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    Posted September 5, 2013 by
    East Point, Georgia
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Where is my home?

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    A Home by the Airport


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     Hannah Palmer is a graphic designer in Atlanta. She made a Google mapping project created from her research on places destroyed by Atlanta’s airport. She is working on turning her MFA thesis, "I'm From Here," into a book. It combines memoir and investigative journalism to tell the story of her hometown, Mountain View, Georgia, and other erased places surrounding Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
    - dsashin, CNN iReport producer

    Where is my home? You’ve probably flown over it. It’s somewhere near Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the “busiest airport in the world.”

    My family moved 3 times during my childhood: once at the time of my parents’ divorce, once as the result of my dad’s re-marriage, and once just as I was leaving for college. All three of my childhood homes were on the south side of Atlanta, just a few miles from the airport. All three houses were erased shortly after we moved.

    By “erased,” I mean they were bought out, burned down, or relocated to someplace far from the runways. One way or another, all my homes no longer exist because they were too close to the ever-expanding airport. Sometimes it feels like a giant eraser follows me from place to place, wiping away my past. It rezones the landscape into warehouses, runways, and in one case, a CVS Pharmacy. I literally can’t go home again.

    I say my home is Atlanta, but I’ve never actually lived within the city limits. By “Atlanta,” I mean Metro Atlanta, a sprawling confederation of 10 counties and 80 distinct cities, all welded together by interstate highways and populated by people who are not from Atlanta. I’m actually from Mountain View and Forest Park, Georgia, both “bedroom communities” of the airport.

    A few years ago, I found myself pregnant and settled in a house in East Point, also a short distance from the airport. I started thinking about how would I explain to my children where I’m from when the places I called home are now unrecognizable. Driven by a growing curiosity about my “broken home,” and determined to create a permanent residence here, I began to research the history and fate of these lost houses.

    I learned that during the ‘60s and ‘70s, the City of Atlanta Department of Aviation acquired and cleared thousands of acres in Fulton and Clayton County—densely developed land that included established neighborhoods and the entire city of Mountain View, where my family lived. The city of Mountain View lost its charter in 1978, the year I was born. As residents cashed in their “relocation assistance” to move away from the jet noise and air pollution, my parents used their buyout check to help pay for their split. Any protest over the airport’s astonishing land grab was drowned out by the grand opening fanfare for the massive new “Midfield” terminal in 1980.

    Throughout the following decades, the continuous expansion of runways and terminals necessitated noise-abatement programs and additional buyouts that decimated the communities bordering the airport, triggering waves of migration away from the area. The resulting mega-airport has become the largest employer in the state and the economic engine for the entire Southeastern U.S., but at what cost? Those who have been driven out of town by this noisy neighbor cling to some startling narratives and conspiracy theories about what happened there. Just as I conflate the end of my family with the end of Mountain View, the collective scars of these lost neighborhoods has shaped Atlanta in surprising ways.

    To find the truth about what happened to my houses, to my family, and to their communities, I have picked through the ruins of kudzu-covered, airport-owned ghost towns, visited carefully preserved cemeteries between the runways, and tracked down an entire subdivision built out of relocated airport-area houses. I’ve had awkward interviews with former residents, business owners, community leaders, firemen, homeless men, and my own Mom and Dad. The quest is like trying to locate a body, 30 years later. In my attempt to track down the brief life story of each of my lost houses, I learned that cities are ephemeral, but stories remain a powerful force for shaping the places we call home.

    photos © 2013 http://johnathonkelso.com/
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