As Mark Becker exits with the coming re-entry of students on campus in Atlanta, we’re left to deal with the glaring legacy of development. Everywhere the sunlight catches the sheen of those newly paneled parking decks, ignites the hot glimmer of creaking chrome walkways. Becker might’ve figured the downtown steelpan’s gaudy light would just burn the unruly grime to a crisp with time – GSUPD would clean away the rest if it didn’t.
Three thousand two hundred people in Atlanta are unhoused, roughly. Our sleek new greenspace looked a lot worse about a year ago when cops drove those people off to some dark crevice to await another removal. Whether the next president continues our ongoing game of dots and boxes with the city grid is moot. We’re left with the same gameboard, anyway.
Georgia State students, faculty, staff, plainly: we should be ashamed, at a basic level. The cheap shellac of gentrification should disgust us; we should find it atrocious that our university’s constructions are backed by a small standing army that exists to push back the masses we’ve so long neglected, which they’ve so long terrorized. Unhoused persons are not a writhing monolith; they are not an easy picture. They are driven out of homes by an untold matrix of determinations, affectations.
They are displaced by upwards-lurching rent, by projects rezoned – by jobs evaporated, replaced with the realized plans of a booklet passed inside the closed circuit of designers, developers, board members. Each unhoused person is different; this community heterogeneous. But each unhoused person is afflicted similarly by the terms of existence for our development. Simply: the fact that people live without housing is treachery. The fact that these people are driven further outwards into our city’s recesses by highly armed effective occupiers is treachery.
You are engaged in and by both of these treacheries – they’re the secret of that euphemism, development. Your fundamental moral obligation is to work towards remedying these treacheries however you might. Look into the bleak kaleidoscope of our “developmental history.” See the university building like an occupation. Act. Fight. Join an organization, such as the Housing Justice League. Rally against the expanding real estate membrane lubricated by your tuition money.
At the least, don’t call the university’s cops when you have to see an unhoused person in your periphery – and don’t write an opinion piece weaving fiction about the unhoused person’s quiet cunning. We’re thieves clutching at pearls white-knuckled about theft. You should have shame. But this shame should be revolutionary. A better world is possible for the unhoused persons of Atlanta – and this better world is born first from the complete dismantlement of the old one; by looking unflinchingly at what the new blinding lights of development intended to obscure.
But if you can’t manage that, I’d suggest just managing a dollar out of your wallet or maybe managing a hot meal donated. Or, in the last instance, to simply have enough shame to manage remaining quiet. There’s ample light on our plazas and our navels for you never to gaze elsewhere – and to do so wordlessly. You’ll never have to think or speak beyond the hot mirrors. At least not until they burn you.
Trevor Kosloski (they/he)
Georgia State Honors College 2022