A community forum hosted by The Urban Renewal Center (URC) at First Presbyterian Church on August 22 made for a lively discussion by panelists about the impact of urban renewal, notably in Norfolk, on displaced residents. The practice is commonly referred to as “gentrification.”
Typically, gentrification occurs when old, blighted and poverty-stricken neighborhoods are demolished to redevelop an area. In their place, new neighborhoods appear as upgraded residential enclaves for higher-income residents. A limited number of those displaced may receive aid in moving into the new neighborhood. Most, however, are given housing vouchers and aid in finding housing in other parts of a city and promised economic opportunity elsewhere.
Panelists were Dr. Robert K. Perkins, Associate Professor of Sociology at Norfolk State University; Brenda H. Andrews, Publisher of the New Journal & Guide; and Dr. John Finn, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Social Work and Anthropology at Christopher Newport University. A fourth panelist invited from the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority was not present.
Norfolk has a storied history related to redevelopment or, as critics deem it, gentrification. East Ocean View, East Ghent, and Broad Creek once deemed economic deserts are such examples in Norfolk.
“The URC’s forum is timely in Norfolk,” said Dr. Antipas Harris, Founding Dean of the Urban Renewal Center, in advance of the forum. “Years of biased social engineering have resulted in the ‘tale of two cities’ – upper middle class and wealthy, on the one hand, and the working class and poor, on the other, and they are mainly split along racial lines.”
Today the St. Paul’s Project in downtown Norfolk is gearing up as the latest example of the city’s redevelopment.
By the end of this year, the first 187 Tidewater Gardens residents, as part of the first phase of the St. Paul’s Project, will be moving out of the huge public housing community.
Starting with Tidewater Gardens, the St. Paul’s Project will move a total of 4,193 residents from the Tidewater Gardens, Calvary Square and Young Terrace public housing communities within the next decade.
First Presbyterian Church Pastor Jim Wood and Harris presented a video on gentrification to introduce the discussion, followed by the perspectives of the panelists. A question and answer period followed.