On The Brink Of Upheaval
Is the Character of a neighborhood the chicken or the egg?

Usually (not always) the gentrification movement is sparked by a combination of urban pioneers, usually Gays, Artists & others not overly paranoid about crime or needing good public schools. Artists see character in tired architecture and are attracted to affordable spaces. Cultural diversity comes with the breakdown of planned communities, gone by. Artists are attracted to the possibilities. Cultural gaps leave potential to make change, and make a mark on the progressions of society.

Today, we are seeing the reverse of white flight. An increasing number of suburban-dwellers want to move closer to the city and experience the diversity and convenience that city living offers; this is great. However, we must be careful that we don’t allow historic and traditional communities to be steamrolled and displaced in the process. Unfortunately, this is exactly what happened to Houston’s Fourth Ward, particularly Freedmen’s Town.

Freedmen’s Town was originally built by freed slaves, and it served as a historic neighborhood for black Houstonians. In the name of development, however, shotgun houses were demolished and original hand-made brick roads torn up only to be replaced by modern town homes and bars that neither serve nor benefit the neighborhood’s traditional residents.

Wheatley High School will be demolished, orders a Harris County judge. But residents in 5th Ward will continue to fight to preserve its history. This month, after 50+ years, we see the city has connected the two roads Wheatley and Ella, which have been divided by Victory Rd for half a century. Furthermore, Wheatley Road will lose it's name to Ella.

One might say, Garden Oaks and Independence Heights are both out or "reasonable" reach now. The Garden Oaks development is even bleeding into Acres Homes. Already we are seeing half a million dollar homes sprouting up in the neighborhood of Acres Homes the latest neighborhood being gentrified in North Houston. Artist's colonies are also popping up in Acres Homes.

Acres Homes is a community worth preserving. Residents are looking for renewal, and don’t mind new people, but think new residents should become a part of the community, not try to change it. No matter how you look at the situation, changes are coming, and the new face of Acres Homes will be different from the sleepy, quiet rural pocket it has been over this past 25 years.

Such development is no accident. Notice, the connecting road between Weatley and Ella came first. In the past decade, the public sector has invested upwards of $8 billion in the central area Houstonians call "the Inner Loop," to entice to affluent suburbanites. There's an eight-mile light rail line, new football and baseball stadiums, a museum district that's doubled in size, new downtown parks and fresh landscaping.

Residents fear being priced out of their neighborhoods as well as loosing the familiar culture they are accustomed to. Here are the questions we are asking. Is gentrification a natural and unavoidable consequence of market forces, or does it result of top down policies? Is it an effect of low wages or one of high-priced real estate? Does it require government intervention?

Houston is a city famous for its lack of zoning and its developer-friendly philosophy. Is the character of a neighborhood the chicken or the egg? People ultimately end up living in neighborhoods, but they don't typically 'buy' the neighborhood in town, people buy the house. Residents, if need be, can make it theirs through community involvement, and personally connecting and respecting the families who are already there, and have been there while the transition is going on.

Neighborhoods are made up of the people who make them what they are. Hopefully the people who are moving in, have the decency to have just a little respect for what came before them. Certainly the builders do not. They are like wild renegades, in Houston. To the people who are already in a mutating neighborhood, change is an opportunity for improvement and good. Realtors, could encourage new neighbors and old to manifest a little of that old school hospitality, on inception, to get the ball rolling.

The Board of Education has voted unanimously to approve a settlement that will allow Houston ISD to build a new school on the site of the original Wheatley High School in Fifth Ward.

The new Mickey Leland College Preparatory Academy for Young Men will incorporate original building materials, including bricks and decorative ornaments, into the design. The Gregg Street and Lyons Avenue facades of the new two-story facility will use a similar architectural style as the current H.P. Carter building, according to the district.

HISD is agreeing to devote up to $1 million toward the construction. Under the 2012 bond program, the academy is being built for up to 1,000 secondary students in grades 6 through 12.




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