West End Atlanta is a low value information commodity

Atlanta’s West End has no political power and appears to mirror the stagnant thinking of its representation on its city council. In the nine years that I have lived in the West End, I have yet to see how the power to “get what you want, when you want it, from who you want it from” has been applied to help its current citizens.

West End Atlanta should be the southwest version of Buckhead, especially given its proximity to City Hall, the downtown district, a MARTA transit station, and the airport. Instead, it’s the home of too many fast food restaurants, above average crime, and a high level of poverty. It doesn’t surprise me that West End’s city council member, Cleta Winslow, does not give the media interviews.  She would rightly be called to task about the state of poverty in her district. Not only the poverty, but the stagnation in mindset and lethargy in body language, the manifestation that stems from accepting less. It is very negative energy.

Blacks in West End give me the impression that they are just hanging around waiting to die.

If the 30310 zip code is going to improve, it won’t be as a result of current political leadership. After 23 years, Ms Winslow is merely a caretaker, or should I say undertaker. Individuals, particularly individuals of African American descent, are going to have to do this on their own.

One approach is to get more young, black producers to buy into the neighborhood. We need engineers and technologists to support and promote the attempts I see in the neighborhood to provide urban farming. The West End needs a self-contained political economy based on self-reliance.

Another, more important approach is to develop a tribal aspect to the West End’s social ordering. The West End needs to go from just a proclamation that “We here”, to an affirmation that, “We are here to stay. Let’s work.” The West End’s lack of progressiveness comes from a fear of being cohesive. This fear is a common thread running through most Black Americans. There is no conqueror mentality, just a “keep on, keeping on” mantra that adds to the lethargy of the West End’s inhabitants.

This attitude has made it easier for whites to gentrify the West End. It has been a slow and steady process. It is no shocker for me now to see mostly smiling white couples out walking their dogs or jogging along the Beltline while pushing a baby carriage. They are here, with conqueror mentality in tow.

In my title I asserted that the West End represents a low value information commodity. The West End Atlanta is low information value not simply because of the level of poverty, but because of the poor mindset and lack of cohesion. The most valuable information from the 30310 is that the area is wide open for plunder.

My simple take on what a city is

People move to Atlanta for various reasons. An individual may be a recent college graduate that received their first job offer from a company located here. Others are moving here to start a new business or expand an existing one. Some are leaving a traumatic experience that occurred in another city, like death in the family or divorce hoping that Atlanta provides a platform for a new life. Others simply like the weather and the city’s southern charm.

Whatever the reason, I think continued success here needs to be based on a couple realities about cities in general and Atlanta is particular. While we tend to look at a city from a perspective of what can this city do for me, we should round out our perspectives by asking what does this city expect from me? What is its role? To whom do the benefits of a city truly flow?

I admit that my connection to Atlanta is far from emotional. The city doesn’t feed an emotional need for me. While I would not want to live in a town with one traffic light and no movie theater, I don’t rely on a place for happiness.

What I appreciate and do need from a city is its ability to function as a hub for trade. A city should foster an environment that drives thought. It should have the infrastructure that provides an adequate platform for the exchange of ideas. It should, as a community or society, provide a safe environment for exchanging information. Since people are the primary source of information, people should feel safe and secure moving about and engaging with each other.

City governments promote themselves as suppliers of protection and infrastructure for its city’s residents. City governments exercise a near monopoly over protection services, organizing and regulating violence in order to meet their marketing message. I won’t get in to how individuals can and should compete with government to provide these services for themselves, but for now bear in mind that individuals can, but government does its best to dissuade the individual from doing so.

To stay viable as a service provider to taxpayers, city governments are expected to create public policy that supports the city’s function as a trading post in the digital age. For example, reviewing and approving broadband provider requests to use public rights-of-way to lay cable or construct and deploy cell towers in an expedited fashion provides information entrepreneurs increased assurance that they can conduct commerce in the city. It also provides broadband providers assurance that they can maintain returns on their capital while meeting their customers needs.

