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                   IDeas  r e P o r t s F r o M C i t i e s Fa r & W i d e

How Real Estate                                                                                  Superhero Subculture

Owns Us                                 By Alyssa Katz
                                                                                                 By Ariella Cohen

                                                                                                 It was a warmish spring
                                                                  alarming speed with the        night and Dark Guardian
                                                                  help of vandalism and fires.   had on his trademark
                                                                     The story of why historic   chest-hugging motorcycle
                                                                  neighborhoods in the heart     armor and bulletproof
                                                                  of Atlanta are suffering the   vest. His face shining
                                                                  worst ravages of post-real-    under the streetlamps,
                                                                  estate-bubble abandonment      the 24-year-old strode
                                                                  tells a tale happening all     purposefully across
                                                                  over the country: An over-     Manhattan’s Washington
                                                                  saturation of new housing      Square Park. When he
                                                                  is draining demand for the     reached his target — a
                                                                  old. Houses less than 1,000    burly man he believed to
                                                                  square feet, those that        be a drug dealer — he
                                                                  need structural work or        stopped and ordered the
                                                                  lack central air — these are   man to leave the park.
                                                                  everywhere in older urban      “I got you on video. I
                                                                  neighborhoods, and too few     got you on audio sell-
                                                                  people want to live in them.   ing drugs,” barked
                                                                     Atlanta, a region of        Dark Guardian, one of
                                                                  5 million, saw 75,000          a growing movement of
                                                                                                                               ILLustratIoNs BY DaVID seNIor; PHoto BY eNeas VIa fLICkr
                                                                  building permits in 2005       American city-dwellers
The Atlanta neighbor-           lives in one, it’s a homeless     alone, and since 1991 had      occupying territory once
hoods of Adair Park and         person who pried open the         ranked No. 1 in the nation     reserved for comic-book
Capitol View, both listed       plywood despite neighbors’        for new construction.          creatures.
on the National Register of     best efforts to bolt it shut.     (Today it’s at No. 4.) Most       Dark Guardian, real
Historic Places, are home to    In places like these, for every   of that growth was in the      name Chris Pollak, is
sturdy craftsman bungalows      bold new homeowner who            region’s suburbs, which        a real-life superhero.
and more modest workers’        swoops in on the chance to        range over 10 counties.        Taking to the streets
housing of like vintage.        buy a historic fixer-upper for    By the usual measures of       in homespun hero garb
They sit near efficient mass    the price of a Prius, three       economic success, this         to fight crime, help the
transit in a city choked with   speculators are looking to        was all as it should be.       homeless or do other
traffic. The population is      flip once property values         New home construction,         kinds of community
growing as new migrants         recover, turning banks’           as measured by the U.S.        service, he and other self-
seek job opportunities. Yet     mortal losses into their          Census New Residential         proclaimed “reals” are
house after house now sits      own gains. Left vacant, the       Construction Survey, is, as    popping up in cities from
boarded up. If someone          houses self-destruct with         any news consumer knows,              continued on page 17

   Change, it is often said,     singlehandedly initiated         baby boomers will be 65               brieFs
is the only thing you can        
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