Ruined Decatur

I … believe that some of the new construction has been insensitive to the diversity and historic nature of our neighborhood. In the end, I think we will look back at the period between 2005 – 2015 and point to Oakhurst as a place of poor planning and development — Oakhurst resident, April 9, 2012.

UrbanHomesteadAdThis site began as a place for curated photos of teardowns and mansionization in Decatur, Georgia’s Oakhurst neighborhood. The project began on an autumn day in 2011 when I watched a construction crew deconstruct a small home on East Lake Drive. I subsequently learned that the home had belonged to a former “urban homesteader”: a woman who paid $1 for the home during a bold 1970s experiment in neighborhood revitalization.

Three years and about 100 houses later, this site has run its course. There will be no additional entries but the posts will remain live as evidence for the poor planning and development described in the epigraph.


And now for some numbers. The average construction year for homes demolished for new construction (teardowns) was calculated along with the average areas of the teardowns and new construction single family residences (including infill). Excluded are multi-family properties (e.g., apartments on Fayetteville Road and Oakview Road) demolished prior to new construction. The data are incomplete; thirty new homes are under construction as of this writing and their areas have not been recorded in DeKalb County or Decatur public records. The results are:

  • Average teardown construction year: 1937
  • Average teardown area (square feet): 1,283
  • Average new home area (square feet): 2,906

Is Decatur is ruined? That question is best answered by the people who live there. This blog is now finished.


The remains of a former urban homesteading house demolished October 2011.

David Rotenstein, November 2014.


6 responses to “Ruined Decatur

  1. I believe the lack of planning in historic districts is rampant in the South. I am witness to it in Mississippi, as well.

  2. Reblogged this on Angie Barker and commented:
    Sad situation that occurs across the South…

  3. David, thank you for your work on this blog. In the collecting and documenting and publishing, many of us have been educated. For that I am grateful.

  4. David, Thank you for your efforts. You had your fingers on the pulse of what has grown into quite a situation we are facing in Decatur. Be well.

  5. Thank you so much for your hard work. I’m sure that it has been mentally taxing and taken so much of your time and I hope you are aware that many many people are very appreciative. That teardown map has circulated through so much social media and your influence is much wider than I believe you are aware. For you personally, I am glad that you are moving on. For the community, I am very sad. Sorry that Decatur didn’t step up to the plate.

  6. Something that often gets left out of these discussions, is the fact that Oakhurst was not always a desirable place to live. Many former residents could not afford basic upkeep or maintenance of home ownership, which means that many houses are left with extensive termite damage, poor drainage, water damage, disintegrating mortar, foundation damage and movement from 80-100 year old trees that someone let grow to 4 ft in diameter within 5 feet of the house, misguided retrofits – the list goes on. Do you save her? Do you sink that much money to fix all of the problems you uncover knowing that on top of home ownership not being an investment (unless you’re paying cash) you’re essentially throwing that money away, because unless you add sq ft – you’re not really increasing value? Can you afford to do that? Should you be required to? We can all lament change, and honestly I prefer the four square houses that match the Sears catalog homes over the new age craftsman; and I gasp every time a home disappears. But before you judge every tear down, consider that you haven’t seen the inspection list – you have no idea how bad the mold, the termite damage, the structural problems are – you have no idea how much it would cost to save her.

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