August 06, 2009

Urban Renewal

In recent years "Urban Renewal" had been tagged "Black Removal," because most neighborhoods that were effected were Black, usually mixed income. When I was young most black people hadn't caught on to the gimmick. We truly believed we would get a fair price for our property and that when the highway was built there would be new homes built and low income and moderate housing would be in the mix. This was supposed to improve the neighborhood. In my home town, there were a few apartments built and homes for the aged, but no invigorated neighborhood; that didn't happen until 40 years later when gentrification came. In order to fill in the highway for over 50 miles, not only were homes razed, but two hills. The terrain was totally changed, so the 8 square block area in which I lived disappeared. I can not drive or walk by the old house, show my son where I went to elementary school or walk around the river where one hill was cliff like. I think the pictures that my father had taken years earlier in the thirties were thrown out when my parents had to move to assisted living. There may be one surviving picture of my younger sister and bother with our cousin in front of the house. Not only did that change the neighborhood, the highway changed the city from a walking city to a city like the suburbs. It also disperse black people and created new neighborhoods that would further isolate the poor and create instability. Over time even those neighborhoods became gentrified and the poor Black folks seem to disappear.

I can not go home.

A reader had sent me an e-mail to tell me about a neighbor who had suffered form being displaced from New Orleans and recommends that I read this article, Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans. The author William River Pitt, describes the feeling of missing his home and describes the events surrounding hurricane Katrina, then laments the hole left in the Ninth Ward and how New Orleans has changed since this catastrophe.

What does it mean to miss New Orleans? It means knowing that one of the most golden citadels of our shared history - a cradle of multiculturalism, the birthplace of jazz, seed corn of so much that is America - was allowed to die of neglect, disdain, racism, greed and simple stupidity right before our eyes. A city stands where New Orleans once was, but it is not New Orleans, not really.
After Katrina there were many blog voices bashing the poor with all the trite, racist and ignorant assumptions. There was no understanding of the make up of the population of New Orleans, it was seen as a Southern Disneyland, albeit a salacious one. They didn't see any middle class folk as victims of the storm or how most could not rebuild, because insurance companies reneged. They were also blind to folks that were working class or working poor who owned and lost property to the hurricane. They projected the whole of the city as dependent and helpless, because they have been coddled by the government. Their code words implied black folk on welfare, undeserving of any help. This prevented many from seeing victims as they were. This was done while some were saying donate to the Salvation Army or Red Cross. The survivalist came out of the woodwork convinced they would have been heroes. These were such strange messages. I am not saying that there not any bloggers who were speaking the truth about the victims, but it was far too much Katrina victim bashing. I think it had a great impact on how the city was treated and the ineffective governing and policy making could always be shifted to the moral failure of the citizens of New Orleans. I have seen this theme reoccur over four years and expect to see more of it as the anniversary gets close.

William River Pitt said: "All that was the city, all that it gave this country, and so many of the people who lived there, are gone forever. " His city has disappeared. In time, I think sooner than forty years it will become gentrified and the folk who lived in the Ninth Ward will have disappeared and been fogotten. A highway will not have caused Urban Renewal, but a Cat 5 hurricane.



ZIRGAR said...

I agree with you on all points, and I think the overarching neglect, FEMA incompetence, poor rescue services and racist undercurrents that fueled the lack of help and placed blame on the hurricane victims was a great boon to those in power who saw the devastation as a perfect way to start all over and rebuild the city, code for instantaneous gentrification--go get the white folks in here! Since the insurance wouldn't pay to help the poor rebuild and since few people in the power alleys of DC and other places want to rebuild those poor neighborhoods it became a call to get rid of those perceived as undesirables. I mean, if it's the victim's fault people don't feel as bad about removing them, right? So place the blame on the victims and kick them out and rebuild and make it new, i.e. white. It's horrible what happened to New Orleans and people should be ashamed of themselves for putting economics over people's lives, and using racism to make it all that more palatable for doing so. It's one of the most despicable situations in this country's history.

D W JazzLover said...

This happened in my home town too, the area I grew up in was allowed to die a slow and painful death brought on by a highway...Homes and places that had been there for generations gone....Now plans for redevelopment!!!

NetteB said...

I agree on the points you make about the effects of Urban Renewal on urban minorities. I am currently taking a class on Global Citizenship and I chose to focus this particular issue for an assignment. Does anyone think that there can be better alternatives to displacing people who are affected by urban renewal or eminent domain in order to keep them in their homes, or return to their residential areas?