Caty Kennedy April 2022

From a small neighborhood filled with factories and small parks came what we know today as Ponce City Market, the Beltline, and 3,000 brand-new luxury apartment buildings. Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward has become so developed and gentrified, that it has been transformed into a whole new landscape.

The Old Fourth Ward neighborhood is located right between Downtown and the Beltline. Historically, O4W and its neighbor Sweet Auburn were home to prominent Civil Rights leaders Dr. Martin Luther King and John Wesley Dobbs. Its population was racially mixed in the early 1900s. It used to house Mom and Pop shops and housed lower-income families from the late 1800s into the late 1900s., “Sears, Roebuck and Company New Three Million Dollar Plant, Atlanta GA” 1937 [1]

Ponce City Market and Old Fourth Ward Park

In 1928, Sears-Roebuck built its headquarters right off Ponce De Leon, where Sears used the building for retail distribution until 1990 when the city of Atlanta buys the building turning it into office space. It is renamed, “City Hall East”. The building has a terrible flooding problem, only about 10% of the total building was being used, and the area surrounding the building is unsafe. 21 years later, in 2011, the City launches a project to address the constant flooding and builds a beautiful retention pond park that saves the city millions by capturing stormwater. [8] This retention pond serves as a green space for families to enjoy and walk their dogs. Luxury apartments have been built surrounding the park as the pond has improved the space and made it a safer area. 3 years later the old Sears-Roebuck building is transformed into what we know today as “Ponce City Market”, where tourists and locals alike enjoy shops and restaurants, as well as office and residential spaces.

Nate Shivar, 2013 [4]

In the last 20 years, the neighborhood has absolutely transformed as new residences and restaurants have popped up due to the 2005 development known as “The Beltline”. The Beltline’s “hub” is considered to be the right off Irwin Street next to Krog Street Market, where just a 5-minute walk on the path takes you to Ponce City Market.

The Beltline

Josh Green, “Before/After: A Decade of Changes in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward” Urbanize Atlanta 2011 [5]
Josh Green, “Before/After: A Decade of Changes in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward” Urbanize Atlanta 2020 [5]

Pictured above are before and after images of the Atlanta Beltline”[5], which was an idea first introduced by Ryan Gravel as part of his master’s thesis as a Georgia Tech Student in 1999. The beltline was originally railroad tracks, constructed in 1899, and was abandoned. Gravel saw big business potential if the trail were transformed into a connection of parks in 2005. With tax money being invested into this redevelopment project, residents in the Old Fourth Ward neighborhood experienced large increases in housing costs. [6] The project initially was suspected to be a form of “third wave gentrification”, a form of gentrification in which the government is involved in leading low-income families out of the city. [2]

To give context, gentrification is a phenomenon in which wealthy people enter an area of low income, settle in by improving housing or bringing in new businesses. This causes property values to rapidly increase, and low-income families are forced to leave the neighborhoods their families have lived in for decades. [7]

Josh Green, “Before/After: A Decade of Changes in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward” Urbanize Atlanta 2011 [5]
Josh Green, “Before/After: A Decade of Changes in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward” Urbanize Atlanta 2020 [5]

Above is another extremely obvious example of gentrification right on the same block as Ponce on North Ave.

[5] Josh Green, “Before/After: A Decade of Changes in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward” Urbanize Atlanta 2011
[5] Josh Green, “Before/After: A Decade of Changes in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward” Urbanize Atlanta 2020

With the improvement of the area and the introduction of new businesses, comes a change in income distribution for residents. The predominantly black area of Atlanta today, the southwestern side of the city, experienced the highest increase in housing, 68% from 2011 to 2015 [3]

Housing Justice League 2017 [3]

How do city planners develop areas while still maintaining the integrity of the existing area? Cities all over America are dealing with the same dilemma. Personally, I do benefit from these developments. I do walk the beltline with friends and enjoy wandering around Ponce City Market. I believe both of these projects have positively impacted these areas both aesthetically and economically. However, I wish when the projects were being imagined, they could have been shaped to uplift the existing neighborhood rather than completely demolish and start brand new. The new stores could have been more “Mom and Pop” style, with affordable prices for low-income families that originally lived in the area to enjoy. Maybe there would not have been such a boom in housing prices if this were the case. Gentrification is a complicated topic, as it is difficult to find solutions. Bringing in developers that are socially conscious and intend on preserving the culture while still bringing life to an area is one way to start. The next solution could be the city government stepping in and protecting the homeowners or renters that could be at risk of being pushed out. This could be reduced taxes or tax credits. [9] There is such a fine line between positive development and Gentrification that city planners and developers must be mindful of what they envision a plot to look like in the future, who the project is going to serve, and what kinds of businesses they want to support.


[2]Willoughby, Mariano. “Atlanta Journal Constitution.”, 13 July 2017, 

[3]Housing Justice League. “Beltlining: Gentrification, Broken Promises, and Hope on Atlanta’s Southside.” Research Action Cooperative, Oct. 2013. 

[4] Shivar, Nate. Old Fourth Ward Park. Atlanta, 2013, 

[5] “Before/after: A Decade of Changes in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward.” Urbanize Atlanta, 11 May 2021, 

[6] Immergluck, Dan. “Large Redevelopment Initiatives, Housing Values and Gentrification: The Case of the Atlanta Beltline.” Urban Studies, vol. 46, no. 8, Sage Publications, Ltd., 2009, pp. 1723–45,

[7] Jennings, Keith (2016) “The Politics of Race, Class, and Gentrification in the ATL,” Trotter Review: Vol. 23: Iss. 1, Article 5.

[8] Docs/historic_old_fourth_ward_park_handout.docx.

[9] “What Can We Do to Solve the Problem of Gentrification?” Rethink Real Estate. For Good., 5 Mar. 2022,