Fight to turn Black Georgia area into a city highlights the roadblocks for self-sustaining Black communities
Kathryn Rice, head of the Concerned Citizens for Cityhood of South DeKalb Inc. is leading a movement to turn the area known as “South DeKalb” into its own freestanding city. If successful, Greenhaven would become the second largest city in Georgia, trailing only Atlanta, and it would be 87 percent Black, which dwarfs Atlanta’s percentage of Black citizens. However, as Brentin Mock notes in his report for City Lab, much of the economic development over the past few decades has excluded South DeKalb, which is still struggling to get the basics like landscaping or litter pick-up.
Some may wonder about the logistics of creating cities to solve longstanding inequity issues, but in the Atlanta metro area there have been ten new cities created since 2005, which Mock says is making it a “new frontier.” However, Greenhaven is currently on the outside looking in as they can’t even get their city proposal approved so voters can decide whether or not it should be created on their ballots.
Opponents of Greenhaven cite its large size of 300,000 citizens as a reason why they are against its formation, questioning if the city would be sustainable once formed. Most of the new cities created in the Atlanta area have been around the 50,000 to 70,000 person range, but Rice and her group are not deterred even though most of those benefiting from the new explosion of cities in the Atlanta metro area are not Black. As it stands, Greenhaven has until February 28th for a legislator to present a bill for Greenhaven before they are forced to wait another year just to call for a vote.
Meanwhile, in North DeKalb a new city is on the cusp of being born. Vista Grove, a majority white neighborhood, has a bill pending that will probably pass, even as much of the DeKalb delegation oppose Greenhaven. Mock notes that when the cities to the north became municipalized, they took much of the revenue from the county. The county still has to provide cities with services even while those cities get to keep additional tax dollars in their borders. This means that unincorporated parts of DeKalb County often have to foot more than their share of the bill.
Rice just wants the chance for her group’s proposal to appear on the ballot so that the residents of South DeKalb can decide what they want. The State of Georgia only requires that those creating new cities have established a non-profit or company, conducted a feasibility study, drafted a city charter, and secured a state legislator willing to sponsor a bill on the city’s behalf. As Rice tells City Lab: “If the people decide they don’t want this, then fine, but for now we just want the ability to discuss, debate, and decide. That’s all.”