Saturday, October 20, 2012

Interesting "You Didn't Build That" backround story related to Pittsburgh and Roanoke

I am trying to only put up political posts that pretty closely relate to Pittsburgh's history and culture. This one is just an opinion- but I think I bring in perspective and backround.

He also- never mentions, that government can and often has disrupted and destroyed vital human connections or that government officials may be racist. The town where Obama made those comments, suffered badly from the same kinds of policies that tore down communities like The Lower Hill and the core of Pittsburgh's North Side business district.

What's interesting about Roanoke?

As the speech and location entered the national media- I thought, why do I know that place? Well, Roanoke along with Pittsburgh and Newark just happens to be one of three cities looked in Mindy Fullilove's book Root Shock, on the devastating social, economic and emotional effects of Urbam Renewal programs on black communities. From The Roanoke Times,
Urban renewal wiped blocks of Roanoke's black neighborhoods from the map and divided Gainsboro -- one of the city's oldest sections -- into a fractured patchwork of houses, industrial lots and splintered community groups. So while a proposal this month to end one of the last remaining relics of urban renewal has offered Gainsboro residents a chance for closure, it also has exposed frayed social ties.
In Pittsburgh, promises of better housing and community infrastructure resulted in a highway and sports arena- In Roanoke, a community was torn down to build a Coca Cola Bottling plant. In both cities, the programs left anger and a loss of confidence. "The legacy of distrust between the neighborhood and city government could make that difficult. In 1979, when the city council was considering a similar proposal, the Rev. Kenneth Wright of Gainsboro's First Baptist Church said, "It is imperative that the city not overlook the moral commitment that has been made to the people of Gainsboro."

Further on:
"The whole goal was to move low-income people out of these neighborhoods that surrounded the downtown, sell the property to commercial developers, so the city wins, the developers win. ... The only people who lose are those in the neighborhood, who still remain there," said Radford University professor Reginald Shareef. "The anger is, for those who remain, their quality of life in the neighborhood has gone." About 1,000 people live in Gainsboro, scattered across roughly 500 residential properties, nearly half of which are currently vacant, according to city real estate records. The housing authority owns about 85 of those vacant residential lots, most of which are concentrated on the neighborhood's north side."
In all three cities, the promised net improvements in the tax base also never quite panned out. It takes a real stretch to imagine, the Lower Hill or the Central Ward of Newark are better off today because this was done.

But, the thesis Mindy makes in Root Shock is that the destruction, in lost relationships is almost beyond calculation. In my opinion, these effects are a huge unexamined factor in recent urban, minority and American history.


D Elton Black said...

This was a good read John. Here in the city of Atlanta, they've eradicated all of the housing projects over the past few years, and gone to mixed living communities with apartments, single family homes, lofts, and senior centers. Good idea except for the criminal element. All the suburban and surrounding areas have seen an uptick in crime, since this "urban renewal" venture began.

John Morris said...

This is a very complicated subject and deserved a longer, more in depth post.

The main point of Root Shock is that a community is made up of more than buildings- it's thousands of interacting relationships that built over time-churches, friendships, business contacts- most of which can never be replicated the same way again.

Yes, many black communities needed more improvements and capital investment-- but, they often already had lots of social capital. (BTW- the government labeling of these communities as "troubled" played a huge part in discouraging private investment and lending which created a chicken and egg cycle of divestment)

In all the three communities studied, what was done left a huge level of distrust. Later rioters in the 60's often said urban renewal had fueled their anger.