The city’s other function is that of a tax collector for its investors i.e. bond holders, members and employees of government, income-transfer beneficiaries. It aims to turn every resident into a tax-generating event, whether through the payment of sales taxes, property taxes, or business licenses. By providing infrastructure i.e. cell towers, streets, airports, the city contributes to the increase in the number of information seekers and information providers that trade in its jurisdiction, leading to an increase in entities that pay taxes and the amount of taxes collected.

How does knowing this contribute to your success in Atlanta or any other city? You can best guess the value you are bringing to Atlanta’s table when you understand what is being traded in the city, the information that is being demanded. You can best structure your labor or entrepreneurial activities to meet those trading needs. You become an asset.

Unfortunately, the State will wish to extract a significant portion of your success via income taxes. We’ll save that for another discussion.

 

Looks like it’s Keisha and business as usual …

Keisha Lance Bottoms appears to have captured the crown in the Atlanta mayoral race by approximately 759 votes over Mary Norwood. Ms Norwood reportedly has asked for a recount. She lost by 714 votes back in 2009 and likely wants to ensure that she doesn’t spend any more evenings trying to fall asleep and seeing both numbers dance around her head like sheep.

I found Ms Norwood to be engaging as well as tough. She is a seasoned politician, but unfortunately for her she appears to have run up on a buzz saw called the Black Slate. It came out in just enough numbers, apparently, to give Ms Lance Bottoms the win.

What do I expect from Ms Lance Bottoms? She will likely continue Mayor Reed’s gentrification policies i.e. a strong police presence in the West End designed to keep the current Black population quiet while more whites move in and buy up shuttered properties. Meanwhile, development will continue in the northern part of the city with increases in transportation capacity to meet increased residential demand on that side of town. The Atlanta metropolitan area expects 2.5 million more inhabitants over the next two decades and will have to act now to provide adequate infrastructure to accommodate them.

Black elites will hold on to ceremonial power. I refer to it as ceremonial power versus political power because valid political power means the ability to direct capital to whomever the holder of political power chooses. If blacks did indeed have political power, gentrification and poverty would not be an issue. Whites and other non-blacks that control capital in Atlanta should, as usual, have nothing to worry about.

So far, so gloomy in Atlanta

Prior to today’s election, Mary Norwood was nursing a six percentage point lead over mayoral rival Keisha Lance Bottoms. That lead is compounded by the gloomy looking weather outside, although supporters holding campaign signs on the corner of Tenth Street and Peachtree this morning offset the cloudy day with their enthusiasms.

What kind of signal would a Mary Norwood win send to Atlanta? It would an indication that the city has changed demographically. As I was telling my Uber driver this morning while we sat at the corner of Tenth and Peachtree, Atlanta in 1985 was just black and white. Blacks didn’t live in Buckhead. We just visited Lenox Square Mall every now and then. We saw white people at work and that was about it. The phrase, “the city too busy to hate” really meant “Everyone has other things to do so we aren’t interested in hanging out together.” That phrase has fooled a lot of people looking at the city from the outside thinking that Atlanta was becoming a mecca for racial harmony.

Quite the opposite. “Too busy to hate” was merely a blueprint for a new kind of segregation, a blueprint that also served as a marketing scheme to attract more Yuppies and Buppies to the capital city of Georgia. It included a truce, that Blacks would enjoy the political privileges stemming from having a majority of the city’s voters while kept what was really most important: economic power.

The thing with political power based on the number of people with black skin is that even if that power can be passed down the nepotism chain to other people with black skin, it is only a matter of time before that power becomes diluted. As the demographics changes and the city became more diverse, the power base naturally became diluted by other groups that did not share either skin color or the struggle narrative as promoted by Atlanta’s political elite.

Not only did economic power stay with whites (and it is only reasonable to expect this), whites also distributed opportunities stemming from economic power to non-black groups typically under the argument that these groups brought more value because they had the high-tech skills a diversifying Atlanta economy needed.

