The term “communities of color” gets thrown around a lot. Publicly, I rarely use the phrase because in this social media age, the phrase is more of a hashtag than anything else. If I were compelled to identify a geographical area that resembles one, I would have to point to West End Atlanta, a section of Atlanta where I have lived for almost nine years.
The “color” criteria in the term communities of color is met by the West End, according to data from City-Data.com. About 85% of the West End’s people are African American. Unfortunately, when it comes to median household incomes, the West End’s only connection to the more affluent Midtown and Buckhead communities is the proposed Beltline. Median household income in the West End is approximately $29,940 compared to Atlanta’s $50,210.
The “community” portion of communities of color takes some subjectivity in identifying. When I walk or drive through the West End’s 0.869 square miles, I see gestures of familiarity exchanged between the residents. These people know each other. With a small population – just 3,888 people – densely packed into XX square miles, the community is tightly knit. Given the community’s poverty level (29% of the West End lives below the poverty level), the West End needs money. Bunny hopping around a hashtag won’t cut it.
One strategy for economic cohesiveness lies in generating and accessing more affordable energy from a portfolio of energy sources that increase the community’s energy independence – namely solar and wind. While the costs of installing wind or solar may be cost prohibitive for a significant portion of the population in the West End, investment in community-scale solar may be an option that provides an affordable energy source for new businesses, and training and employment opportunities for the unemployed in the West End.
There are social and public policy barriers that have to be hurdled for this type of empowerment strategy to work. These barriers include compliance with Atlanta’s current zoning requirements; convincing residents on the benefits of community solar; persuading other stakeholders such as the Georgia Public Service commission and Georgia Power that electricity generated via solar in the West End can benefit Georgia Power and the state of Georgia’s renewable energy initiatives.
To continue their viability, communities of color such as the West End will have to create and embrace an economic activity that attracts additional commerce to the community, increases community employment and wage growth, and provides an opportunity for capital to enjoy additional returns. I believe community solar is an option for true community of color empowerment.