Approaches to the Cooperative Revitalization of Auburn Avenue
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Cooperation can take many forms, whether between individual workers within an organization or the collaborative efforts of multiple institutions. Cooperation has a long history in contributing to many of the significant achievements of the United States, from the American Revolution to the Civil Rights Movement. However, civic engagement and collective efforts have steadily declined in this country since the 1960s. Meanwhile, the domestic macro-economic landscape has become increasingly unequal in the face of globalization. This in turn has played out spatially in the decline of individual communities across the country. This paper proposes a collective response to the challenges of inequality and spatial decline of Auburn Avenue in the form of collaborative initiatives and worker cooperatives. The historic Auburn Avenue commercial district in Downtown Atlanta, Georgia was once the center for African-American economic, cultural and civic life within the city. While the street is perhaps best known as the birth place, church and final resting place of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it was also a pivotal landmark launch pad for the Atlanta and American Civil Rights Movement and a focal point of fostering African-American entrepreneurship in Atlanta. However, in a story familiar across the country, middle class flight, disinvestment, urban renewal and the loss of industry worked together to depress the vitality of the area. The street began experiencing decline in the late 1940s and has yet to fully rebound. The 50s witnessed the proposed destruction of the business district and the implemented construction of Interstate 75/85 that bisected the street. The 60s and 70s produced numerous grassroots revitalization initiatives that were unable to sustain a concerted effort with adequate resources. The 80s witnessed the creation of a national urban park that now receives over 650,000 visitors annually. However, these efforts have been unable to bring back Auburn Avenue to its previous prominence in Atlanta. The continued urban sprawl of the adjacent Georgia State University provide both an opportunity for long-awaited economic development and the risk of gentrification within the district. Furthermore, despite the large number of tourist visits to the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site along Auburn Avenue annually, there are few businesses to capture the potential spending of these visitors. Traditional methods of neighborhood revitalization and economic development may not achieve adequate or equitable results. Rather than attempt insular individual initiatives, this paper proposes a collaborative community economic development effort to leverage these opportunities for the revitalization of Auburn Avenue. This applied research paper presents an argument for various proposals of partnership initiatives and place-based worker cooperative businesses within a targeted geographic area of the Auburn Avenue Historic District. The goal is to capture the economic development potential of upcoming investments in a way that builds wealth from within the community.