Climate-Informed Anti-Displacement Initiatives in Atlanta: The Partnership for Southern Equity
The Partnership for Southern Equity (PSE) is working with local partners and community members in the Atlanta metropolitan area to address inequities and displacement caused by increasing development and climate-related pressures. PSE’s Equitable Development Implementation Tool brings together community needs with development projects to anticipate and protect against displacement, strengthen and respect communities, and heal environmental injustices.
The major climate change impacts of concern for the Atlanta metropolitan area are flooding, drought, extreme heat, and degraded water quality. Historically marginalized communities have received the brunt of the city’s major flooding impacts and climate-related displacement. PSE is working to address Atlanta’s vulnerabilities through advancing policies and institutional actions that promote racial equity and shared prosperity. PSE’s programmatic work is divided into four issue portfolios—growth, health, energy, and opportunity. While these four portfolios occasionally overlap, the Just Growth and Just Energy portfolios are often joined in initiatives related to climate justice and equitable growth and development. Major capacity building efforts of PSE include investments in leadership development, community engagement, local partnerships, and technical assistance.
PSE is involved in many leadership development efforts in Atlanta and is a TransFormation Alliance member through the Strong, Prosperous, and Resilient Communities Challenge (SPARCC). As a TransFormation Alliance member, PSE focuses on connecting communities and increasing quality of life through their Equitable Transit Oriented Development program. PSE runs the TransFormation Academy for community leaders to learn about how they can be involved in transit planning and advocating for affordability and the preservation of their own homes and communities. Participants also learn about synergies between jobs, health, climate, arts and culture, and transit-oriented development. These efforts emphasize anti-displacement education and strategies.
PSE’s anti-displacement and development-oriented projects prioritize climate impacts such as heat islands caused by extreme heat and stormwater management practices necessary to alleviate damage from flooding. PSE makes sure that their efforts are led with input from community members. The Just Growth portfolio, for example, provides a platform for residents that need support with work related to affordable housing development and anti-displacement capacity building. PSE has also been working with the U.S. Water Alliance on a Water Equity Task Force with five other cities (Cleveland, OH; Milwaukee, WI; Buffalo, NY; Louisville, KY; and Camden, NJ) to develop an equity roadmap. This effort teams PSE with the Department of Watershed Management and other community partners in Atlanta to improve stormwater management and green infrastructure implementation in a way that will not displace or otherwise negatively affect residents.
The Equitable Growth Impact Zone is an initiative co-led by PSE and a local mission-based developer, the Historic District Development Corporation (HDDC). The goal is to create an equity district in the metropolitan area to combat several challenges such as transit, development, arts and culture, climate justice, health equity, job access, and affordable housing simultaneously. The partners are looking to infuse elements of environmentally and economically sustainable infrastructure into neighborhood economies through development and input from residents. An example of this effort is in Atlanta’s Sweet Auburn Area, one of the city’s most historically significant neighborhoods. This area is known for its pre-Civil Rights era concentration of black-owned businesses, and suffered significant decline after the desegregation of the city and interstate construction, which split the neighborhood in half. Sweet Auburn now faces gentrification as development pressures on all sides of the district threaten to accelerate the erosion of the historic fabric of the neighborhood. PSE is engaged with neighborhood residents to ensure that the first development project they implement is planned by community members rather than a profit-driven developer. The first planned project in this area is a mixed-use design development initiative for a historically black funeral home.
PSE has recognized a need for a tool to aid developers in fully engaging residents to make each step of the development process simpler and more equitable. Currently, there is not much incentive for developers to incorporate equity considerations because it takes time and can be expensive. The tool assists developers in aligning projects with the values of the Just Growth Circle:
- Anticipate and protect against displacement
- Strengthen communities
- Respect communities
- Heal environmental injustice
The Just Growth Circle, a collaboration between PSE and Climate Interactive, is a network of businesses, politicians, nonprofits, academies, and community members in the Atlanta metropolitan area. The network is a community of practice focused on sharing lessons learned and advancing equitable development in the South. Some of the members include American Rivers, ARCHI, Atlanta Land Trust, Earth Share Georgia, Eco-Action, EDEA, Emory Office of Sustainability, Finding the Flint, HDDC, Mercy Housing, Park Pride, Saving Our Sons & Sisters International, Sustainable Lakewood, the Conservation Fund, TransFormation Alliance, U.S. Green Building Council, and the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance.
PSE is in the process of testing the tool and has created working documents for developers to use in considering how to operationalize the Just Growth values. PSE is making the process as simple as possible while incorporating essential components such as community needs and representation as well as appropriate understanding of the environmental and climate impacts in the area. Through the goal of healing environmental injustice, PSE is looking to address inequities in the responses and strategies of climate change adaptation and mitigation in Atlanta. The tool covers every stage from the planning, permitting, construction and the final occupation and use of the developed structure. Because the tool needs to be responsive and flexible to various circumstances, PSE is using local data hubs to incorporate dynamic and current local data. PSE is piloting the Equitable Development Implementation Tool with the HDDC in the Equitable Growth Impact Zone.
Outcomes and Conclusions
The challenges of this type of work include having proper community representation in decision making and working with developers to integrate community needs and perspectives into their work. The Equitable Development Implementation Tool is in its beginning stages, but the tool will continue to be built and modified in 2020 with input from local community members. PSE will continue conducting Just Growth Circle meetings to receive feedback from members on what type of tool is needed and how the tool can become a reality. In addition, PSE hosts learning workshops (e.g., in October 2019, PSE hosted a workshop about race and green gentrification for SPARCC affiliates) and is actively working to foster partnerships (e.g., the Atlanta Regional Commission) to address transit modification for climate change and displacement issues.
Braddock KN, Cook K, Gregg RM. 2020. Climate-Informed Anti-Displacement Initiatives in Atlanta: The Partnership for Southern Equity. [Case study on a project of The Partnership for Southern Equity]. Product of EcoAdapt’s State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE: https://www.cakex.org/case-studies/climate-informed-anti-displacement-initiatives-atlanta-partnership-southern-equity (Last updated April 2020)
Just Growth Portfolio Manager