Atlanta’s East Lake Neighborhood Model For Revitalization | WABE 90.1 FM

Atlanta’s East Lake Neighborhood Model For Revitalization

Jul 27, 2015

Atlanta's East Lake neighborhood on the city's far east side is a model for community revitalization. It was once referred to as an urban nightmare and nicknamed Little Vietnam. Now it's a trendy place to live with shops, restaurants and access to public transit.
Credit Courtesy of East Lake Foundation

Atlanta’s East Lake neighborhood is a thriving community these days. It’s home to the PGA’s annual Tour Championship at the East Lake Golf Club. It’s one of the city’s more historic and trendy, yet family-oriented communities with affordable housing, shops and restaurants. It’s located about 4 miles from downtown with access to mass transit.

But this wasn’t always the case. In fact, it wasn’t so long ago that East Lake, located in DeKalb County, was once referred to as an urban nightmare and nicknamed “Little Vietnam.”

David Edwards, CEO of Purpose Built Communities, explains how East Lake went from a crime-ridden urban nightmare to a nationwide model of community revitalization.
Credit Charles W. Jones / WABE

During the 1970s, the community saw an increase in crime and violence. By the 1990s poverty, high unemployment and crime dominated Atlanta’s eastern neighborhood. At its core was the East Lake Meadows housing project.

Now the housing project is long gone, and the revitalization of East Lake, sparked in the late 1990s, is used as a model on how to revive other distressed communities. The neighborhood boasts mixed-income housing, a charter school and a 95 percent reduction in the crime rate, according to the East Lake Foundation. 

Atlanta-based Purpose Built Communities points to East Lake as an example of how distressed communities around the country can be revitalized and rebuilt.

Students walk in front of the Charles R. Drew Charter School Junior and Senior Academy in East Lake. Cradle-to-college education is one of the components of Purpose Built Communities’ neighborhood revitalization program.
Credit Courtesy of East Lake Foundation

During an interview on “A Closer Look,” CEO David Edwards explained how Purpose Built Communities works. Edwards said the organization uses a model that includes five major components.

“We focus on highly distressed neighborhoods, just like East Lake was,” he said. “The second is we look for local leadership, local community leadership, almost always private leadership, to take on the revitalization of these communities.”

Edwards said mixed-income housing, cradle-to-college education and community wellness programs round out the recipe for reviving struggling neighborhoods.

Edwards discussed his organization, what it does, why it’s needed and more on “A Closer Look.”

WABE’s Rose Scott and Denis O’Hayer contributed to this report.