Please don’t whitewash my neighborhood

Gabe Hart submitted the following article to Jackson Sun this last week explaining his perception of change and we feel his perception is correct. Some will disagree, some will argue that this is the best thing that has happened to Jackson since lemon aid. We understand their side as well. But there is something deceptive with this type of change and development and it begins and ends with modernism and compacted housing. One of our partners is an architect who works specifically with older neighborhoods and reconstruction of historic property. He lives in South Carolina which is perfect for his trade. Of his several visits to the Hub city he commented that within our boundaries we had more historic styled homes that he had seen in most cities in the South. If you think about driving down midtown or parts of east Jackson, you will rarely find one house that looks like another. That is a tribute to our city that progressives have been attempting to destroy for years. We attribute it mostly to former Charles Farmer’s view of building design but it goes back further with the state as well. In the 50’s and 60’s modernism and mass construction went hand and hand. That is a sad commentary for our city leaders as well as ourselves. Today we build homes with a lifespan of 25 to 30 years and we accept it. That is a sad commentary for us.

GABE HART, Guest columnist for The Jackson Sun

Our mirrors lie to us.  Day after day, week after week, year after year.  They dull the impact of change. They make it almost invisible.  Until one day, you see a picture of yourself from a memory post on social media and you wonder, “When did I get so old?”  That’s what change does. It sneaks up on us and surprises us after the damage has been done.

I grew up in Midtown Jackson in the shadow of the hospital.  My parents still live there. They’ve seen the impacts of change on their street.  Their neighbors are gone. Houses are gone or are owned by the hospital. Has that change been good?  Sure. Has it also been bad? Absolutely.

I moved back to midtown in August of 2013.  I bought a house on Division Avenue at a ridiculously low price.  I came back to midtown because it was original and different from north Jackson.  The houses had character. The neighborhood was diverse. The trees were old.

I made my return at a pivotal point in the development of downtown Jackson.  The LIFT Wellness Center had just been built. Rock N Dough pizza opened that November.  Downtown business was picking up.

Much of this development was spearheaded by Healthy Community LLC and Hal Crocker.  A quick look at their website shows just how far their reach extends beyond downtown.  They are helping “revitalize” the Lambuth Area, Center City (the downtown square), and the Jackson Walk.  There has been a lot of change in the last five years, but since change can be our invisible friend it’s hard to notice the impact all at once.

The most startling change can be seen in the new residential developments that surround The LIFT.  The designs of these houses are much the same. Some of them appear as if they belong in a beach town in Florida.  The sidewalks are pristine and manicured. The lawns are edged and even. You could almost imagine yourself walking through a movie set and the houses simply being cardboard cutouts for the background.  The entire street looks Orwellian. . . unreality perfected.

This development is now stretching to Morgan Street and will eventually begin to creep north toward my house on Division.  In the process, it’s squeezing out people who need an affordable place to live. This gentrification won’t happen overnight.  It never does. It grows like the kudzu in the ditch that runs through LANA. Before we know it, though, every street and house and person inhabiting those homes will all look the same.

Change is necessary and like any change, this revitalization isn’t all bad.  It has stimulated the growth of downtown and is helping turn it into a destination for weekend entertainment.  However, a change this drastic needs to be constantly monitored and not simply through the lens of consumerism and “revitalization.”

Lately, I’ve seen signs in my neighborhood offering cash for houses.  Undoubtedly, these are investors looking to buy cheap and rent or sell high.  This is the first step in whitewashing a neighborhood. Whitewashing isn’t about race, but about making everything the same.  And, in the case of the midtown area, that would be the worst thing that could happen.

Some friends of mine who rent in midtown recently put an offer on a house on North Highland.  They’ve been fixtures of midtown for ten years. Even though they’re not from Jackson, they’re invested here.  A last minute cash offer beat their offer after the bank decided not to approve the loan. Something isn’t right about that.  What makes midtown special are the different types of people who can afford to live here. What’s going to kill it is the slow strangulation of unchecked gentrification.

Please don’t whitewash my neighborhood.

%d bloggers like this: