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English Avenue and Vine City are two adjacent and closely linked neighborhoods of Atlanta, Georgia. Together the neighborhoods make up neighborhood planning unit L. The two neighborhoods are frequently cited together in reference to shared problems and to shared redevelopment schemes and revitalization plans.
English Avenue is bounded by the railroad line and the Marietta Street Artery neighborhood to the northeast, Northside Dr. and Downtown Atlanta to the east, Joseph E. Lowery Blvd. (formerly Ashby St.) and the Bankhead neighborhood to the west, and Joseph E. Boone Blvd. (called Simpson St. until 2008) and Vine City to the south. Its population was 3,309 in 2010.
Vine City is bounded by Joseph E. Boone Blvd. (Simpson) and the English Avenue neighborhood to the north, Northside Dr. and Downtown Atlanta to the east, Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. (formerly Hunter St.) and the Atlanta University Center to the south, and Joseph E. Lowery Blvd. (Ashby) and the Washington Park neighborhood to the west. Its population was 2,785 in 2010.
A section of the area, "The Bluff", is infamous throughout Metro Atlanta as a high crime area, but in late 2011, English Avenue and Vine City were the focus of multiple improvement plans, including a network of parks and trails, increased police presence, and "rebranding" for a more positive image.
The borders of The Bluff are defined differently by different sources. For example the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Creative Loafing both defined The Bluff as including all of English Avenue and Vine City. However, a more recent and in-depth December 2011 series of reports by 11 Alive TV news, referred to The Bluff as a "section of English Avenue". The English Avenue/Vine City area has some of the highest poverty and crime rates in the city, with the Carter St. area surrounding the Vine City MARTA station ranking in 2010 as the #1 most dangerous neighborhood in Atlanta and #5 in the United States.
What is now the English Avenue neighborhood was purchased in 1891 by James W. English, Jr., son of Atlanta mayor James W. English. It was developed as a white working-class neighborhood. Simpson Road was long a residential race barrier with whites to the north and blacks to the south. Today's English Avenue was known at different times as Bellwood and as Western Heights. In 1910 the Western Heights school (later renamed Kingbery after a principal of the school, then renamed English Avenue Elementary School) was built at the northeast corner of English Ave. and Pelham St.
The area south of Simpson Road — today's Vine City — was settled at the end of the 1800s by large land owners, and a predominantly African-American residential area was established, though there were also white subdivisions, schools, and churches. A mix of social classes were present. In 1910 Alonzo F. Herndon, founder of the Atlanta Life Insurance Company, built his home at 587 University Place, now listed on the National Register and open to visitors.
The Great Atlanta fire of 1917 contributed to the already great need for housing for African Americans and by the 1920s-1940s, despite violence and bombings trying to prevent it, blacks started to move north across Simpson Road.
In 1941, the Eagan Homes and Herndon Homes public housing projects opened and as a result, the black population in the area increased. On Hunter Street (now Martin Luther King Jr. Drive), white business owners once lived behind their stores, but in the 1940s, black owners started taking over these businesses. In 1947 Paschal's Restaurant, an Atlanta soul food landmark and meeting place for civil rights leaders, opened in its original location on West Hunter Street. In 1951, the English Avenue Elementary School's designation was changed from white to black in response to most whites having moved out of the area.
During the mid-20th century, the area was a middle-class African-American neighborhood. Commercial areas included English Avenue; Simpson Street/Road, in its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s; and Bankhead Highway, which was part of the US Highway system, and was in its splendor in the 1960s. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. moved to the area in 1967, and his widow Coretta Scott King continued to live here until her death.
In 1960, the English Avenue elementary school was dynamited, likely in retaliation for civil rights demonstrations by blacks. Mayor William B. Hartsfield condemned the dynamiting as the work of those from outside Atlanta, "the outhouse set". The area experienced notable pro- and anti-Black Power riots in 1966 and 1967.
Suburbanization started draining the area's vitality starting in the 1970s. Over the following decades, it attracted buyers and sellers of heroin, and deteriorated into a corner of poverty in the city, characterized by large numbers of abandoned, boarded-up houses.
In 1995 the English Avenue Elementary School closed.
In 2006, a "no-knock raid" in search of a drug dealer, burst into the home of Kathryn Johnston. Ms. Johnston, in her 80s, opened fire on the officers and wounded three and was killed by return fire from the officers. The incident resulted in much anger in the neighborhood and in close scrutiny of police use of "no-knock warrants" in drug raids.
