Hiding Behind The Word Gentrification – An Excuse for Inaction

The other night at ECC,  the candidates were asked about gentrification,  Ward 3 candidate Gwen Wilkins went to the heart of the matter. “You have to ask yourselves, ‘How are we going to fix the abandoned, boarded-up housing if we don’t rebuild if we don’t remodel? People don’t want to leave their neighborhoods and I will fight to keep them there — but those abandoned, boarded-up houses need to be remodeled, they need to be redone or they need to be torn down.”

Wikipedia basically says: Gentrification is a process of changing the character of a neighborhood through the influx of more affluent residents and businesses, which can force out low-income residents due to the increased cost of rent and higher cost of goods. Gentrification can shift a neighborhood’s racial/ethnic composition.

This description of gentrification is more appropriate for a phenomena that takes place in a large city like Chicago, filled with different ethnic neighborhoods. Contrast Chicago’s 2.7 million residents to Rocky Mount, NC population of  54,242, the 17th largest city in NC. Ours is a small area of manageable consequences. It is an unworkable tenant to contrast a large urban city like Washington, DC, as mentioned the other night at the Forum, and infer that what happens there will happen here.

The word gentrification has become stigmatized. The negative connotation of this word is a convenient excuse for inaction and further skullduggery behind the scenes by those with their thumbs in the pie. When pressed, there is a button on a blinking sign that says, Displacement! If you think that’s wrong,  so is the state of neglect our earliest housing stock is in.

Gentrification will not have a strong negative impact on Rocky Mount. There is sufficient evidence now to prove that gentrification does not equate with automatic displacement. Restoring our neighborhood housing in Rocky Mount will significantly improve the economy and quality of life for many people in low-income areas. It encourages home ownership, and lowers crime. John Kennedy is credited with saying, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” If that is true so is the fact that we already have a substantial amount of the housing that is needed. If saving our neighborhoods becomes a priority, the lives of those the politicians say they care about, will change. You’ll love this…..I found in my research that there is now a more accurate term being used in communities like ours. Rather than gentrification, they are calling it revitalization.                                                                                

Take A Minute to Read Two Earlier Posts:                                                                               Gentrification and Displacement in Rocky Mount -#1

Part #2

Are You Using Your Imagination When It Comes To Rocky Mount?

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You might say it is my age, but I have always looked at the world through an emotional blur. I count this as a gift that includes observation, memory, and a propensity for nostalgia. It makes me do things like hastily pull to the curb, a quick glance in the rearview mirror hoping that an outraged driver is not about to plow into the rear of my car. This was the rash move I made the other day. I caught sight of a bungalow that caught my imagination. Blinker on, I left the car running while I took the photographs of the house you find here. The Waterlogue app on my phone helps cover up the work this house needs, and also helps us imagine the American story we connect with bungalow architecture. It occurred to me that parts of the post I was writing for my Stephenyhoughtlin.com blog…. a series I’ve been publishing….A Passion for Architecture, would also be appropriate for Main Street Rocky Mount. IF ONLY….. I could apply the app I used on these photographs to the imaginations of people, who are late to the party of BELIEVING in Rocky Mount’s revitalization, no one would miss the positive things that are happening all around.

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There are bungalows throughout the Rocky Mount area. With its special features – style, convenience, simplicity, sound construction, the bungalow filled more than the need for shelter. It provided fulfillment of the American dream. I hope you will use your imagination when casting your eye over things that are waiting their turn to have a new life, like the buildings on either side of Main Street and beyond. Think of the Waterlogue app on my I-Phone and let your imaginations sore when it comes to reimagining the Rocky Mount area. Looking at life through an emotional blur allows me to see things others might miss.  I’ve always believed in possibilities. Today, I wish for you an ‘imagination app’ that will help you SEE what I see.

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Remembering The Ricks Hotel – Part 1

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Like a ‘lady of the night’ I am here to lure you into the world of hotels, hoping to catch your imagination. If I could take money from you for the pleasure of these ramblings, I would. You see, I have become a little obsessed about a small, boutique hotel in the Central Historic District of Rocky Mount. I have even picked out the Masonic Lodge Building figuring I could sweet talk the owner, who I haven’t met yet, into becoming a hotel magnate. I fantasize that he will say YES to my simple request to get involved and turn his building into a hotel, a reasonable decision, don’t you think? This ‘lady of the night’ business all started after reading how important the renovation of the  Hotel Poinsett was to the revitalization of Greenville, SC.  (I keep telling you how one thing leads to another in my research; I got interested in historic hotel architecture and architects.)

I had no idea there was a Ricks Hotel or The Cambridge or The Alton in Rocky Mount until I thought to ask John Jesso if there had ever been a fine hotel here. The post card photograph above brought tears to my eyes. “You mean it is gone, as in GONE?”  I am getting ahead of myself….first, buy me a glass of sweet tea at the Poinsett which has become a center piece in the revitalization of downtown Greenville, SC. This will warm you up to the subject of remembering The Ricks Hotel and the need we have today. 

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The Westin Poinsett Hotel is a twelve-story, landmark hotel in downtown Greenville, South Carolina. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. Built in1925 by architect, William Lee Stoddart, the architectural style is Beaux-Arts; Skyscraper. It was built at the end of an era during which small Southern cities demanded quality hotels to attract business travelers and symbolize their new urban status. In the 1950s, city hotels lost business to motels, which were located on major highways rather than in the urban core. The city closed the hotel in January 1987.  The hotel was considered one of the most endangered historic structures in South Carolina. In November 1997, Steve Dopp and Greg Lenox, developers of the Francis Marion Hotel in Charleston (also designed by William Stoddart), purchased the Poinsett and acquired a franchise from Westin Hotels. The project received about $4 million in tax dollars, and Federal Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits were awarded as part of an approximately $20 million restoration. The rest of the story about The Westin Poinsett, which reopened on October 22, 2000, is fascinating, and proves how important it is for Rocky Mount to have a version of the Ricks Hotel.  Meet me tomorrow for Part 2 as we honor the past and think of the future.

PS: Charles Dunn is posting wonderful hotel pictures mentioned in this post on Way Back When Facebook page. Adding link.

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