The Underlying and Undermining- What Our Digital Environments Represent

Atlanta, like any major city in America, looks to progress by bringing in new business, residents, and improving the local environment. Idealistically, improvement would be mean progressive and agreeable changes for everyone in the area. Unfortunately, in the real world certain groups are left behind or purposely hindered from said improvement.

Logo of for the Central Atlanta Progress Inc

The Central Atlanta Progress Inc. has been in operation since 1941. The group is dedicated to providing services that help maintain and stimulate the Downtown Atlanta area- namely through economic means with the help of investment by businesses in the area. CAP also works in association with the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District, another partnership with public and private sectors to help with the livability of the city.

The organization’s president, A.J. Robinson, “manages the overall strategic functions of the organizations which are designed to make the Downtown Atlanta community more livable, vital and diverse.” (link) (“A.J. Robinson (President, Central Atlanta Progress and the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District,” WNBA.com).

In print that sounds great. Diversity and progression are words we (millennials especially) love to hear. CAP’s initiatives like Trees Atlanta, COPA Inc (to improve the Centennial Park area), and the Downtown Green Source Program. These plans have brought back a good payout for the city- tourism, capital, general environmental improvements.

However, when it comes to the bigger picture who is actually  benefiting from the changes CAP and ADID have brought to the Atlanta area? Maybe it is everyone, maybe it is a certain class of people. Whichever the case, the digital environment of CAP presents a slanted idea of “diversity” in the downtown Atlanta area. The environment, especially through digital images, doesn’t fairly represent what one might actually see walking down Peachtree Street.

Out CAP’s executive board of 21 people, 17 are white. The last U.S. census recorded (link) says that 54% of the Atlanta population is African American, 38% are white, and 8% Asian, Hispanic, or other (“Atlanta City Georgia Quick Facts.” Census.gov).. Now does that seem like a proper board to help promote interests of the population?

Shot of the playground found at Woodruff Park
Shot of the playground found at Woodruff Park
A screenshot of the homepage for CAP
A screenshot of the homepage for CAP

In the picture to right we see Woodruff Park as shown in a video (link) sponsored by CAP. A picture similar can be found on the front page of their website. The problem with these images is almost similar to false advertising.

If you were to visit the park and walk the length of it you would notice copious amounts of homeless people and a majority of the homeless people being African American.  According to the 2015 Homelessness Report (link) distributed by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, 65% of Georgia’s homeless are African American. 500+ homeless persons are found in Fulton County (“2015 Report on Homelessness,” dca.ga.gov).

Said video, “The Real Downtown Atlanta” (link) takes us down Peachtree, all the way to the Sweet Auburn Market, and we see a snip bit of Centennial Olympic park. Real downtown Atlanta is more than white collar business people, but for some reason that is the only kind of person presented to the viewer.

Interestingly enough, almost all of the images that feature the working class are African American people. When African American people are depicted as part of the business class, there will always be one or more white people as well.

The main CAP website also creates binaries through other photos throughout their site. I noted that a majority of the photos depicting Atlantan’s enjoying a night on the town or the activities that Atlanta has to offer are white people. With 62% of Atlanta’s population being non white, these photos may not attest to a real night on the town depending on the area (“Atlanta City Georgia Quick Facts.” Census.gov).

A map depicting places where gentrification has taken place in Atlanta
A map depicting places where gentrification has taken place in Atlanta

The area’s of Atlanta that have undergone gentrification are depicted in dark blue. This data covers the 2000 census to present day (“Atlanta Gentrification Maps and Data,” governing.com). Interestingly enough those areas fall in line with the areas that CAP have focused on. A rise in area income, house value, and college degrees  is never a bad scenario, however a problem does arise in leaving out or pushing out half of a cities population-as previously mentioned.

Clearly there are still African American people in the Atlanta area. Unfortunately, this problem of binary thinking and unfair misrepresentation from the real world to the digital environment is more than just a CAP issue.

According to the 2015 CAP annual report (link) big names in business and in the Atlanta area support the efforts made by CAP.  Creative Loafing, UPS, Zipcar, The Fox Theatre, The Tabernacle, the Georgia Institute of Technology,  churches, hotel chains, law firms, and construction companies are among the some 172 members. Partners to CAP include the Atlanta Police Foundation, American Institute of Architects- Georgia, and Sustainable Solutions Georgia, LLC among 38 others. Currently their “Be Downtown” campaign is being funded by names like Coca-Cola, the Atlanta Falcons, and Georgia Power.

I looked at each website for the businesses explicitly listed above to see if the same binary trends displayed on CAP’s website were present and voilà!

A screenshot from a page on the Coca-Cola website
A screenshot from a page on the Coca-Cola website

Not only just a majority of white people in photos show up, but only African American and white people generally can be found. On Coca-Cola’s page about employment and diversity,  photos most predominantly feature white males. Ironic, is it not, as diversity is supposed to represent an assortment of different things.

Even the websites that had as many African Americans as white people, there was an alarming amount of no one else! It is almost like an unspoken rule throughout all of the websites that as long as there is at least one African American person in a photo it is diverse. However, as diversity is an assortment of different things as previously stated- more specifically in this case those things being race. Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander. If it is on a “race category” for a job application to one of these businesses, why aren’t these people being represented digitally?

The scary part about this when it relates back to Central Atlanta Progress is that members and partners have a definite say in what is happening in the city, where the money is going, and what that means for the people that live here. With the numerous amounts of different kinds of companies CAP works with, it is alarming to find trends so blatant across all their digital environments.

It becomes a kind of network that creates inherent inequalities in the digital realm. These inequalities then support gentrification and leaving out groups in the real world because one visiting the area would not expect to see certain groups anyways.

As of 2016, 88% of adults in America use the internet in America. The internet is practically another world now and the way information is processed through it is impactful. We become programmed by the subliminal, little things in the photos we see become big things.

Livability does not mean push out the people an upper middle class America does not want to see or hide certain groups on digital platforms. These ideas of progress and diversity are severely thwarted with misrepresentation.

Works Cited
“A.J. Robinson (President, Central Atlanta Progress and the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District).” DREAM. WNBA, n.d. Web. 25 Apr. 2016. <http://www.wnba.com/archive/wnba/dream/community/robinson_bio.html>.
“Atlanta City Georgia Quick Facts.” Census.gov. United States Census Bureau, n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2016. <http://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/1304000#flag-js-X>.
“Atlanta Gentrification Maps and Data.” Atlanta Gentrification Maps and Data. E.Republic, n.d. Web. 25 Apr. 2016. <http://www.governing.com/gov-data/atlanta-gentrification-maps-demographic-data.html>.
AtlantaDowntown. “The Real Downtown Atlanta.” YouTube. YouTube, 07 Nov. 2012. Web. 29 Apr. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lDzdqjh1FRE>.
Central Atlanta Progress | Atlanta Downtown Improvement District. Central Atlanta Progress, Inc, n.d. Web. 20 Apr. 2016. <http://www.atlantadowntown.com/>.
“2015 Report on Homelessness.” GEORGIA’S 14,000 (2015): n. pag. DCA GA. Georgia Department of Community Affairs, Sept. 2015. Web. <https://www.dca.ga.gov/housing/specialneeds/programs/documents/HomelessnessReport2015.pdf>.
“United States Internet Users.” U.S. Internet Users. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2016. <http://www.internetlivestats.com/internet-users/us/>.

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