If you’re looking for the epicenter of change in the 21st-century transformation of Atlanta, you’ll find it in the Old Fourth Ward. This large neighborhood just east of downtown is in urban redevelopment overdrive. From stately old homes to sleek modern condos, the juxtaposition of past, present and future can be seen taking shape on nearly every block. And no matter what block you’re on in this historic community, chances are there’s an iconic view of the ever-changing Atlanta skyline just over the trees.
For well over a century, the community that stretches south of Ponce along Glen Iris, Boulevard and Parkway has generally followed the rising and falling fortunes of urban America. In the early 20th-century, Boulevard was lined with grand houses and was one of the premier streets in the city for wealthy white residents. Nearby along Auburn Avenue, a growing community of moneyed African-Americans also thrived. Although city zoning regulations kept the area mostly segregated, blocks began to gradually integrate over the decades. During the 1960s and ’70s, the area underwent white flight, and accompanying divestment, and the urban crises of the 1980s took hold. Drugs, prostitution and crime plagued the residents who remained, most of them working class African-Americans.
But over the last 30 years, as surrounding communities became revitalized, the renewal of the Old Fourth Ward slowly followed, until an explosion in interest around 2000. The neighborhood’s extremely convenient location and growing access to new retail and services made it very appealing to new, and generally young, residents. Apartment complexes have been springing up like weeds for the last decade and the quaint blocks of single-family homes have become hot commodities.
The opening of the new Historic Fourth Ward park in 2011 was a watershed moment for the area, representing the newfound commitment to making this historic neighborhood, the boyhood home of Martin Luther King, Jr, a truly rejuvenated and diverse neighborhood.