Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Updates and New Thoughts on Disturbed Places


In case you missed it, there was an update on the African migrant situation in Israel in Monday's NY Times. Jean Riesman will be back with her own analysis, either from Israel, or when she returns after July 19.

The Peekskill Public Housing Petition is almost to 100 signers.  Read Margaret Rubick's post and sign on!

Disturbed Places

Me, Installing Straw Bales
In early spring I picked up my Uncle John to bring him to our construction sites.  He wanted to see the houses even though it was hard for him to get around very easily, straw bales and earth plaster was everywhere.  After that we had a little tour of the neighborhood.  

One way to think of a vacant lot is as a disturbed place.  Our land had been, a long, long time ago, pristine forest, or even farther back, buried under a glacier.  While the word glaciation is one of my favorites to say and think about, I'm not sure it's a helpful way to think about the vast resource of unoccupied urban land that has become available since the Great Recession

What is now vacant, like much of Hickory St. where we are building, had been occupied by structures at one time.  When I took my uncle for the tour I asked him to point out some landmarks. He could see homes where I saw vast reaches of mowed grass.  We started at our end, the corner of North Maple and Hickory. 

"I think Aunt Marie lived here, Mama's sister." 

"And then they moved up the hill.  Go that way,"  he pointed toward the railroad track.  As we climbed we came to the corner of Silver St. and Hickory.  

"Yeah" (imagine a very gruff voice, and soft) "See, Aunt Myrtle and Uncle Joe lived here," (one of her cherry trees still stands).  And Mama lived here.  I was born here".  He points to a lot near the western corner.  Grandma and her two sisters lived close for years. 

As I contemplate the meaning of being back in Akron, "coming home", I'm very aware how deep my family roots go here.  The Chapmans moved here from Columbus, Ohio at the turn of the 20th century.  The three sisters married and had many children.  There has been a Chapman descendant on or near Hickory St. for over 100 years.  The large trees along the Towpath Trail that borders our neighborhood grew up with my uncle.  The neighborhood he knew, one that was an affordable and welcoming point of arrival for Great Migration settlers is now being marketed as an "arts district".  The lively memory of Black migration -- jazz clubs, juke joints, full churches and overflowing schools  -- being used to create a neighborhood that won't be affordable or necessarily welcoming.  We will resist such efforts, since that is the ultimate disturbance, a gentrification that means a future group of people like my great aunts, uncles and grandparents would have no place live and claim as their own.

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