The Westside: Where Atlanta’s Red Tape Hurts the Hustle

Saturday my neighborhood experienced some drama. Squealing tires, smoke rising from a busy intersection and watching cars back down the medians in front of my house brought me to walk up the street to see what’s up. 

I approached a neighbor in his yard, phone in hand, “An accident?”

“No, I think they’re filming some sort of video.”

“Oh. They’re supposed to inform us of that. Did you get anything?”


“Me either.”

After a few more comments exchanged, I walked on up to see what was going on.

There were cars parked on MLK Jr. Dr. with a guy in the street with a T labeled “SECURITY” waving people around the parked cars. Medians and parked cars were slowing traffic down. 

“Hey, what’s going on?”

“Birthday party”

“Oh. Ok.”

Husband and a friend who lives a street over are with me, we turn to walk back home. I catch a view of filming equipment in the yard and a cop approaching. I’m thinking my neighbor up the street was right about filming. He’s been in the neighborhood since the ‘70s, so this isn’t surprising.

“I didn’t call the cops.” I yell,  as I walk back toward the crowd.  This gets some smiles from the crowd, but they’re still wary. I try to chat with folks. I introduce the husband as the NPU Chair and ask if they’ll let him know next time so he can give the other neighbors a heads up regarding traffic. Because of the cop I’m certain they think we called the APD. 

I get the distrust. In a city in a district with a council member who blames Black people’s problems on themselves, I can only begin to imagine how little my neighbors believe anyone who looks like me. 

I’m not sure it was understood that we were trying to be helpful, but we tried and will continue to try. At some point in the conversation, my friend from a street over recognized the matriarch of the family when she identified her nickname. He smiled and said he had heard that she feeds people all over the neighborhood. 

I saw an opportunity to come back. 

“We have a garden. If we bring you some vegetables, maybe you can use those?”

I’ve written about my neighborhood. This is just up the street, another neighborhood called Hunter Hills. These folks have lived here for 20 years and have never heard of an NPU nor have they ever met anyone from their own neighborhood association despite the fact that I have connections in both in the 3 years I’ve lived here.

This morning, my NPU Chair/husband received an email cc from some other neighbor within the NPU detailing various aspects of the event yesterday.

….and sent it to every council member asking for fines, arrests, and an investigation.

It’s my understanding that our Zone Commander had already received the email from his superior and they were looking into the matter. It seems as if someone from the City Council is checking into it all.

This is where Atlanta fails her people.

In the conversation with my neighbor we learned that this was the first time she’s ever had a filming. She wasn’t aware there was a process, nor an NPU and has resided within this house for 20 years. 

The irony that an entire system that was created by Atlanta’s first Black Mayor to empower the people was not known to this family was not lost on me. 

Instead of Atlanta welcoming her entrepreneurial and innovative spirit, my neighbor is being greeted by a system that expects her to already know how to navigate the field when she’s just looking to get a rung up the ladder. She wasn’t trying to evade the law. She truly didn’t know. Now, she has a barrier to entry in the form of a potential interaction with the criminal justice system.

I posted about this on my Facebook page and had someone reach out to me to connect me to the city’s film permitting process. The person I need to speak with is out of town, but I will be ringing this person on Tuesday morning. It is my plan to take this information back to my neighbor so that they can have some direct access and hopefully can navigate this thing to their wallet’s benefit. 

But damn! Now we have to throw cops in the mix?? How is this solving ANYTHING??

How is the city known for its hustle going to punish the very folks who are hustling the hardest? Why are we empowering only the folks who fit within the system? Why are we putting up barriers when we need to be doing outreach and support? Why can’t I have a city that looks at this hard working spirit and wants to cultivate it rather than squash it? 

Look, I’m all for the city taking its pound of flesh out of the film industry, but not my neighbors. And that’s the unfortunate aspect of all of this, right? The film guys- they walked away scot-free. They won’t pay a fine, they don’t have to deal with neighbors calling cops (for what is a civil infraction at best)- all they did was get a location they probably paid bottom dollar to use for the day. My neighbors got caught in the middle for their lack of knowledge about this particular issue. 

I wish rather than empowering the APD, Atlanta City Council would work to empower their citizens to better discern the hoops one has to jump through to run a business, make a film, to do what Atlanta has always done since its inception…hustle like no one else. 

Do this, and the city will return to being the Empire City of the South.

2 Replies to “The Westside: Where Atlanta’s Red Tape Hurts the Hustle”

  1. “I wish rather than empowering the APD, Atlanta City Council would work to empower their citizens to better discern the hoops one has to jump through to run a business, make a film, to do what Atlanta has always done since its inception…hustle like no one else.” SPOT ON!!!!!!

    We share a city council district (we’re split between D3 & D4) and there really is no reason communities can’t be more informed through their elected officials rather than relying on volunteers in the NPU & neighborhood associations. They sure know how to reach folks when it’s election time, why not all the time?

    It sounds like you’ve been in touch w/ the ATL Film Office (AMOFE) and I’m sure they will be able to help advise your neighbor, there’s no reason they should be fined. It definitely sounds like the production company didn’t file for the necessary permits and provide the notification they are req’d to. Not to mention if they were doing stunts w/ vehicles there are police requirements, not just security. Too many of them go by the “ask for forgiveness” mantra, which causes the neighborhoods to suffer.

    There is a Film Liaison program through the AMOFE, which helps monitor/inform neighbors/businesses about filming and work more closely w/ production companies from a neighborhood perspective. It definitely helps to have folks who know about the area advising on potential concerns and helping get the word out.

    1. Thanks for this information! I deeply appreciate it! I did reach out to the film office- I thankfully had someone provide me with a direct contact who graciously answered my questions before launching into interviews. I took the interviews as good news, thinking their department must be growing! I didn’t know about the Film Liaison program or much about how the AMOFE interacts with the NPUs. I’m wondering if we should invite them to APAB to make a presentation so it’ll reach more folks. I’m trying to read more on their website so I can personally be informed and pass it onto neighbors as well. Thank you, again! I really appreciate you offering this information- there’s a lot I have to learn and I’d like to learn it so I can bridge some gaps I see.

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