September 13, 2021 — When we think about the metro Atlanta area, there are dozens of smaller cities on the periphery of the City of Atlanta, and perhaps our consciousness, too. In these smaller cities—many with populations in the tens of thousands—a multitude of overlooked issues and communities often go unacknowledged, or even silenced. These easy-to-miss neighborhoods may be “out of sight, out of mind,” as we drive to and from our destinations throughout the myriad of interstates and state roads that make up this region of Georgia.
Forest Park is a microcosm of present-day Atlanta, one of many diverse, multicultural communities now part of Georgia’s capital and its sprawling metropolitan area. This small Clayton County city, less than four miles southeast of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, counts Black, Latinx, and Vietnamese people among the majority of its nearly 20,000 residents. When thinking of Forest Park and how the city is covered in the media, given its close proximity to Hartsfield-Jackson and the City of Atlanta, it can sometimes feel as though the people in this community are unintentionally hiding in plain sight.
A demographic shift from majority white to majority minority in this community began in the 1990s with rapid industrial growth and the expansion of the airport, putting Forest Park directly in the flight path. The steady abandonment of Forest Park by white residents followed over the course of the next decade.
Beth McKibben and Floyd Hall, the Forest Park Issue editors
Main Street, the once thriving business hub in the heart of town, now sees most of its quaint midcentury buildings vacant. Today’s residents tell Canopy Atlanta they feel disconnected from one another and the city officials meant to govern on their behalf. There’s a lack of access to healthy food options, despite the 150-acre Atlanta State Farmers Market located on the edge of the city. Solid advocacy resources don’t really exist for Forest Park’s immigrant populations. Schools are still dealing with repercussions from Clayton County losing its accreditation in 2008, made more challenging by the pandemic. For years, promises by the city of bringing MARTA rail to Forest Park and safe pedestrian trails to connect people to neighborhoods and other city assets have gone unfulfilled. And there’s a mistrust of Forest Park police, especially among the city’s Hispanic communities.
In some ways, Forest Park is a city yearning for connections, yet it’s often caught between squabbling city leaders, its past, and disenfranchised residents.
But beyond Main Street and city hall, family-owned restaurants and businesses, and even a produce stand, have opened in neighborhoods. At Starr Park, Forest Park is like any other suburban town. Children climb and swing happily on playscapes as parents sit patiently under shady tree canopies with snacks and juice boxes at the ready. Grown-ups grab a game of chess or chat quietly at picnic tables. Folks swim and lay out at Starr Park pool during the summer, as amateur soccer and football leagues form in grassy open spaces beyond it.
“Forest Park actually has everything it needs, including public transportation, but it’s dispersed across the city,” Canopy Atlanta reporter and former Forest Park resident Hannah Palmer notes in her Main Street story for the issue. “What would it take to connect these assets?”
With veteran Atlanta reporters at the helm paired with four paid Journalism Fellows (all area residents or with family in Forest Park), that’s the question Canopy Atlanta aims to answer with this issue. In five stories centered on city residents, reporters attempt to untangle the complexities of policing and immigration in Forest Park, highlight community members solving food insecurity, answer why the city lacks a real Main Street, showcase the resilience of the Vietnamese community, and give voice to students, parents, and administrators from Forest Park schools. (A story about transparency in city government will be published later this fall.)
This Canopy Atlanta issue takes a deeper look at the people of Forest Park—a patchwork of cultures and ethnicities—and their concerns, hopes, and visions for the future of their city. And while the issue centers on the uniqueness of Forest Park, in many ways, what we’ve learned through our reporting here could apply to many other places in the Atlanta area. So, perhaps there’s an opportunity to learn more about similar communities throughout the metro region, outside of the City of Atlanta, while getting to know the people of Forest Park.