Poster Paper: Unearthing Aglanta: How Urban Agriculture Shapes the Socioeconomic and Demographic Patterns of Atlanta’s Neighborhoods

Thursday, November 7, 2019
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Plaza Exhibits (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Lauren Forbes, Georgia State University

Urban agriculture is widely used as both a top-down policy intervention and a bottom-up development strategy to improve nutrition among local residents, foster social connectedness, and revitalize divested neighborhoods. However, research suggests that proximity to green spaces increases local property values (Voicu & Been, 2008; Wolch, Byrne and Newell, 2014), which may catalyze gentrification of inner-city neighborhoods (Dale and Newman, 2009) through the creation of a new, cultural economy (Kolenda & Liu, 2012; Porter, 1997), and concomitantly, by triggering residential displacement. Despite their multifaceted benefits, tensions over the disparate impact of urban agriculture projects may ignite conflict between low-income residents, corporate entities seeking to capitalize on urban agriculture, and local governments (Poulsen, Neff & Winch, 2017), ultimately reflecting inconsistencies between their respective development priorities and their disparate beliefs about who has the “right to the city” (Lefebrve, 1991).

Atlanta, Georgia, with its deep agricultural ties, growing income inequality, legacy of racially-driven local politics, and the controversial multi-billion dollar “Beltline” redevelopment project provides a valuable context for analyzing the relationship between urban agriculture and the related socioeconomic transformation of inner-city neighborhoods. Building on the groundbreaking empirical work of Brogan and James (1980) who found that aspects of the physical environment explained equally as much of the psychosocial health of low-income Atlanta residents as sociocultural factors, I examine the effects of a specific aspect of the physical environment, urban agriculture, on the socioeconomic characteristics of Atlanta neighborhoods. I use census-tract and zip code level data from the American Community Garden Association, the American Community Survey, and other data sources to test whether empowerment-oriented urban agriculture— that is, community gardens and urban farms with people-based missions to address local social inequities— and agricultural density are positively related to child-wellbeing and the economic outcomes of local neighborhoods. I also test the effect of urban agriculture on localized residential displacement, theorizing that urban agriculture signals neighborhood transformations that attract the creative class at the expense of local low-income residents.

This study contributes evidence about the range of impacts that urban agriculture can have on local residents and the neighborhoods in which they live. It also provides a conceptual framework for understanding the conditions under which urban agriculture may support or counteract displacement-based gentrification. While highlighting the multifaceted benefits of urban agriculture, this study challenges common assumptions about its ubiquitous value, echoing Brogan and James’s (1980) portentous warning that urban planners, driven by the fiscal growth priorities of the city and their own sustainability aspirations, may be largely ignorant of the true effects that their development projects have on the wellbeing of local residents.