The temperature hovered right at freezing the morning of Feb. 16. Still, around two dozen residents of Capitol View, Capitol View Manor, and Sylvan Hills came out for an early morning community cleanup. People bundled up in parkas and beanies huddled around the trunk of a car stocked with Krispy Kreme coffee and breakfast sandwiches, trash bags, and extra work gloves. The group was gathered in the parking lot of the Sullivan Center, a local social services nonprofit on the corner of Dill Avenue and Metropolitan Parkway, the intersection of Capitol View and Capitol View Manor. After a quick welcome from Capitol View Neighborhood Association President Paul Benson, the neighbors dispersed, some heading west on Dill into the heart of Capitol View, others turning north on Metropolitan to sweep the perimeter of Capitol View Manor.
Metropolitan Parkway bisects the two southwest Atlanta neighborhoods, but viewed together, they form a small urban/suburban enclave within the city: Capitol View, established a century ago on a grid with its wood bungalows, and Capitol View Manor, built around curved trolley lines a decade later and populated with the kind of brick homes found in Morningside and Virginia-Highland. In fact, the neighborhoods all have at least one designer in common: George W. Adair.
The physical resemblance between the communities is uncanny — from the residential architecture to the lines the streets make on a map — but, for better and for worse, the realities of the neighborhoods are vastly different. Capitol View's business district has taken a hit the last few decades, the bones of a once-thriving commercial area still visible but a shadow of what Harold McWilliams remembers from when he was growing up. McWilliams was born at Grady Memorial Hospital in 1937 and has lived in Capitol View since 1949.
"I've lived here a long time; seen a lot of changes. I just remember a time where I had a regular routine of going to a theater, enjoying the ball games at the school, and we had good schools and good churches," he says. "Now, our school's closed, the churches are closed. ... There was a lot of small business, not big large business. But we had barbershops and drugstores, of course, beauty shops, and small businesses like that."
Beyond the decline in small local businesses, crime has been a well-documented issue. A rash of particularly brazen home invasions last winter outraged residents. Not to mention the reputation of Metropolitan Parkway (formerly Stewart Avenue) as a red-light district plagued by prostitution and open-air drug dealing. (The city renamed the thoroughfare in 1997 after nearby Atlanta Metropolitan State College in the hope that calling it by another name would somehow rehab the street.) Absentee landlords are sitting on vacant homes and real estate investors are buying up swaths of property in anticipation of a housing market rebound.
But to focus only on the neighborhoods' flaws would be to paint an incomplete picture of what it's like to live there, and why so many residents choose to stay and work on the issues. Nearby Perkerson Park is one of the city's coolest greenspaces. The Atlanta-Fulton County Library System has plans to build a new library at the corner of Dill Avenue and Metropolitan. The project design might even reuse the historic church on the property. In addition, Capitol View and Capitol View Manor are some of the city's most diverse communities.
"I didn't want to live in a homogenized neighborhood. I wanted to live in a neighborhood where the houses were beautiful. I wanted to live in a place where I could actually get to know different types of people," says Neda Abghari, who moved to Capitol View in 1999. "I love my neighborhood; it wasn't just an investment ... I moved in here when it was a lot worse off than it is now. I felt like the people here were really special. These are people you would never come into contact otherwise, because Atlanta really is segregated. I don't like that. I will never live in a segregated neighborhood. If this neighborhood changes, I will leave, because I love its diversity."
Through her arts nonprofit, the Creatives Project, Abghari has initiated a number of community outreach projects in the neighborhoods. As part of Creative Loafing's inaugural Do Good Campaign, CL is partnering with TCP and the Capitol View and Capitol View Manor neighborhood associations to raise funds for an art-based anti-litter campaign created by neighborhood residents. We'll help facilitate the online capital campaign, which Do Good sponsor the Home Depot Foundation will match up to $2,500. With its $5,000, the organizations will purchase a number of trash cans, which the city will install and maintain, and create an educational anti-litter campaign with neighborhood youth through collaborations with TCP's professional artists.
"[The neighbors] are all really excited about using the art, and working with the kids," says Abghari. "I've lived here for 13 years. During that time I've watched these kids grow up. I've seen them on the streets, I've seen them walking to school. I actually know many of the kids, and the reason why this specifically became so important is because I noticed that the kids the neighbors had more of a relationship with, those kids continued to do positive things. ... A lot of these kids are not exposed to resources that other kids have. As a result, they turn to other things. And I really think it's important to us to create those possibilities and those relationships."
Music producer-turned-landlord Hakim Young first purchased in Capitol View five years ago, and moved his family into the neighborhood in 2010. Young, who also owns property in Grant Park and Midtown, says people must be thoughtful about how "we structure this transition," and in considering what progress means for Capitol View and Capitol View Manor.
Gentrification tends to give longtime residents the boot and ultimately can create a homogenous community with no ties to the people who came before, he says.
"And that's why I love what Neda's doing. She's involving the youth, and these are the kids that are gonna be adults in six to seven years, so they'll be around when these changes take place and they'll already have been connected."
Updates: To read more about the progress and completion of this project, see "Do Good Happy Hour Pt. 2 - Capitol View edition," "Nailed it! All Three Do Good projects surpass fundraising goals," and "Do Good Campaign Update: Keeping It clean and green in Capitol View and Capitol View Manor."