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Faces of the 4th | Joe Stewardson

A University of Georgia grad and a University of Tennessee grad walk into a bar…

I’m not sure what the end of that joke is, being that I am not a good UGA football fan, and apparently Joe Stewardson (aforementioned University of Tennessee alum) is not a good Tennessee fan either.

So instead of talking college football, we find ourselves talking about The Land of the Rising Sun, a Japanese destination that Stewardson has visited every year for the past 26 years as the official photographer for Aflac. “Have you learned any Japanese?” I ask, to which he responds “embarrassingly, very little.”

Maybe he’s not well-versed in the Japanese language, but he’s passionate about the Old Fourth Ward neighborhood and is fluent in all things Edgewood Avenue. “I’ve always believed in the neighborhood. I have to say, humbly, that I’ve learned so much from this community and the people who were here before me. The idea of preserving not just buildings, but culture and community is just an important thing to be sensitive about and I feel like the team at the Waldo project has recognized that and that’s encouraging.”

Stewardson has been an influential figure in supporting the Waldo’s project, developing in his favorite neighborhood in Atlanta. He sat as President of the Old Fourth Ward Business Association for its first five years, and also held previous roles such as photographer for USA Today, and Board of Directors for the Historic District Development Corporation.

He’s pretty much your go-to guy for all things photography and historic preservation. He believes in a future where small business owners and large developers can work together as a business community. So when someone wants to bring in a $80 million mixed-use property to Stewardson’s neck of the woods, they’re going to have to pass the Joe Stewardson test. Arun Nijhawan, the leader of the Waldo’s project passed that test, earning Stewardson’s knowledge of the history of the community and introductions to small business owners on the street. He emphasizes the importance of preserving that dynamic and how both sides of the equation benefit from working with each other. “The larger developers have an opportunity to infuse themselves into an amazing neighborhood with a lot of unique entrepreneurial spirit and business people and at the same time, they can bring some strength and muscle to the neighborhood that may help us change some things that we’ve been trying to change in the past.”

“I’ve learned so much from this community and the people who were here before me”

Stewardson has seen Atlanta transform into what it is today, stating that “we’re growing into our own version of what the next urban model looks like.” Forget the “Hollywood of the South” or the “next New York City” titles, because Atlanta is Atlanta, and Joe is sitting at Thumbs Up Diner, eating 2 eggs over medium, grits, and some bacon proudly enjoying the view.

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