The Strong Towns Podcast

King Williams: The Gentrifiers Will Become the Gentrified

October 21, 2019

Gentrification. As we’ve written elsewhere, the term often sheds more heat than light. This is due not only to its negative connotations and lack of precise meaning, but also because gentrification plays out differently from one city, one neighborhood to the next. Gentrification is used to describe convey a force that feels at once mysterious, unavoidable, and unstoppable — not unlike The Nothing in The Neverending Story. It is a word marshaled into service by those advocating for threatened neighbors...and a word generally avoided by mayors and city planners.

And yet that word, gentrification, freighted and imprecise though it may be, is important. It’s important because, as King Williams says, gentrification is a social concept with real-world implications. Behind gentrification — both the word and the phenomena — are real families, real stories, and real losses.

King Williams is a writer, the director of the documentary film, The Atlanta Way, which is slated to be released in early 2020, and cohost of The Neighborhood Watch podcast. In today’s episode of our podcast, Strong Towns founder and president Chuck Marohn talks with Williams about how Atlanta’s gentrification is both similar to and different than what’s happening in other American cities. Williams describes what people mean when they say “The Atlanta Way” — it's a particular way of making and presenting decisions can be traced back more than a century — and why the middle-class in Atlanta are now facing gentrification themselves.

Also discussed:

1:45 - How gentrification gets confused with positive redevelopment and community reinvestment

11:30 - Why gentrification is almost always avoidable

22:00 - The “Olympification of Atlanta” and what Atlanta did and didn’t learn about redevelopment ahead of Super Bowl LIII

29:00 - The tragic paradox of gentrification: people advocating for the kind of changes to the neighborhood that will ultimately undermine their own ability to live there

34:00 - The role of housing assistance and public housing in addressing gentrification

37:30 - Who will finally put the “opportunity” in opportunity zones

Williams ends by offering advice to the “gentry:” If you don’t curb gentrification, you yourself will be gentrified.

This important and fascinating discussion is a must-listen for professionals and practitioners everywhere who care not just about growing but about growing well.

For more about King Williams, watch his TEDx talk on “The Atlanta Way,” and make sure to follow him online: