Campus News

UGA Libraries to enhance access to archives on local urban renewal projects

President’s Office to provide special funding for two-year digitization project

Two new projects at the University of Georgia will enhance access, both online and in-person, to students, researchers, and members of the community to learn more about the history of urban renewal and housing policy in Athens and across Georgia.

The policy of urban renewal in the United States, which lasted from 1954 to 1974, provided federal funding to municipalities to use eminent domain to acquire property for public redevelopment projects, in some cases displacing residents. Years after funding for urban renewal ended in 1974, federally authorized urban redevelopment projects continued to take place across the country and the state of Georgia.

In January, the University of Georgia Libraries will begin a two-year effort to digitize its archival collections related to urban renewal projects in Athens during the 1960s and 1970s. The project, funded by UGA’s Office of the President, will provide free online access to thousands of pages of documents, surveys, reports, historic maps and photographs, correspondence and other materials held by the university’s Special Collections Libraries. Once digitized, this material will be openly available through the Digital Library of Georgia, a statewide initiative based at UGA.

“The project offers students, community members, and others an opportunity to learn more about the challenging history of urban renewal,” said Toby Graham, university librarian and associate provost. “It is part of the Libraries’ ongoing work to preserve and share the archival record that documents the history of our state and the lives of Georgians.”

There were five urban renewal projects in Athens, two of which displaced families who lived in neighborhoods such as Lickskillet, Linnentown and The Bottoms.

One local project, known as R-50, took place from 1963 to 1967 and displaced 65 families. It included the Linnentown neighborhood as well as many other residences off Lumpkin and Baxter Streets. The City of Athens acquired the property and sold it to the University System of Georgia, allowing the construction of three high-rise dorms—Brumby, Creswell and Russell—to meet increasing demand for student housing on the rapidly expanding campus. Some of the libraries’ archived documents related to R-50 have already been scanned via a partnership between Athens-Clarke County and Historic Athens.

Another project, called R-51 – which did not involve the University System of Georgia – took place on College Avenue from 1961-1974. It displaced 233 families and included the Bottoms and Lickskillet neighborhoods. Other projects included a code enforcement initiative from 1972 to 1974, a demonstration project, and a neighborhood development project.

In fall 2022, an exhibit entitled Unequal by Design: Housing in Georgia and America, will explore housing-related politics and policies on the national, state and local levels. Drawing on the UGA Libraries’ collections, the exhibit tackles issues of zoning, urban renewal, gentrification and suburbanization. It will feature examples from Georgia’s cities, small towns and rural areas dating from the early 20th century up to modern day. The exhibit will be on display at the UGA Special Collections Libraries from Aug. 22, 2022, through May 22, 2023, and numerous free public programs will be held over the course of the academic year.