A quick drive around Atlanta’s emerging neighborhoods like the Old Fourth Ward, Castleberry Hill, Cabbagetown and many more will surface some similar observations. There are young couples pushing strollers past historic homes being passed by kids skateboarding down the sidewalk. The streets are lined with millennial ventures like coffee bars (not shops right?), ecommerce startups, and fitness studios. Once forlorn, smaller lots have been converted into multi-purpose, community greenspaces. However, what is often most eye-catching in these up-and-coming areas are the street art and murals that can seemingly pop out from nowhere.
I live in a two-story mixed-use building in such a neighborhood that is covered by murals on all sides. Back in 2012 when this neighborhood was a very different place, the owner partnered with Living Walls and local artist olive47 to beautify the facades with an elephant, butterflies, and an MLK Jr. silhouette and quote. Aptly picked given the building’s proximity to the MLK historic district, the quote reads “without love, there is no reason to know anyone, for love will in the end connect us to our neighbors, our children and our hearts.” I often think why this quote and these designs for this particular location? What was olive47’s motivation if she even had one at all? Was she trying to set a tone for the current and future community? If so and most importantly, did it work or even matter?
People are beginning to realize that street art can have numerous positive effects on a community at very little cost. While the monochromatic, grungy, five-second, graffiti tags only related to street art from a basic materials standpoint only have adverse effects, often ornate and thought-provoking street art designs can benefit communities in a variety of ways. Most importantly however, street art can help galvanize gentrification in urban communities. For example, there is a high correlation between the presence of street art and relatively lower crime rates amongst urban communities, potentially alluding to the calming effect art can have on a person and/or community over time. Millennials craving city life are more likely to live in affordable urban communities with street art than those without since these neighborhoods can feel warmer, safer, and just more livable in comparison. As these budding consumers move in, advertisers hungry for millennial eyes soon follow, starting a chain reaction of commercial influx to areas that were historically overlooked. These millennials then grow in tandem with the community, developing a connection and therefore increasing the likelihood of them staying nearby to buy their first house and start a family. Street art’s beneficial impacts are numerous but the economic value it can help generate over time is easily it’s greatest positive externality.
I’ve only lived in my mural-adorned apartment since March 2015 but in just two and half years I’ve seen the neighborhood improve dramatically. For example, the street retail below me was previously inhabited by a shabby convenience store that was an eyesore and complete underutilization of the space. Now there are three thriving businesses including a popular food truck prepping kitchen, a hair salon, and the newest venture, a cat adoption café, businesses which might have never taken the risk on this location without the presence of MLK Jr., butterflies, and an elephant.