If anything, this is where Atlanta’s black elite screwed up. The establishment types, led by old heads like John Lewis, never expressed any sophisticated knowledge about capital, finance, and technology. So immersed were they in continuing the 1950s and 1960s legacy of Martin Luther King and Ralph David Abernathy, that they didn’t appreciate changes in the domestic or global economy. So alluring was their Pied Piper flute playing, that the masses followed them over the cliff of complacency.

Now tonight, after a day of gloomy clouds, Black Atlanta faces a new uncertainty …

Atlanta the city-state … and alkaline water

Atlanta is growing, expecting to sit at the core of a metropolitan statistical areas boasting a population of 9.0 million residents over the next twenty years. I saw something at the Whole Foods in Midtown during Hurricane Irma that made me question the resilience of the city. While customers raided the shelves for bottled water, they left a lot of alkaline water on the shelves. These are the very customers that swear by the health benefits of alkaline water, but in this instance they were foregoing health for the cheaper water. Shouldn’t health be a consistent part of life?

It just seemed a little hypocritical to me that residents of a city sitting over a thousand feet above sea level and relatively inland would go forego their values regarding health because of a storm that was not expected to bring any where near the damage expected by our neighbors to the south. But there the shelves were; not one bottle of water with the exception of $3.99 bottles of alkaline water.

The 21st century Atlantan is interesting to observe. No, more like slightly amusing. The body language of the people in the core city reflects not a care in the world. I often wonder if these people have jobs much less a care in the world. They look more like displaced mid-westerners trying to make Atlanta proper look and feel like Manhattan.  I guess this is the type of swag you should expect from citizens that occupy an alpha-city.

But it looks more to me like a city that has no character. Yes, the jobs are coming here. Almost 80,000 were created in Atlanta in 2016, but I see a blandness. The city is so transient that the people with some skin in the cultural game, mainly those that were born here, appear to be outnumbered by those of us who were not. This is nothing new. I heard this complaint back in the mid 1980s when I first lived here. The resentment of people who were born here that believed they were being foreclosed from opportunities because out of town people moving to the Peach City were blessed and highly favored by employers.

They are probably right. I know very few people who were born here. Mary Norwood, a candidate for Atlanta mayor wasn’t born here. Cleta Winslow, a member of the Atlanta city council representing my district, wasn’t born here. I have high school and law school classmates that live in the area, none of whom are from here.

Southern charm is being pushed out by Northern and Midwestern blandness.

The Atlanta “Black Slate” seeks to capture the Atlanta mayor’s office today

Mary Norwood and Keisha Lance Bottoms are heading for a run-off on 2 December if the polls hold out going in to today’s elections. Ms Norwood held the lead in the polls well into the late summer and early fall, but fortune has changed in favor of Ms Bottoms who has amassed a two percentage point lead over the woman who could potentially be Atlanta’s first white mayor since 1974.

Ms Bottoms’ change in fortune may be due in part to a surge in campaign donations. According to the Atlanta Business ChronicleMs Bottoms led all candidates in fund raising in October.

How much the “Vote the Black Slate” movement has contributed to Ms Bottoms’ surge is debatable. The desire on the part of Atlanta blacks, especially those living in the southwest sector of the city, is real to the point of palpable. While Ms Norwood’s amicable personality is pleasing to a lot of blacks (Full disclosure. I voted for her in 2009 partly for that reason), increase in support for Ms Bottoms is visible. Campaign signs supporting Ms Bottoms have sprouted up in many southwest Atlanta yards like grass after a solid rain.

If Ms Bottoms does come out the victor and continues current mayor Kasim Reed’s economic policies, her voters may find themselves experiencing further disappointment. I have lived in the southwest sector of Atlanta for over nine years. The wielding of political power via the vote has not brought poor blacks in the sector any more real capital or employment opportunities. Gentrification has brought young white couples into the neighborhood, but their capital may be spent elsewhere in the city as they head out to work in the morning and return in the evening. Their capital sees no value in the southwest.

The “Vote the Black Slate” movement may help boost the self esteem of Atlanta’s black elite. Another black mayor gives them something to talk about during homecoming games and cocktail parties. What it does for blacks with no capital is another issue.