Among Atlanta residents, it’s common knowledge that some neighborhoods throughout the city get disparate levels of attention and resources as compared to others. I live in a highly resourced community myself: Virginia-Highlands. But the neighborhood who receives the moniker of most-resourced, overly-attended-to neighborhood by the Atlanta-powers-that-be is, without a doubt, Buckhead.
So you can imagine my surprise to learn Councilmember Mary Norwood recently published an article arguing that Buckhead has been “overlooked and underserved for years.” After claiming that Buckhead has been neglected in nearly every way—its streets, traffic, quality of life, safety, tax dollar allocation, and zoning—Ms. Norwood concludes with a thinly-veiled threat: if Atlanta wants to prevent Buckhead’s secession, the City must invest more in Buckhead.
While I was heartened to see Mayor Dickens’ Chief Operating Officer, Lisa Gordon, push back against Councilmember Norwood’s claims, I must acknowledge Gordon’s response was notable because of how rare it is for the city to stand up to Buckhead.
As someone born and raised in Atlanta, I know Buckhead has long wielded outsized influence at city hall—at the expense of the rest of the city. This trend has disappointedly continued during Mayor Dickens’ term. Despite the city’s deference to Buckhead’s interests and desires, discontent continues from Ms. Norwood, leading to her frankly insulting claims of living in an underserved community. Meanwhile, other parts of Atlanta are experiencing true neglect. It’s past time for Mayor Dickens to pivot from catering to Buckhead’s demands to being a Mayor for the rest of Atlanta.
In 2021, prior to Mayor Dickens’ term, Buckhead residents were among those calling for the creation of the Public Safety Training Center, also known as Cop City, and they got it—despite the wishes of the rest of the City. When Buckhead advocated for the rollback of Atlanta’s bail reform policy in 2020, they got that too. When Buckhead residents said they didn’t feel safe, three council members (including my own at-large council member, Matt Westmoreland) immediately donated a total of $125,000 from their office budgets to the “Buckhead Security Plan.” I was outraged! It’s important to note that no similar donations were made to security plans for any other parts of the city. As of 2020, over 90 percent of Buckhead’s 43 neighborhoods already have their own extra police patrol or security camera system.
We must, of course, work together to prevent a Buckhead cityhood split, given the area’s significant portion of the city’s tax base. The secession effort died during the 2022 legislative session, killed by top state Republicans including Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan and House Speaker David Ralston. The secession movement has been opposed by dozens of powerful Buckhead businesses, and the effort’s leader, Bill White, has been widely discredited after various scandals, including amplifying messaging from white supremacist groups. Despite widespread opposition, just last week Councilmember Norwood introduced legislation to let Buckhead off the hook for paying its share of city construction projects should the area secede. Thankfully, the measure failed miserably.
The first year of Mayor Dickens’ term shows yet again that there is no pleasing Norwood’s Buckhead. Since taking office, the mayor has expended significant time and energy catering to the area. In 2022, one of the first acts of the new City Council and Mayoral administration was to create the Buckhead Public Safety Taskforce, a committee tasked with developing public safety recommendations in Buckhead specifically, despite the area having some of the lowest rates of violent crime across the City. During Dickens’ first month in office, the city opened a new Buckhead Village Police Precinct, further increasing police presence in Buckhead alongside the installment of a host of additional security cameras and the creation and implementation of off-duty bike patrols and supplemental mobile patrols in the area.
But while Mayor Dickens continues his unsuccessful attempt to appease the wealthiest and whitest part of the city, other parts of the City that are truly underserved are languishing. As someone who lives in a predominately white and affluent area, I know first hand the city should not prioritize our area when it comes to infrastructure and security spending. While Dickens fights a losing battle to win over Buckhead, he is going to lose the support of the rest of his constituents who actually voted for him in the 2021 election—I must remind him, Buckhead was the only area of the City that voted overwhelmingly for Dickens’ opponent, Felicia Moore. Ouch!
It’s time for Mayor Dickens to give up on the dream of Norwood’s Buckhead ever loving him back and be a People’s Mayor instead. There are real problems facing Atlanta. It’s true that many of our roads need repairs and safety updates—but not one of the ten most dangerous streets for pedestrians and drivers in the city is in Buckhead. Rents have continued to skyrocket across the city, and the possibility of homeownership becomes less realistic for most residents every day as large investors gobble up the city’s housing stock. The city is turning its back on the criminal legal reforms that once earned Atlanta national recognition, and expanding rather than closing the city jail. The Atlanta Medical Center has closed, jeopardizing the health of Atlanta residents across the city. Sadly, there is no shortage of crises facing the city I love.
Atlanta needs a mayor willing to support the entire city, not just the neighborhoods with the most resources. Norwood’s Buckhead won’t love Mayor Dickens back—but the rest of the city just might, if he starts working for everyone.