As always in the ATL, a lot is happening this month, and there are too many stories to keep up. This roundup of some intriguing recent local stories might help.
1. Gwinnett County got the national spotlight for a big political problem: it’s “the most diverse county in the Southeast,” but its elected and appointed representatives are nearly all white, some of them fiercely anti-immigrant. This report by The National Journal is more, though, than a primer on the racial politics of the county, home to nearly a million residents, a fifth of whom are Latinos. It takes readers to Gwinnett Place Mall:
The sound of Latin music and aromas from the Congas Express food stand immediately greet visitors to the colorful and bustling mall. Mismatched tile patterns change sporadically from the old design to new ones in rugged red, yellow, and black shades. Old West facades hover over travel agencies, stores filled with piñatas, and family health centers. It looks like many of the shops found along Buford Highway, an international neighborhood north of Atlanta.
2. Food Deserts in the ATL? Rebecca Burns reports in Atlanta Magazine that despite this city’s flourishing food scene, “more than half a million people in the city of Atlanta and the ten counties that surround it live in neighborhoods the U.S. Department of Agriculture classifies as food deserts.” Why? Poverty, racial inequality, and a paucity of supermarkets, especially in the poorer neighborhoods, where many people confront lengthy walks and bus commutes to get their basic groceries. Burns introduces us to some of those shoppers and their ordeals, to stores with little or no fresh produce, and to Vine City Walmart, which has become a critical source of jobs and food in an area other supermarkets scorned. She explains the reasons why the farms and gardens of Atlanta’s “Fertile Crescent” (“an arc across the south and west sides”) export their produce to other, more prosperous parts of town. It’s a long read, but essential.
3. Destination Atlanta: The worldly travel writers of the BBC found the ATL surprisingly congenial, and Josh Green at Curbed Atlanta has fun sorting through the truths, half-truths, and whopping misconceptions. The BBC sometimes gives our city credit at times when it’s not due. An example of Green’s acerbic fact-checking:
BBC:“The Atlanta Beltline, a multi-use trail built along a former railroad corridor, is expanding to connect key downtown areas with walkways and light rail.”
RATING: Generous use of the word “expanding.”
4. Streetcar Studies: two new takes on the Atlanta Streetcar worth a look include Candace Garcia’s “Streetcar and Pork Chops” on My Darling Atlanta, and Maria Saporta’s plug for the Streetcar on WABE, Atlanta’s NPR Station. Garcia’s fun forty-five-minute ride around the track on a Tuesday morning found few passengers, “pretty yellow flowers in bloom” beckoning (misleadingly) from downtown’s Woodruff Park (I’m writing this just across from the Park Place stop), and a reminder to get off at the Sweet Auburn Market. “Don’t judge the success of the Streetcar right away,” she cautions. “The Beltline wasn’t a thriving success in its first four months.” Saporta agrees and argues the Streetcar has already yielded $840 million in new investments over the last five years. Like Garcia (and nearly everyone else who favors keeping the Streetcar), she looks forward to the day it extends to the Beltline.
5. The APS fallout: The nation has followed the fate of the Atlanta Public Schools teachers convicted of test cheating, and there’s an ocean of commentary to choose from. Rather than drown in it, you might go back and dust off that New Yorker investigation from last year by Rachel Aviv. She recapitulated the main points of her story this morning on NPR. In essence, she shows the enormous pressure teachers at under-performing (read poor, deeply disadvantaged) schools faced to produce high test scores that were impossible to attain. The roots of the scandal lay not in teacher greed but in administrative hubris, a by-product of the federal No Child Left Behind law. For more, see Brittney Cooper’s damning indictment of racism on Salon. “Scapegoating Black teachers for failing in a system that is designed for Black children, in particular, not to succeed is the real corruption here.” Cooper notes the facts we cannot be reminded of too many times: the majority of the nation’s public school students live in poverty; in Georgia 39% of Black children are poor; 80% of the students in APS are Black. Teachers are confronted with outrageously bad conditions “and yet we expect teachers to work magic.” Don’t skip Cooper’s angry conclusions. “Locking up Black women under the guise of caring about Black children is an unbelievable move in an educational environment that systematically denies both care and opportunity to Black children,” she writes. “Nothing is just about making Black women sacrificial lambs of an educational system hellbent on throwing Black children away.”
6. “Badass restaurant critic”: Wendell Brock profiles Christiane Lauterbach, “The South’s most knowledgeable, enlightening and badass restaurant critic” for The Bitter Southerner. Not just for foodies, Brock’s biography of the Parisian who has been the most influential food critic in Atlanta over the past few decades is full of fun. How can it not be when it’s based on interviews with a subject like this?
A bit of a performer, a purring sensualist, a delightfully dishy conversationalist, Lauterbach was sexy in a bookish kind of way: a great person to sit by when you found yourself dateless at the wedding of a mutual friend, a raconteur who responded to tedious questions about her work with dismissive, coquettish jokes.
Lauterbach shaped the culinary scene of the ATL through the force of her reviews and through “a highly crafted public persona that has been called punk and futurist, difficult and demanding, snobby and unfathomable, quirky and just plain weird.” She knows several languages, and for those angered by her negative reviews, she merely replies, “I know I am a fat French fuck.” Brock tells her tale with a style worthy of the iconic critic.