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Black Community Opinions

Local Voices: Norfolk and Urban Renewal

By Paul Riddick
Member, Norfolk City Council

Norfolk has been extremely successful in the area of urban renewal.
During the last 60 years, it has rehabilitated, revitalized, and redeveloped some of the city’s most blighted and deteriorated neighborhoods and land tracts.
Any city should be commended for attempting to eliminate blight and the undesirable features that accompany it: crime, poverty, unhealthy living conditions, and environmental hazards. However, Norfolk’s history of renewal is not reflective of attempts to improve the quality of life for all of its residents. Rather, redevelopment and renewal have been accomplished on the backs of Norfolk’s Black residents.

Norfolk has systematically shuffled Blacks around whenever it was convenient or necessary to accomplish its gentrification goals. There is no evidence that until very recently Blacks in Norfolk were anything but pawns in the redevelopment strategy with no thought being given to their future.
Only since the late 1980s has the city made any attempt to create suitable housing options for Blacks who were displaced as a result of gentrification. Blacks were either priced out or zoned out of gentrified areas. Ghent stands as a prime example of the former and Lambert’s Point and the area around Old Dominion University is an example of the latter. Blacks have historically not been the beneficiaries of higher home values and better school choice typically associated with gentrification. To the contrary, Norfolk has systematically diminished Blacks’ ability to benefit from these improvements.

While Norfolk has its share of Black neighborhoods – Berkley, Campostella, Huntersville, Lindenwood, and Ingleside for example, these communities were originally white. Blacks began purchasing in these neighborhoods only as white families moved elsewhere. After World War II, education and homeownership opportunities for Blacks were increased by the GI Bill and the Black middle class in Norfolk grew.

With so few homeownership opportunities in Norfolk, Black teachers, civil servants, and federal employees purchased homes in Black developments in Portsmouth, Chesapeake, and Virginia Beach: Cavalier Manor, Fernwood Farms, and L&J Gardens for example.
It took a class action suit in the late 50s to force the City of Norfolk to approve the development of Broad Creek Shores, the first community developed specifically for Norfolk’s Black middle class. Hundreds of middle class Blacks had already been forced out of Norfolk to purchase homes. This migration also meant the loss of a large Black voting bloc. The political and socioeconomic landscapes in Norfolk might look very different today if this segment of the population had remained in the city.

At the present time, Middletowne Arch and Stone Bridge Manor are the only communities developed specifically as home ownership options for middle class Blacks in Norfolk. Situated in the previously all-Black community of Liberty Park, these two neighborhoods were created with the intent of providing home ownership for residents displaced through gentrification. Previous gentrification projects encouraged Blacks to leave the city to purchase homes or, for those who couldn’t afford to buy a home, to move into subsidized housing in one of Norfolk’s many public housing communities.

Which leads us to the city’s current gentrification project: The St. Paul’s Boulevard Quadrant requires the demolition of the public housing communities of Tidewater Park, Calvert Park, and over 40 percent of Young Park. Have the city and the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority communicated any plans and timelines to the hundreds of residents, many of whom are seniors, children, and disabled, who will be displaced by these demolitions? No. Have they even considered what will become of these residents? No. Are they working to create and implement a plan to accommodate the housing needs of these residents? No. It is incumbent upon all of us in Norfolk – elected and appointed officials, community leaders, and residents – to ensure that the residents of public housing are afforded the benefit of knowing their fate and that their future includes decent options.

As community leaders and residents, we must demand that the gentrification strategy used this time around includes rehousing options that respect the right of all to have decent, affordable housing. It is Norfolk’s moral and ethical obligation to strategically design, develop, and provide those housing options.

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