PPPM Student Tackles ‘Place-Taking’ in Places Journal Essay

September 17, 2020

Photo of Atlanta's Bellwood QuarryBellwood Quarry in Atlanta. Photo courtesy of Oleandrin.

Aimee Okotie-Oyekan, a Master of Community and Regional Planning student, was one of 26 students nationwide chosen to participate in the Places Journal Summer Writing + Editing Workshop. Okotie-Oyekan is also pursuing a Master of Science in Environmental Studies.Photo of Aimee Okotie-Oyekan

The Places Journal recently published Okotie-Oyekan’s essay, “A Tale of Place-Taking,” which examines environmental identity through the lens of the adaptive re-use project of transforming Bellwood Quarry to Westside Park in Atlanta’s Grove Park neighborhood.

“It felt really good to receive the nomination to participate in this writing workshop. I felt seen,” Okotie-Oyekan told the College of Design. “I had been really anxious about my progress on my thesis research, and saw the workshop as an opportunity for a structured experience that would be specifically catered to the progression of my project. What I was not expecting was to be reminded of how much I appreciate good, thoughtful writing. With the facilitation of the Places’ editors, the conclusion of the workshop brought me a framework of understanding my research topic, new connections with like-minded peers, and a renewed enthusiasm for words and their resonance”

In the essay, she defines environmental identity as “the sum of an individual’s physical and imagined relationships to their built and natural surroundings, as those relations are defined and redefined by collective experiences both in and beyond any single person’s control.”

“It follows, then, that environmental identities in the United States are deeply racialized; those characterized by recreational freedom and privilege contrast starkly with those subverted by experiences of surveillance, police violence, poverty, crime, pollution, and sub-standard public amenities,” Okotie-Oyekan writes.

Okotie-Oyekan delves into the “greening” of the Bellwood Quarry and its gentrifying implications, as well as the state-sanctioned discrimination in Atlanta in the 19th and 20th centuries.

“Repurposing Bellwood Quarry in the name of conservation could, in this way, be understood as furthering the erasure of African-American communities in Atlanta while rendering the vulnerable residents of Grove Park more exposed than ever to climate-change stressors,” Okotie-Oyekan writes. “The establishment of Westside Park is an environmental justice issue.”

Read the full essay on the Places Journal site.