The 2010s foreclosure crisis hit the neighborhoods hard. In April 2012, Creative Loafing reported that "on some streets more houses are boarded up than are lived in". Occupy Atlanta protested the Vine City foreclosure of Mrs. Pamela Flores by Bank of America.
The desperate state of the area was described by reporter Thomas Wheatley in Creative Loafing in September 2012 as:
"boarded-up homes built among the trees along the narrow streets,…people loitering in the middle of vacant lots, casting hollow stares at passing motorists, and…young men hanging out on street corners, hollering at passers-by and then to lookouts down the street"
In November 1994, the Atlanta Empowerment Zone was established, a 10-year, $250 million federal program to revitalize Atlanta's 34 poorest neighborhoods including the Bluff. Scathing reports from both the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Georgia Department of Community Affairs revealed corruption, waste, bureaucratic incompetence, and interference by mayor Bill Campbell.
As part of the Atlanta Housing Authority's systematic replacement of public housing projects by mixed-income communities (MIC), Eagan Homes was demolished and the Magnolia Park MIC replaced it. Herndon Homes was demolished in 2011.
In 1999, the Atlanta Housing Authority first announced plans for the "Historic Westside Village", a $130 million commercial, residential and retail project at the area's southern end near Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. at Ashby St. A Publix supermarket opened in May 2002 but the overall project stalled by 2003 as further anchor tenants did not materialize. This, along with disappointing sales, caused the Publix - the only full-sized supermarket for miles around - to close in December 2009. Creative Loafing called the project the most notorious "municipal boondoggle...to have tarred Atlanta" during mayor Bill Campbell's era; the project "fell victim to...cronyism, bureaucratic incompetence and a flagrant disregard for federal lending guidelines". In December 2010 things looked up as the Atlanta Development Authority announced plans for Wal-Mart to open a store on the site, which Mayor Kasim Reed called "an end to the food desert in the area". In January 2013 the Wal-Mart opened for business.
The Christian Science Monitor reported that by 2008, businessman John Gordon and Rev. Anthony Motley, a 20-year resident of The Bluff, "Atlanta's roughest 'hood", had "formed a black-white coalition seeking angel investors" and brought together "local businesses, neighboring Georgia Tech, and church leaders to inspire not just city and private investment, but also to light a spark of hope among law-abiding residents – many of them older people fearful of the streets outside their front doors. Their unusual friendship" had "helped inspire two massive clean-up efforts, a small but significant drop in crime, and glimmers of fresh paint and clean-swept front walks."
Mims Park was once a prominent city park in Vine City named after Livingston Mims, who was mayor of Atlanta from 1901-1903. It was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead who also designed Piedmont Park in Midtown and Central Park in New York City, however it was demolished to build Bethune Elementary School decades ago.
In 2011 an effort surfaced to rebuild Mims Park in a different location, in a series of vacant lots located along the south side of Joseph E. Boone Boulevard, pushed by the National Monuments Foundation and Rodney Cook, a descendant of mayor Mims. In 2012, the Atlanta city council approved re-creating Historic Mims Park. Incorporating Olmstead's original plans, Mims Park will also include "sculptures of civil rights leaders, an urban farm, and an 80-foot "peace column.""
In December 2011 Park Pride, a greenspace advocacy group, proposed a network of streams and ponds, covered up for a century, which would be re-exposed and linked by 200 acres (81 ha) of parkland and trails in Vine City and English Avenue.
In May 2010 the non-profit Greater Vine City Opportunities Program, founded and directed by "Able" Mable Thomas bought the English Avenue Elementary School with the intention to convert it into a "state of the art green technology global community center".
In December 2011, the nonprofit Friends of English Avenue arranged for a married couple, both police officers, to live rent-free in a neighborhood house. "Able" Mable Thomas and others expressed the need for a "rebranding" of the area similar to the one which rebranded crime and prostitution-infested Stewart Avenue in Southwest Atlanta as Metropolitan Parkway.
In 2012, an annual festival was established, the Historic Westside Village Festival. The event includes educational seminars, vendors, a Kids Zone, and a concert stage, with proceeds going to local charities and services. In 2013 the festival will take place on August 24.
The area is served by the MARTA rail Blue Line and Green Line at the Vine City and Ashby stations. Bus lines serving the neighborhood are the 3 along Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, the 51 along Joseph E. Boone Blvd., and the 26 along Cameron M. Alexander Blvd. (known as Kennedy St. until 2010), English Avenue and Donald L. Hollowell Pkwy.