Why Majority Black Communities Lack Retail & Restaurant Diversity

Ari Meier

Despite higher median income and traffic counts than other Atlanta suburban areas, trendy fast-casual restaurants shun south DeKalb

Surprising findings

When I originally did the research for this article back in 2015, I’ll admit that I was pleasantly surprised with my findings, but soon became annoyed by them. Annoyed because it all didn’t add up that the numbers were similar to or better than areas that had the coveted retail. Although this topic was initially driven by my selfish motive of not wanting to drive too far (and fast) to get to Willy’s restaurant, I thought about my community and the many people that might wonder why they have to drive far to get what they want.

Another motivator is the Greenhaven initiative. Before you put on your NAG (Neighbors Against Greenhaven) sneer, I was (and still am) also motivated by the negative vitriol about how this Greenhaven thing is a ‘hot mess of an idea born out of a few people’s motivations to create a cash cow for themselves’. Some of the comments centered on ‘this is largely being a poor area that would see big tax increases’ or ‘why do you think anyone would want to bring more businesses to this area if it’s changed to Greenhaven if they haven’t done it over the past few years?’

community want change

I wanted to at least see how comparable the south DeKalb area was to other areas around metro Atlanta. The biggest complaint on NextDoor and Facebook among south DeKalb residents has been the low amount or lack of higher quality retail in the area. I started with collecting the basic data that restaurants use to determine if they are opening a new outlet: traffic counts, population and median household income.

South DeKalb is covered by some fine organizations that have been relentless in their pursuit of bringing quality development to the area. They have written letters to many companies asking them to consider expanding into south DeKalb. Organizations such as South DeKalb Improvement Association (SDIA) are well-known in the education and housing community and have been at the forefront of exposing and bringing solutions to why property values hadn’t recovered in south DeKalb. The Greenhaven Business Alliance and Concerned Citizens for Cityhood of South DeKalb (CCCSD) are aligned for the purpose of incorporating much of the area into the city of Greenhaven to attract quality development, bring more transparency to government and improve quality of life in the area. They have worked tirelessly since 2014 to make this happen but an effort by the DeKalb County Delegation has thwarted their attempt by not supporting an otherwise solid bill in the general legislature which would allow residents to vote on it.

Proposed City of Greenhaven and the study area (Courtesy Imagine Greenhaven)

According to the Entrepreneur article, “How to Find the Best Location”, determining where to locate a restaurant can be simple or complex. “There are, for instance, sophisticated location analysis tools available that include traffic pattern information, demographic and lifestyle data, and competitive analyses.”

how does south dekalb compare?

In the original article, I used the data of 5 south DeKalb zip codes. This time around, I am using the data from the proposed city of Greenhaven (yes, they made it very easy for me). The zip codes in the proposed city of Greenhaven include parts of 30288, 30294, 30316, most of 30035, 30058, 30083 and 30087 and all of 30032, 30034, and 30088. Although zip code 30038 is in south DeKalb, it’s now a part of the city of Stonecrest and wouldn’t be included in the analysis.

Comparing population and median household income data between the proposed city of Greenhaven and selected metro Atlanta suburbs, you’ll find that Conyers, Lawrenceville McDonough, and Marietta are much smaller in population and have lower median household incomes, but they have a lot of diverse retail options.

Proposed GreenhavenMarietta
Pop. 296,907Pop. 61,048 (est. 2018)
Median household income (MHI): $48,927MHI: $48,154
Pop. 16,015Pop. 19,738
MHI: $38,403MHI: $58,044
Pop. 24,755Pop. 29,873
MHI: $45,517MHI: $41,578
Pop. 29,428Pop. 29,114
MHI: $50,707MHI: $54,769

South DeKalb compares favorably on median household income with the others. So, it must be another metric that these restaurants are using to determine where they’ll open up. Traffic counts?

Traffic counts are conducted by the state of Georgia for traffic signal, intersection improvements and other updates to help with improving traffic flow. The numbers are how many vehicles travel on the roadways every day. South DeKalb must be facing a dearth of restaurant diversity because our traffic counts don’t warrant opening right? Wrong!

Wesley Chapel’s most recent traffic count is 57,000 (this is in the section between Snapfinger Rd and I-20). The traffic drops down to 32,000 vehicles north of I-20 (between the I-20 and South Hairston Rd) This averages out to 44,500 vehicles between Snapfinger Rd. and South Hairston Rd. This lower average traffic count is higher than the traffic counts on Roswell Rd, Highway 138 in Stockbridge, Piedmont Rd in Atlanta, Jonesboro Rd in McDonough, North Decatur Rd and almost as busy as Cobb Parkway. Other notable south DeKalb roadways are Covington Highway (about 33,000 vehicles), Panola Rd (about 29,000 vehicles) and Memorial Dr (40,000 vehicles).

Also, it is worth mentioning that the freeway traffic in south DeKalb is high: I-285 averages about 190,000 vehicles between the I-20 interchange up to the Memorial Drive interchange and I-20 averages about 188,500 vehicles between the I-285 interchange to almost the Panola Rd interchange. For comparison purposes, the busiest stretch of I-285 is the area between Ashford-Dunwoody Rd and Ga 400 (248,000 vehicles).

The number listed next to the roadway name is the largest traffic count found anywhere on that road.

Wesley Chapel Rd57,000
Ashford-Dunwoody Rd49,000
Roswell Rd38,000
Peachtree St/Rd50,000
Cobb Pkwy46,000
Highway 138 (Stockbridge)44,000
Camp Creek Pkwy48,000
Piedmont Rd (Atlanta)44,000
Jonesboro Rd (McDonough)29,000
Scenic Hwy56,000
Sugarloaf Pkwy44,000
North Decatur Rd28,000

Driving on Ashford-Dunwoody Road is frustrating, the traffic is a little less than that of Wesley Chapel Road, but there are high-rise office buildings, hotels, tons of restaurants and a big mall in that area. Driving on Wesley Chapel, you’ll pass a McDonalds, a couple of cheap motels, a Waffle House, KFC, Captain D’s, another McDonalds. No big malls, no restaurant variety, no high-rise office buildings, and hotels.

Comparing populations, median household incomes and traffic counts around metro Atlanta, we see that south DeKalb compares favorably with other areas, but south DeKalb doesn’t have what the other comparable areas have. 

There is no reason why the household income in this area is higher than Marietta, Lawrenceville, Conyers, and McDonough, but doesn’t have the restaurant choices those areas have.


World Population Review

Georgia DOT Traffic Counts

The Quest for a New Black City in Georgia

Copyright 2018 © Ari Meier

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