Unequal Development: How Does North and South Decatur Differ?

Ari Meier

‘We Full’

No matter where you go in metro Atlanta, you’ll see signs of a fast-growing metro area: worsening traffic, new construction, and schools bursting at the seams. Many Atlantans share a meme with bad traffic and the caption “We Full”. Indeed, the city of Atlanta and the surrounding metro area is growing to the tune of 75,000 plus new residents between 2017 and 2018 according to the most recent Census estimates. Since the last official census to 2010, metro Atlanta has added 663,201 people, or like adding the city of Nashville to the metro area.

There’s an area of metro Atlanta with the perfect ingredients for growth like everywhere else. It’s close to the airport, has easy interstate access, it’s close to downtown, midtown and the rapidly growing intown neighborhoods on the eastside, and has a variety of housing, much of which is affordable. This area is seeing an influx of new residents, but new development is virtually nonexistent. This area is south DeKalb.  

History of an Area: 1960s – 1990s

It hasn’t always been this way for south DeKalb. The area grew fast between the late 60s through the late nineties. As the once largely rural area became more suburban, black residents came in and white residents left – and as white flight goes, businesses and jobs left. Even with all the new housing developments built over the past four decades, the area is still the most undeveloped part of DeKalb County.

As south DeKalb added more residents, and lost more chain and choice stores, DeKalb County welcomed more businesses – mostly in north DeKalb. The northern end of the county soon got cityhood fever with Dunwoody, Brookhaven and Tucker staking their respective territories. The area around Perimeter Mall (Dunwoody) and Brookhaven added more shopping, big hotels and high-rise office buildings. The area around I-20 east and I-285, Panola and Wesley Chapel added more dollar stores, fast food restaurants and cheap motels.  

Long-time south DeKalb residents met with their county commissioners to demand more development and better choices. They’d get the Mall at Stonecrest and the surrounding explosion of retail centers, restaurants and big box stores in the early 2000s and jewels like the Sanford Porter Performing Arts Center. But they also wanted to eat out at a nice restaurant closer to home or take the family out for entertainment for something other than the movies (which also saw a decline in the number of theaters).

South DeKalb is no Slacker

My article, Why Majority Black Communities Lack Retail & Restaurant Diversity, uncovered some surprising findings about south DeKalb. It noted that despite having major roads with high traffic counts, a large population and higher median household income than Marietta and Lawrenceville, certain retailers and restaurants seem to shun the area.

As Dunwoody and Brookhaven started getting more selective in which types of development they wanted, putting up their respective ‘we full’ signs, developers soon fell in love with north Decatur. This area, centered around North Decatur Road, Scott Boulevard and Church Street, is the home of two new shopping centers, Emory Decatur Hospital, and is less than a 10-minute drive from Emory University and the CDC.

Residents of south DeKalb yearned for more upscale housing, aesthetically pleasing roadways and businesses, healthier grocery and restaurant options. Residents of north DeKalb welcomed not one, but two health food stores, millennial-attracting housing, spruced up roadways and businesses and a multitude of fast casual and upscale restaurants. The Gallery at South Dekalb, AKA South DeKalb Mall, can’t keep a movie theater while North Dekalb Mall, which has a fraction of the business the Gallery at South DeKalb have, has a thriving multiplex theater.

How Does North and South Decatur Differ?

These observations powered my questions about the differences between north and south Decatur, reflecting the omission of the cities of Stonecrest, Lithonia, Dunwoody, Brookhaven, Tucker, Chamblee, and Doraville from this conversation. I included the city of Decatur in the north Decatur data (which could have been split north and south to go with the respective north and south Decatur demographics). Zip code 30317, split north-south by Memorial Drive and bordered on the south by Glenwood Road, was included with south Decatur’s data.

