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As I came to know more about Miss Anna after her death, my sense of what can only be called “gentrifier’s guilt” intensified, as the opportunity to know my neighbor and hear firsthand her version of local history was lost.Maybe the guilt was unreasonable in the first place.
One day as I was rushing to an appointment, she was sitting outside in her wheelchair. And then she mentioned, for the first time, that my land—a lot that used to belong to Anna and her husband—had once been a bountiful urban farm.Anna watched over her beloved Warren Street like a one-woman police force and benevolent monarch.Her kids say she liked to cut loose during Saturday night parties, watching children imitate James Brown on the living room floors she kept gleaming like mirrors, her eyes peeled for mischief outside. “It’s another girl.” Our second child had just been born, and I joked about being outnumbered by women.We’d outgrown an Inman Park condo and couldn’t afford a bigger place in that neighborhood.In Kirkwood, though, we found a 2,400-square-foot home that was twice the size of our condo, solidly within our budget, and squarely in the middle of a vibrant, diverse, and walkable community .Some metrics say my zip code, 30317, is already too wealthy for the household income of my wife, a tenured Atlanta Public Schools teacher, and me, a freelance writer and author, to technically be gentrifying it.
The arrival of middle class families in formerly downtrodden areas has been called the last phase of gentrification, after the trickle of “urban pioneers,” often artists or gay couples.
I realized I had to know more about this little farm and the family who operated it.
It was obvious that Anita and I were experiencing gentrification on the most human level that night—quite literally from opposite sides of the fence.
It wasn’t so different from what Anna herself had found in Kirkwood, 50 years earlier.
As with other intown neighborhoods, Kirkwood’s allure stems from its proximity to the city’s core, a limited inventory of quality housing for sale, and the sort of organic urban texture—towering oaks, century-old storefronts, restored Queen Anne Victorians—that’s impossible to replicate.
In a neighborhood derided as “Crackwood” just a few years ago, demand is so strong that one in three Kirkwood properties sold for asking price or more in the third quarter of 2015.