The morality of gentrification and the future of the Third Ward
During the school year, I leave my off-campus apartment once a week and drive to the grocery store. My father is not comfortable with the idea of me driving in Houston, and he prefers that I avoid highways at all costs when I do decide to tempt fate this way. When he first dropped me off last fall, he took me on a trial run to the grocery store on Alabama Street.
We can understand why the black community in the Third Ward — or any community — would oppose gentrification. The historically black, marginalized community says no, it does not want a historically enriched, empowered and largely white community encroaching on territory it has called home since it received news of emancipation in June 1865.
The discussion about what makes communities vulnerable to socioeconomic hijacking is often lost in dialogue about gentrification and its immorality.
The neglected homes I have seen while driving through the Third Ward did not become dilapidated by accident. The residents of these houses were victims of discriminatory loan policies and could not afford repairs. When the houses fell into disrepair, they stayed that way.
The Third Ward is arguably the center of African-American culture in Houston, with strong roots to the history of African-American freedom and ownership. This historic and cultural value should pique the local government’s interest as it fights against gentrification.
Currently, with the collective efforts of community leaders at Project Row Houses, state representative Garnet Coleman, UH service groups and the OST/Almeda Corridors Redevelopment Authority, the Third Ward’s future may be an ideal one, wherein its residents’ accommodations meet the standards deserved by their legacy of freedom.
The Corridors Redevelopment Authority purchases land in the interest of revitalizing neighborhoods that are at risk of being gentrified. Rather than updating the area and leaving the previous residents out to dry, this organization makes repairs and spurs economic growth in the neighborhoods without obscuring or erasing the identity of the people who live there.
Not only is it shameful that Houston’s black residents, who have lived in these neighborhoods for decades, are under threat of obscurity; they face this threat as a result of Houston’s history of racial discrimination. This is the cruel and unrelenting reality of the inequality that can be mapped backward throughout the fabric of the city.
Discriminatory practices led to the creation and downfall of this area, but the intense economic growth that the city witnessed as the center of the energy boom should bolster Houston into the unique position of preserving these centers of African-American culture.
Houston policymakers should have protected the history of these areas in the past. If they do not protect it now, instead allowing the area to subtly and silently become whitewashed, then we are collectively failing a group who has been made vulnerable through actions that a large part of our city has benefited from.
If the city created the problems that made black neighborhoods vulnerable to gentrification, then perhaps it has a moral responsibility to rectify that vulnerability. Houston officials might even want to consider preserving the Third Ward for its rare and proud role in American history.
If not, the future of the Third Ward will join the large portions of black and, just as importantly, American history, that are disguised and ceded to the great empire of our national mythology.
Assistant opinion editor Mia Valdez is a creative writing senior. She can be reached at [email protected]