Thursday, June 4, 2009

Wanted: Leaders Who Will Stand with the Community

How would you like to live near this...

Or this....
Or maybe this...

Conversation about the Trinity River Tollway, generally center on engineering complexities, costs, delays and aesthetics (parks vs. concrete). All of these have levels of importance that significant. All the city should be interested, after all everyone is going to have to pay for it.

The problem is, not everyone is going to have to live with the impact while its being built.

The area pictured is an environmental justice community. It means that over time, it has been impacted by noise and air pollution, by poverty, it has essentially has had what no other residential community would want or tolerate. It has a disproportionate number of liquor stores, heavy industrial businesses, like metal and concrete recycling plants. It is a high crime, high urban nuisance area in which some people have lived, in some cases for 40 years or more.

At one time it was predominantly white. During the '60's and '70's it became predominantly African-American. Its part of an area that has lost nearly 40% of its population.

What you see above happened while the residents didn't have political representation that was sensitive to areas needs. It had political representation that had to focus on ills that were directly related to segregation and racism. In the meantime it was rezoned, it was bifurcated by highways, and blighted through the exit of the middle class and an influx of commerce incompatible with healthy community development.

The proposed toll road and the redesign of the freeway (S.M. Wright Freeway), which cuts right through the heart of this neighborhood, could be just very expensive public works, infrastructural projects. In time, they would continue the emptying out of the neighborhood through attrition and the continuing exit of young people with capacity and a future.

Or those projects could be leveraged into massive redevelopment opportunities, which would, over time, transform the lives of some present and future residents. For that to happen there needs to be visionary, creative, engaged, thoughtful leadership, willing to engage residents around what can be done with hard work and determination - not simply telling them why changing their neighborhood is hard.

They know its hard. Many of them know what it used to be and they know what it has become.

That hasn't been easy either...

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