Milano School of Policy, Management, and Environment

Dan Immergluck and Alumni Nathaniel Smith on the Release of Red Hot City

By Constance Smith, Environmental Policy MS Candidate

The Public and Urban Planning MS program recently hosted an online event in celebration of the release of Dan Immergluck’s book, Red Hot City. The discussant at the event was Nathaniel Smith, a Public and Urban Policy alumni who was also a consultant on the book thanks to his deep history with Atlanta. During the event, Immergluck described the final product as catharsis after seventeen plus years of frustration. The feelings of frustration were a direct response to the inequities being examined through a collection of stories from local organizers, politicians, and everyday citizens. All of these stories illuminated a growing trend of housing policies centered around exclusion instead of inclusion, displacement instead of affordability, and racial injustice instead of justice. Twenty-first century gentrification is a continuation of racially motivated exclusionary practices and in cities like Atlanta this is becoming increasingly clear.

Red Hot City

Atlanta has a history that cannot be ignored. It has been a hotbed of political action in the South for generations and a mecca for many black movements. This history is being disrupted by private and state forces that wish to recreate and re-imagine Atlanta. Immergluck’s book begins with explicit racial zoning practices that were a response to the organization and efficiency of black movements in Georgia. He describes this as annexing whiteness, which began in the 1950s, as a move to push black residents out of certain areas of the city and replace them with white citizens. This annexation was followed by black suburbanization in the 1970s – 2000s, and public housing demolition in 1990s. All of this was done through legal means, technically, thanks to the imbalance of power within private and public sectors.

According to Immergluck’s research, two different finance authorities are competing and subsidizing a plethora of projects in Atlanta. Rent has doubled over just nine years, tax limitation policies have been erected to protect high income residents from paying their fair share, there has been a wave of federal deregulation, timid federal response to local issues, and rampant capitalist accumulation. Even projects like the Beltline are steeped in gentrification processes, siphoning at least five billion dollars in tax revenue to be completed while simultaneously displacing black and brown Antlantans. The Free Housing Act, instead of being inclusive in its essence, has led to a reduction of diversity in the city. Widespread underappraisal tactics are costing about half a billion dollars of loss each year and the increasing number of college educated people moving into certain areas speak of further imbalances to come. Immergluck explores all of this and more in his book.

Weaving together stories from leaders and community members with complex historical and economic analysis, Immergluck allows readers to see the very real historical connections between white supremacy in Atlanta and current housing issues. Many major cities across the United States are facing similar problems and are struggling to combat capitalist, racist projects from spreading more inequity throughout the nation. It is important that we pay attention to the stories being told by those who are facing this issue head-on and books like Red Hot City help us do just that.

The Conversation

To dive a bit further into Immergluck’s work and what is going on in the city of Atlanta, Smith began by pointing out some of the contradictory complexities in the city. The class divide between affluent black Antlantans and lower or middle-class black Atlantans is leading to well intended policy initiatives further displacing struggling communities. Smith criticized the language used in urban planning, which often erases the reality of what needs to be done. He stressed that we need to ask questions of not just who these projects are for, but who is in charge of them, and whether these moves to green the city and implement urban development are actually meant to aid existing communities, or just beautifying an area for wealthy people to move into.

Instead of development happening with the involvement of black and brown communities, Smith says development is happening to them. Public funding is being used to displace BIPOC communities, turning areas into opportunity and enterprise zones that subsidize their own development. There is a immediate need for democratizing development decision making. Questions surrounding new urbanism must include the question of, “retro-fitting for whom?” There needs to be fair tax limitations, fair appraisals, fair appeals processes, and clear anti-displacement policies. Without this, any and all new urbanisms will fail to aid the communities they claim to promote and represent.

You can purchase Red Hot City through any major distributor or from the University of California Press site directly by Clicking Here.

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