“Greensboro neighborhoods feel the effects of urban revitalization as UNCG expands”
By Molly Ashline, Staff Writer
Published in print Feb. 4, 2015
Last week UNC-Greensboro’s geography department hosted a colloquium in the Graham building featuring Dr. Michael Webb of UNC-Chapel Hill.
Webb is a research associate for UNC in the Center for Urban and Regional Studies.
Webb, who attended Ohio State University (OSU), gave an overview of his research on the urban revitalization efforts in the King-Lincoln neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio where OSU is based.
According to Webb, urban revitalization has fewer negatives for communities than the much-hated and ever-increasing gentrification, which involves renovating communities to conform to middle-class tastes and attract wealthier residents.
“Gentrification…is really just synonymous in a lot of the research today with displacement,” Webb said.
Webb explained how urban revitalization efforts in King-Lincoln focus on methods that will keep current residents in the neighborhood while still improving the area.
“One way to mitigate some of the issues associated with gentrification, particularly black gentrification, is called Urban Black Tourism Districts, where you sell neighborhoods as being items where you would go be a tourist. Now the advantage of that is that people come, they spend their money and they don’t stay,” Webb explained.
Webb mentioned this example in talking about cultural regeneration, which is essentially rejuvenating an area’s existing culture and history.
He does admit that such strategies do not always go over well with residents.
“People can feel like in these Urban Tourism Districts that their culture is being co-opted— that it’s being sanitized to sell it to the masses,” Webb said.
The city government of Columbus is coordinating the King-Lincoln revitalization, establishing what they call Partners Achieving Community Transformation (PACT).
One of the partners in PACT is Ohio State University.
This connection begs the question: what role do expanding universities have in improving the areas into which they are expanding?
In Greensboro, UNCG has been expanding its Lee Street side-of-campus for years. These expansions include the new UNCG police building, student apartments and the contested recreational center.
Student fees are funding construction and operation of the recreational center, and it is a facility that will be positioned around neighborhoods, which, according to a City Data map, largely have median incomes below $40,000 per year.
Residents in this area will not have access to the recreational center unless they are students.
Webb says the situation between Columbus and Ohio State is different.
When OSU purchased and decided to update two hospitals in Columbus five years ago, the city offered the university a deal.
Webb explained, saying, “The city said: ‘We will give you a $35 million dollar tax abatement, but we want $10 million of that to go towards investment in King-Lincoln’…in order to support what a lot of the city was doing.”
He went on to say that the biggest employers for residents in King-Lincoln were the two hospitals owned by Ohio State.
Webb mentioned a few of the other apparent improvements for the King-Lincoln area, which is affectionally called the Near East Side by long-time residents.
The city has renovated or built new housing constructions in vacant homes and lots, a neighborhood theater was renovated and project housing has been largely demolished.
Despite these changes, there remains some intense conflict about PACT.
“Opposition is fueled by three interrelated factors: nostalgia, fear and distrust,” Webb said.
He explained that past residents may have memories that they do not want destroyed with the demolition of certain buildings.
Distrust and fear, on the other hand, stems from the community members’ belief that city government intervention in the neighborhood will just lead to heightened racial separation, gentrification and poverty.
Moreover, people associated with King-Lincoln are worried that the culture of the neighborhood will be diminished.
Webb mentioned that PACT has been attacked in the media since its inception.However, he thinks that this new approach will lead to more investment in keeping the culture of the neighborhood while still improving it.
Many of the issues and ideas Webb discussed are central to the harrowing issue of gentrification in cities.
But if urban revitalization efforts protect the culture and neighborhood residents, then it may be a solution.