Cultural heritage placemaking: Atlanta's Auburn Avenue
A new cultural heritage placemaking project helps highlight the rich history of Atlanta's Sweet Auburn.
Article by Ennis Davis, AICP
Auburn Avenue History
Once referred to as the “richest Negro street in the world,” by civil rights leader John Wesley Dobbs, at its height, Atlanta’s Auburn Avenue was home to one of the largest concentrations of Black-owned businesses in the country.
Originally a 19th century settlement west of downtown called Shermantown, Auburn Avenue emerged as the city’s primary Black business district after the 1906 Atlanta Race Riot.
The birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Auburn Avenue’s businesses and religious institutions played a major role in the country’s Civil Rights movement.
Despite that historical significance, the neighborhood declined after desegregation and was identified in 1992 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.
Designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1976, the neighborhood has been the focus of several economic development and placemaking initiatives in recent years, including the 2014 installation of the Atlanta Streetcar.
Recently completed, the latest is the Auburn Avenue Historic and Cultural Information Project.
Consisting of a large-scale mural, four gateway and 21 new interpretive signs, the project adds and extra dimension to the corridor by highlighting its historical and cultural significance and paying homage to individuals that played a major role in the shaping of race relations and rights in the country.
Designed by Sky Design, in partnership with historian Dr. Karcheik Sims-Alvarado, the project was made possible with funding from the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), Central Atlanta Progress and the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District.
Here is a virtual tour of an excellent example of combining cultural history and placemaking to expose a neighborhood’s heritage while simultaneously encouraging increased pedestrian traffic along the corridor to assist in its revitalization.