Pictured McNair High School
Creating vibrant sustainable communities where the individual talents and contributions of each person are needed and welcome.
To achieve healthy, diverse, greener communities through stable housing, solid education, and development of the human spirit.
How we got started...
The DeKalb Sustainable Neighborhoods Initiative (DSNI) was a pilot program that fosters a collaborative, cross-sector, community-based approach to improving the quality of life in DeKalb neighborhoods. Communities participating in the DeKalb Sustainable Neighborhoods Initiative have the opportunity to work with the assets in their area, including collaborating with a variety of agencies, organizations and institutions that share an interest in the community, in order to craft a comprehensive approach for improving the quality of life in their neighborhoods.
Seven areas were identified for this opportunity based on their eligibility to utilize resources available through the county's U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-funded programs and related federal, state and local initiatives. The seven areas, based on high school clusters, include: Clarkston, Columbia, Cross Keys, Lithonia, McNair, Stone Mountain and Towers.
The starting Quality-of-Life Planning (2011) process, which McNair has been engaged in, is part of the DeKalb Sustainable Neighborhoods Initiative (DSNI). Utilizing the blueprint provided by Chicago’s New Communities Program, a longterm and highly influential community-driven planning initiative, Emory University’s Center For Community Partnerships worked jointly with DeKalb County’s Human and Community Development Department to design and launch the DSNI.
The Quality-of-Life Planning process began with the formation of a steering committee for the McNair Cluster and the initial selection of seven focus areas. The steering committee had approximately thirty members that made up of cluster residents, leaders of community organizations, and representatives of churches, schools, DeKalb County agencies, and six neighborhood organizations from the cluster. The steering committee selected members to serve on an Executive Committee, comprised of one member from each neighborhood organization and one cluster-wide representative. The steering committee then developed sub-committees to assist with the development of strategies within the focus areas.
On July 21, 2012, at a cluster-wide weekend “family fun day” event, neighborhood residents provided input on their priorities.The event was heavily advertised within the cluster by Emory Fellows and steering committee members. The family fun day included surveys, asset mapping exercises, a participatory ranking chart for focus areas, and discussion groups, all involving residents from around the cluster. A second community event was held as part of McNair Parent Teacher Student Association Community Day. There were fewer participants at this event, but data collection and discussions continued along the same lines as those of the previous event. These steps, along with subsequent meetings of the steering committee, executive committee, and various subcommittees, have led to the creation of this Quality-of-Life Plan
Where is the McNair Cluster?
DeKalb County’s McNair Cluster is an area defined by its school district. It consists of mainly residential neighborhoods and is located just southeast of Atlanta. The boundary is roughly by Glenwood Avenue to the north, Moreland Avenue to the west, I-285 to the south, and the Candler Road businesses district to the east. The area first saw large-scale development in the 1950’s with many small single-family homes built during the 50s, 60s, and 70s.
In the 80's
Many African Americans migrated to the McNair Cluster in the mid-1960s, largely arriving from the Atlanta neighborhoods of East Atlanta and Kirkwood. Over the past two decades, the neighborhood saw major change due to the transformation of public housing in the City of Atlanta and the collapse of the housing market.
NOW in the 2000's
Today, the cluster continues to undergo transition with many diverse residents coming into the cluster particularly from Decatur, as well as, the Kirkwood and Edgewood neighborhoods of Atlanta.
The McNair Cluster is home to several active neighborhood organizations, schools, and religious institutions that have realized the will to work collaboratively with one another. They have played major roles in community responses to recent challenges, such as, the housing crisis and school closings. In addition to these institutional assets, there are many underused community spaces that can potentially serve as locations for events to drive positive neighborhood change.
More than other institutions, local public schools are an anchor for community revitalization in the McNair Cluster because of their unique connection to the cluster. In addition to educating students, schools employ residents, connect neighbors with one another, impact housing markets, and influence McNair’s aesthetic character. They provide access to First Baptist Church Gresham Road with many local resources, such as, political good will, funding, and land. All the forehand mentioned community assets have a foundational position in the McNair Cluster’s ongoing Quality-of-Life Planning process with neighborhood leaders and other stakeholders playing major roles. Creative agile collaborations are among concerned residents, private businesses, government and community groups. Based on these existing assets, the community will be essential to moving the McNair Cluster forward and supporting community revitalization and change.
As the McNair Cluster Steering Committee met multiple times over the summer of 2012, a strong consensus emerged regarding the top four focus areas for developing strategies and their order of importance:
2. Education and Human Development
3. Health, Safety, Parks, and Recreation
4. Business and Economic Development
The steering committee and other stakeholders involved in the community planning process recognized the importance of viewing these focus areas and associated strategies in a cross-sectoral manner and noting how they interrelate with one another. When moving from strategy to implementation, it is essential for McNair Cluster planning retreat to recognize the possibilities that can result from collaborations among government, community institutions, private businesses and individual residents.
Within and across these focus areas, it is important to identify early action strategies that can have real impacts in short order and separate them from those that will require more time and resources. Our plan is to get off to a fast start and creating visible tangible change in the community in the near future are essential to maintain the momentum of the ongoing community and capacity building process; also, to increase the buy-in and interest in social and economic revitalization of the McNair Cluster.
Strategy 1 – Create a community with more beautiful houses and streets, and more responsible owners and committed developers, landlords, banks, and tenants.
Strategy 2 – Create a community where the imagination and aspirations of young people are stimulated, where parents are engaged and involved with their children’s schools and learning, where there are numerous and rich opportunities for education outside of the school system, and where seniors are valued and engaged.
Strategy 3 – Create a community that is healthy, safe, and secure, where police and other public authorities are proactive and responsive to community concerns, and where community spaces and amenities are vibrant and beautiful.
Strategy 4 – Seek resources and partnerships among businesses, the community, and local government to work towards a more vibrant and prosperous McNair by revitalizing existing business districts and creating employment opportunities for McNair residents.
DeKalb County Government
The Collaborative Working Group was created in 2011 to strengthen neighborhoods in DeKalb County. The Collaborative Working Group includes representatives from several DeKalb County departments and agencies who meet regularly to discuss how they can more effectively work together to identify opportunities to improve the quality of life in DeKalb neighborhoods. One project that they have supported is the DeKalb Sustainable Neighborhoods Initiative (DSNI). The Collaborative Working Group has provided support to this Quality-of-Life planning process, including the selection of the two participating clusters.
Emory University Center for Community Partnerships
Emory’s Center for Community Partnerships (CFCP) has provided technical guidance and logistical support to DeKalb County in this initiative. In particular, Emory’s Community Building and Social Change fellows worked with the McNair Clusters to assist in the Quality-of-Life planning process and preparation of the McNair Quality-of-Life Plan.
Habitat for Humanity of DeKalb County
As the initiative moves towards implementation, Habitat for Humanity’s role as a fiscal agent will become more active and hands on. The convening agency will be required to manage incoming funds from the government, foundations, or other sources, and to allocate and distribute those funds to cluster projects. This next phase requires a certain day-to-day knowledge of projects and possibly managerial oversight. Whether Habitat grows into this role or another partner provides this type of NGO support, the convening agency must continue to provide a fair, transparent, trustworthy system for funding the initiative in the future.