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The Culture of Property

The Culture of Property: Race, Class, and Housing Landscapes in Atlanta, 1880-1950

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    The Culture of Property
    Book Description:

    This history of the idea of "neighborhood" in a major American city examines the transition of Atlanta, Georgia, from a place little concerned with residential segregation, tasteful surroundings, and property control to one marked by extreme concentrations of poverty and racial and class exclusion. Using Atlanta as a lens to view the wider nation, LeeAnn Lands shows how assumptions about race and class have coalesced with attitudes toward residential landscape aesthetics and home ownership to shape public policies that promote and protect white privilege. Lands studies the diffusion of property ideologies on two separate but related levels: within academic, professional, and bureaucratic circles and within circles comprising civic elites and rank-and-file residents. By the 1920s, following the establishment of park neighborhoods such as Druid Hills and Ansley Park, white home owners approached housing and neighborhoods with a particular collection of desires and sensibilities: architectural and landscape continuity, a narrow range of housing values, orderliness, and separation from undesirable land uses-and undesirable people. By the 1950s, these desires and sensibilities had been codified in federal, state, and local standards, practices, and laws. Today, Lands argues, far more is at stake than issues of access to particular neighborhoods, because housing location is tied to the allocation of a broad range of resources, including school funding, infrastructure, and law enforcement. Long after racial segregation has been outlawed, white privilege remains embedded in our culture of home ownership.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-4223-8
    Subjects: History, Sociology, Population Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-12)

    At the turn of the twenty-first century, Atlanta’s metropolitan statistical area sprawled across twenty counties. If you were born that year to a family in the Summerhill neighborhood, in the shadows of Turner Field in Atlanta’s central city, you most likely went home to one of the city’s most concentrated centers of poverty, where blacks experienced a high degree of isolation and where most families paid rent in excess of the federal guidelines. You may well have lived in one of the many homes in the area cited for building-code violations that year. One in five children in your neighborhood...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Housing the City, 1865 to 1910
    (pp. 13-40)

    In 1864, General William Tecumseh Sherman’s Union troops plundered and burned Atlanta as they marched to the sea. Citizens returned to find bent rails, solitary chimneys, and scattered cannonballs in what had once been a thriving trading center at the nexus of the Western and Atlantic, Georgia, Atlanta and West Point, and Macon and Western railroads. Thousands of Atlanta homes had been destroyed that summer, leaving only a few hundred to shelter returning residents and refugees. Visitors painted a dismal scene. In 1865, journalist J. T. Trowbridge wrote that hundreds lived in “wretched hovels” covered with “ragged fragments of tin...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Atlanta, Park-Neighborhoods, and the New Urban Aesthetic, 1880 to 1917
    (pp. 41-70)

    “The improvement of cities is a matter of vital concern,” Walter G. Cooper, the secretary to Atlanta’s chamber of commerce wrote in South Atlantic Quarterly in 1908.¹ Cooper went on to trace the origins of the aesthetic movements that were redrawing and reshaping cities throughout the world. He described the impact of Daniel Burnham’s White City at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago and explained the international origins of contemporary city plans. He was knowledgeable regarding building-height restrictions, a practice only just gaining a following within the United States, and restrictive covenants, limits on property use that were spreading...

  7. CHAPTER THREE A City Divided, 1910 to 1917
    (pp. 71-106)

    If the home-owning whites who occupied the distinguished homes lining Jackson Hill, just east of Atlanta’s downtown, were uncomfortable with the presence of African Americans in the area, it did not surface publicly until 1910. That year, local whites attempted to remove historically black Morris Brown College to another part of the city. When blacks declined to move, whites drew and announced a boundary line to prevent what they called “Negro encroachment” and “invasion.” When black families continued renting and purchasing homes within Jackson Hill, whites pushed through segregation ordinances in 1913 and 1916.

    Jackson Hill whites seemed increasingly disconcerted...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Homeownership and Park-Neighborhood Ideology, 1910 to 1933
    (pp. 107-134)

    In a 1945 review of John Dean’s Homeownership: Is It Sound?, real-estate analyst Helen Monchow observed that Dean had set himself an unpopular task in examining “an institution so long established, so deep seated, and so widely accepted as a principle or ideal of the so-called American way of life.” She continued, “Enthusiasm for homeownership—or at least equal opportunity for homeownership—amounts almost to a religion in this country.”¹ But in 1945, the position of homeownership as a sacrosanct institution had only just reached maturity.

    From 1910 to 1933, the federal government and the National Association of Real Estate...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Exclusion and Park-Neighborhood Building, 1922 to 1929
    (pp. 135-157)

    In the 1920s, subdivision building drove Atlanta’s largest housing boom to date. Established housing developers and new speculative builders alike platted, subdivided, graded, planted, and hawked new neighborhoods ranging from four square blocks to five hundred acres. Sales values peaked in Atlanta from 1922 to 1925; sales volume, in 1927. From 1924 to 1928, builders completed at least fourteen thousand units, and from 1925 to 1928, $23 million worth of housing. As a result, the city filled in and spread out. Some 1920s-era projects were entirely new, as when Sylvan Hills launched in 1922, or when J. P. King auctioned...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Park-Neighborhoods, Federal Policy, and Housing Geographies, 1933 to 1950
    (pp. 158-198)

    What had been the most productive period of home building in Atlanta’s (and the nation’s) history slowed and stalled by the late 1920s and then dropped precipitously as the Great Depression set in. Mirroring the decline occurring in other cities, property values had dropped 69 percent between 1929 and 1934. Just over 50 percent of Atlanta families had incomes of less than $1,000 in 1933, and the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) estimated that three thousand Atlanta families defaulted on their mortgages in 1932. As a result of foreclosures and high rent-to-income ratios, nearly ten thousand families in the metropolitan...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN White Property and Homeowner Privilege
    (pp. 199-218)

    Atlanta exemplified the problem of urban inequality at the turn to the twenty-first century. As economist David Sjoquist outlines in a May 2000 Russell Sage–funded study titled The Atlanta Paradox, poverty was highly concentrated and largely located in the older urban core. Despite the city’s reputation as a magnet for black business and the black middle class, white household income was over twice the average black household income. Jobs had moved to the suburbs, while many of the poor and working class remained confined to the central city.¹

    The Russell Sage Foundation series investigating economically and racially divided cities...

    (pp. 219-228)
  13. NOTES
    (pp. 229-266)
    (pp. 267-280)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 281-296)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 297-297)