Under Construction: Urban Removal
by Desire Grover
*Originally a transcript: www.ghettoprint.com
In a great book somewhere there is a proverb written that reads like this: “It takes a fool to tear down a city but a king to build one.” Chester is now a city under construction but not first without some major destruction. So one might wonder is our city development currently directed by fools or kings? Hi my name is Desire Grover and you are now listening to a Ghetto Print Minute. On October 29th residents were informed that Chester City and PennDot had a plan. The plan is to expand the highway I-95. When the highway was first created about fifty years ago it swallowed up neighborhoods and now it appears that the 95 is hungry again. The expansion is expected to devour about forty homes along South Forwood Street. The bitter news was quickly followed by a sweet promise of making Chester more accessible. “The other thing that we’re trying to do here is provide access that is not currently here… we’re trying to provide direct access. Also additional access directly to Highland Avenue from 95…from different locations it would improve access into Chester.” Young PennDot Representatives professionally pumped out their practiced spills. They clearly were not aware of how troubling the “access” pitch was to their visitors. The Reps seemed unmoved by the fact that most of the Chester folk there were concerned that they would lose access to their property not gain access. But these PennDot messengers were just passing thru very much like the I-95. The only difference is the I-95 refuses to leave and bring back the community it once consumed. The room was noisy and crowded. Attending residents walked in circles not sure where to go or who to talk to first. “So what the hell do they want because I don’t see nobody to talk to?” The forty-year resident, Ruth Baldwin, was not feelin’ the flow of the meeting or rather the gathering in the City Hall Community Room. “They need to sit down and talk to the people like they got some sense! I don’t even understand what this is all about…they need to sit down and talk to me cause I been here to long…over forty years in that area.” They were all desperately trying to get a clear understanding as to what would happen to their homes and their property. Some learned the sad news that they could lose their homes if they lived on South Forwood Street. When neighbors recognized each other small clusters of them would gather around a chart or table. If they could not get clear answers from the reps they tried to pull answers from one another. “They sayin’ that if they are comin’ that way they’re gonna have to take ‘em…They’re gonna have to take Forwood Street, that’s what the man just told them.”, reports a woman to her neighbor Tom. The event was nothing like a community meeting as it was promoted. Instead it was more like an art gallery and the art pieces were the graphic charts that detailed the destruction/construction plans that the City and PennDot had put together just for residents to see. For some attendees this came across not as a meeting but as a notice that decisions had already been made. When it comes to being “under construction” Chester is not alone, typically, city development plans include a very disturbing practice of “displacement”. The common idea is that in order to bring in new residents you have to remove the old ones. Displacement is happening all over the country, in places as close as Chinatown in Philadelphia and as far as Detroit, Michigan. But Chester needs to be encouraged because we do have allies and they are using one of the most powerful organizing tools ever. MUSIC. “…so I look back. See my city under construction. I look back. See my city under construction. With the locust…Surrounded suffocatin’ my city and tryin’ ta choke us. Ravagin’ the crops makin’ the situation hopeless but we stayin' focused. Never letting the Locust approach us.” An excerpt from the compelling song Locust produced by two phenomenal rap artists, Invincible and Finale, both out of Detroit Michigan. Together they developed a music video that plays into a documentary about the displacement and gentrification of Detroit residents, specifically, people of color. Invincible explains the process. “Originally we were just looking at the current gentrification that was happening but as we started looking into the topic we saw that urban removal had started, actually, in the fifties with the building of the highways. Initially when the highway was built it was built right through the Black Bottom Paradise Valley Community. Which was an historic black community in Detroit that was very self-reliant. Had hundreds of it’s own businesses…completely cut through and destroyed by the building of the Highway.” In order to amplify the emotional impact of displacement they interviewed various Detroit residents about their experiences with urban renewal and then integrated the voices of the locals into their song Locust. Invincible coins the piece as a “documusic video”. “…as we were doing the interviews, researching…the more that we worked on the song we realized that we wanted to include those voices not just in forming our lyrics but also to include them directly. We created the documusic video for Locust… to highlight different community voices on topic and … to get peoples attention and at the same time get the message across and hopefully inspire action. Inspire people to get involved, making a change about the situation.” Currently, she is on an organizing rampage. She has taken the 12-minute documentary on tour, teaming up with other artist and independent media outlets such as Scribe in Philadelphia. On December 4th she screened the documusic video Locust at Scribe and facilitated a writing workshop rooted in the creative process of hiphop. A stellar rap artist, passionate activist and powerful poet are just some of the words that describe her. And even those few words don’t do justice to the musically talented social activist package she brings. Even Talib Kweli has love for her. Now you know that’s talent. Let’s consider this Chester, development is not a bad thing. Actually, it can be a very good thing but only if we make it so. Regardless of whether our leaders play the role of fools or kings we as a community must realize that we have a role to play as well and that is the role of a COMMUNITY. So get inspired and get involved because as history has proven that when we unite we are practically invincible. If you’d like to hear more of Invincible’s latest album “Shape Shifters” just visit her label’s website www.emergencemusic.net If you would like to share your thoughts, questions or comments just call in to the toll free number and leave us a brief message. The number 614.715.3900 ext 70443# Hip-Hop and Media Organizing Against Community Displacement :: Emergence Music
Tags: Development , Under , Scribe , Construction , Community , Art , Rap , Invincible , Weaver , Renewal
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