Oh, you live in the ghetto…
A month ago, I moved to Atlanta. Before moving, I didn’t know anyone who lived within the city limits. GSU is smack dab in the middle of downtown, and I have learned from previous experiences that I need to keep my commute well under 30 minutes of driving. I asked people who knew Atlanta, and the unanimous advice was to avoid the west side of Atlanta, especially southwest, with the northeast being the best place to live. I started with efficiency apartments and quickly realized that was way above my budget. So, I turned to the next best option. Craigslist.
Again, I started with the northeast. Most places that were listed that fit my criteria (i.e. didn’t require me to return “favors” for cheap rent to a single male) just didn’t fit my budget. I began expanding my searches and found a couple places that were in west Atlanta. I looked at a few and chose my current living situation based on a combination of things: cost, compatible roommate, cleanliness/appearance of the house, proximity to public transportation, and safety. I do live on the poor side of town. My neighborhood would be classified as working class. That being said, it has fairly low crime rates for Atlanta and there are few sexual offenders (I did my homework). I don’t feel unsafe where I live. I take the subway on a daily basis, and I run in my neighborhood without getting catcalled. The fact that it was in southwest Atlanta didn’t deter me.
Once I started school, I learned that a common “get-to-know-you” question here is “Where do you live?”. Atlanta is divided into all sorts of “neighborhoods” or areas that carry their own connotations – Buckhead, Midtown, Little Five Pointes, etc. I love watching people’s faces when I answer them. There is that split second after I respond when they haven’t yet had time to hide their initial reaction. Most people look surprised and/or displeased. I’ve received comments ranging from “Oh, so you live in the ghetto” to “Isn’t that a pretty bad part of town?”. I’ve also been told “I won’t last long” (in her defense, the girl who said this was drunk, so she may or may not actually believe this). I have taken to just answering the original question with, “I live in the ghetto/hood”, because it makes for less awkward conversations, and people don’t have to fake their reactions.
The thing is, I have grown to love my community in the past month that I have lived here. People may not be carrying Coach bags and driving sports cars, but they are kind. I watched a guy my age fist bump someone else’s little boy who wandered by on the subway. I’ve been complimented on my jelly shoes multiple times. I’ve seen kids selling water for charity. While driving with my windows down and Imagine Dragons turned up, I had someone tell me that I was playing some awesome “rock-and-roll”. I helped a woman with her groceries on the subway who then told me that God had sent me as her angel for the night. All my neighbors have told me that if I ever need anything, all I have to do is ask.
Last week, I ate dinner at “Granma’s” house (she is my neighbor). She served a huge spread of food and welcomed me into her home. She also reprimanded me for not calling her and visiting more regularly. As I ate the homemade dinner she had made for my roommate’s friend and me, I realized that this is what I wish I could show to the people I talk to at my university. This is my community: caring people who serve those around them.
Don’t get me wrong. There are elements of living here that are inconvenient. There are no tutoring centers or private schools that I can work at. My gas station sells porn. There are no healthy restaurants or cute coffee shops (although this is kind of a benefit because I save a lot of money by eating at home). My local library is only open a few hours each afternoon. The roads are narrow and full of potholes. Yet all this has done is prove to me that lower-income communities have less access to many things that are taken for granted in other areas.
It’s interesting because I recently stumbled across this map. This is what Atlanta looks like. White is blue, green is black, red is Asian, orange is Hispanic, and brown is “other”. Atlanta proper is everything within the circle/oval – I-285 which is also called “The Perimeter”.
Remember what I mentioned at the beginning? Northeast is “good”. Southwest is “bad”. Northwest and southeast are fairly neutral. I wonder why people would say this…
Disclaimer: the picture is a screenshot from http://demographics.coopercenter.org/DotMap/index.html. I do not own the rights to this picture, nor do I take credit for it.