Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall;
Humpry Dumpty had a great fall;
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.
I’ve been thinking about good ole Humpty as I’ve been creating art tours all over Metro Atlanta as a People for Bikes Ambassador. About how easy it is for people to fall victim to art that is expressly used as an aspirational economic development tool to displace them, rather than as an authentic expression of the existing community. I’m not saying that erasure happened where Humpty lives. I’m just saying there’s a difference between the two, you’ll see it as it’s happening if you pay attention (or feel it intensely if it’s happening to you)*.
And here’s what often happens next. Once current communities are gone, what also seems to happen is the privatization of previously public space as public streets, rights of way, and greenspace become “developed” as singular parcels of land.
Huge swaths of land in Downtown Atlanta, for instance, are now gated off and closed to the public (I’m looking at you, Centennial Park and The Home Depot Backyard at Mercedes Benz Stadium). That stunning fountain in Centennial Park that I’ve considered to be the happiest place in Atlanta with children of all ages and colors running through it freely and continually, and that beautiful public art that was part of the community outreach during the Super Bowl in 2019 (plus a new mural by Yehimi Cambrón, whose murals are featured on some of my tours but I can’t even get a photo of), are both off limits to the public right now.
Humpty Dumpty fell in both places, and now they are just shells of the community they once were as well as the communities they are trying to become (due to COVID-19). Keep an eye on the public art plans where you live. Ask how existing communities, especially those that are marginalized, are being incorporated into the plans. And make sure Humpty doesn’t fall there, too.
* It’s part of the larger question of what is allowed, by whom, where, when, how, and why — and who makes those decisions.