A Spacelab-er’s guide to Atlanta’s Sweet Auburn Historic District Part 1: What to know

One of the most important elements of Spacelab is getting to know the neighborhoods we’ve popped up in—and we mean really get to know the area, becoming ingrained in the pulse of the community. It’s one thing to simply be located somewhere, commute in and leave at the end of the day. It’s another thing entirely to understand the complex context of history and place and how these things shape the culture unique to each pocket of Atlanta. This understanding is critical, particularly so with Spacelab 1.0’s locale—Atlanta’s Sweet Auburn Historic District.

Sweet Auburn is old-school Atlanta in its most quintessential form and represents the heritage and achievements of Atlanta’s African American community. It’s important to understand the significance of Sweet Auburn thriving and rising to prominence, despite being born out of restrictive laws at the time forcing people into segregated communities. In a lot of ways, this community and its people, businesses, places of worship and restaurants put Atlanta on the national map. Sweet Auburn is most notably known as being the place where Martin Luther King Jr. was born and raised. His legacy exists throughout the entire corridor, drawing in more than one million visitors each year.

Sweet Auburn was officially declared a historic site in 1976, but the community, like many others, was in decline due to disinvestment. Twenty years later, the National Trust for Historic Preservation declared it among the country’s top most critically-endangered historic communities and committed to renewal efforts that would help Sweet Auburn thrive again.

As architects, our aim is to help people, businesses and communities thrive, and Spacelab is one way we’re holding true to that mission. We’ll leverage our expertise to complete a pro-bono project in each neighborhood Spacelab pops up in, with the goal of leaving the area better than when we got there. To truly achieve this in a way that is transformational, it’s vital that we partner with the people who live in the community to fully understand their challenges, their triumphs, their needs and their circumstances. We’ve started meeting with neighborhood board members and associations, and have partnered with Sweet Auburn Works to get the wheels turning on what would benefit the area the most.

Recently, Sweet Auburn has found itself in the budding stages of a renaissance. New investment in MARTA’s streetcar and new urban retail and housing have helped introduce a new energy into the neighborhood. These few early successes have helped spur new potential entrepreneurs and residents who are hoping to one day call Sweet Auburn home with the next wave of regeneration. Not to mention, many of GSU’s 30,000+ students pass through this neighborhood every day on their way between home and class, making the area ripe for a project that supports the activity that’s already in the neighborhood. We listen and do our best to see the world through the community’s point of view, and perhaps this means we’ll play a small role in preserving and honoring the spirit of Sweet Auburn.

Stay tuned for developments on the community project, and check back for part 2 as we give you an insider’s guide to eating your way through Sweet Auburn.