The population difference between the two areas is stark: south Decatur have a little more than 126,000 residents, while north Decatur have a little more than 67,000. Racial demographics are even more lop-sided: There are six times more white residents in north Decatur (almost 66%, versus less than 11% in south Decatur) and four and a half times more black residents in south Decatur (85.5% vs 18.9% in north Decatur). The median age is a little older in south Decatur (36 years, compared to north Decatur, 35.75 years). Median home value in south Decatur is a little more than half than that of north Decatur ($124,400 vs $245,750). Median household incomes between the north and south are $53,578 and $45,033 respectively, a difference of $8,545.

Population Comparison Between North and South Decatur

Data source: Moving.com

Percentage of Racial/Ethnic Groups in South and North Decatur

Data source: Moving.com

Median House Values – South and North Decatur

Data source: Moving.com

Median Household Income – South and North Decatur

Data source: Moving.com

Nearly half of north Decatur residents are married while a little more than a third of south Decatur residents are married (49.8% vs 34.4%) and 51.5% of the homes are owned compared to 47.12% of homes owned in south Decatur. A higher percentage of north Decatur homes are rented than in south Decatur (38.3% vs 35.98%). There are 6.7% more vacant homes in south Decatur than in north Decatur (16.9% vs 10.2%).

Percentage of Married Population – South and North Decatur

Data source: Moving.com

Percentage of Homes Owned – South and North Decatur

Data source: Moving.com

Percentage of Homes Rented – South and North Decatur

Data source: Moving.com

Percentage of Homes Vacant – South and North Decatur

Data source: Moving.com

Is this Why North Decatur Get All the Good Stuff?

The takeaways are north Decatur might be seeing more development because of its proximity to major employment centers of Emory University, CDC, Emory Decatur Hospital and all the ancillary organizations. This area is more racially diverse, has a higher median household income, the residents are married at a higher percentage and more homes are owned and there are almost 7% less vacant houses in north Decatur. The last three metrics are just some important factors retailers consider when opening a new location, which suggests long term commitment to a community with ‘most likely’ scenarios such as starting a family, staying in the area longer and less blight from vacant homes. The median age differences in both areas are negligible.

How Diverse is South Decatur?

Data source: Moving.com

How Diverse is North Decatur?

Data source: Moving.com

6 thoughts on “Unequal Development: How Does North and South Decatur Differ?

  1. EXCELLENT INFORMATION!!! The “next” installment could address issues associated with how cityhood could dramatically & positively transform south DeKalb / Decatur!

    Thanks for sharing!!

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  2. Excellent research! This speaks to all that we’ve been seeing. I’d like more info on what can be done to change trend for South Dekalb/Decatur. Also, this area seems to be attracting more Whit residents. What accounts for that?

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    1. Thank you Dee. Many retailers have a herd mentality, meaning that they wait until one of their peers have the courage to move into an area. Then they all follow. It’s more of an “if Starbucks or Whole Foods can go into this area, then this area must be ready for us to come in”. It will happen because we are in a well-located area (not far from downtown and midtown and the airport). As far as white residents moving in, we’ll see more of this because housing is affordable (a nice home at that), and we’re close to the city and airport. Metro Atlanta is adding roughly 100,000 people a year and they’re not all going to the northside. Many of these new residents are coming from other places and love that they can get a NICE home for less than $300,000, that’s 15 minutes from Atlanta and the 10 minutes from the airport.

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  3. As much as I want to agree with you Ari, this just doesn’t add up unfortunately. $124,000 is not a very high number in today’s market is it? Also, I thought DeKalb as a whole has a higher median Home Value than Gwinnett at $320,000. We are the last hired and the first fired which is why home values are so low in South DeKalb. You’d be surprised at who actually bought those foreclosed homes and turned them into rentals. Sadly, there is a higher poverty rate in far west and Deep South part of DeKalb. Just check with Social Services. I wish what you wrote had more validity to it.

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    1. Hi Larry, thanks for reading this article. The median home values data was pulled from relevant zip codes from moving.com, a division of realtor.com. I am sure that median home values in all of DeKalb County is much higher when adding Dunwoody, Brookhaven and Druid Hills. Those areas are not part of the article. I’ll will agree that I’ve used north and south Decatur interchangeably with north and south DeKalb. The datasets and article focus is centered on the zip codes listed.

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