighbors for Chrissakes and you shouldn’t be an asshole either.
The second variety is arguably the trickier. I’m talking about the Weekend Warrior—the one who descends from the affluent suburbs and thinks that a Friday Night in Inman Park constitutes “slumming it” on the wrong the side of the tracks. And home’s just an Uber ride away. (Don’t even get me started on Uber.)
The pissed-off natives also come in two varieties: (1) the local residents and bar regulars who see their neighborhoods overrun with suburban tourists; and (2) the members of the service industries whose job it is to cater to these visitors. (It was a member of the latter camp who, tired of seeing his own bar crowded by one too many modern-day American Psycho types, took to spreading around the above “Inman Park Was Cool” stickers himself.)
I recently referenced this massive influx of new residents and suggested that we should be welcoming. If given the opportunity, we might even show them the ropes a bit, give them a taste of what makes our city great. And may I also add that I, for one, welcome our new Buckhead overlords. I’m kidding of course, but as long as the area and its current residents get the respect they deserve, maybe there’ll be hope yet.
I don’t know how this standoff will all play out, but let’s hope it’s more than just some pissing contest of who’s been where the longest. (Spoiler alert: Native Americans.) There is a Prodigal Son aspect to some of this intown activity, but like I’ve said before, most of these people just want to live their lives, same as you.
In the meantime, I hope ATLCitizens.org and its “tips on common courtesy” become a real thing. Sometimes a little protocol goes a long way. Until then, we’re still all adults. Let’s act like we know how to act.
Paul Cantrell is on Twitter.
Agh. You can’t compare anger towards wealthy white people moving in with segregation—those are two very different dynamics. With gentrification, poor folks (particularly poor folks of color—that’s a double doozy) get upset because they know they’re about to be pushed out of their neighborhood into a dangerous, under-funded one (again). They’ve never, ever, ever, had the power in that situation, or anything similar—the expectation is that they’ll ultimately be forced to move and again be tangled in a web of disadvantage.
Segregation was white, wealthy folks continuing the history of having their boot on the black man’s neck—as they have for centuries. White wealthy folks have always had the political and financial power to essentially do what they want.
In summary: a sign making you feel uncomfortable is not the same as the long, long history of oppression.