A weekly round-up of my favorite preservation related stories from around the web and in the news. Click on the title of each story to jump through to the original article/blog post.
This article asks, “Can you have revitalization, reinvestment, renewal without some level of gentrification?” The answer is, probably not, but the author does offer, if not a solution, a compromise. “Shared neighborhoods” (called “economic integration” elsewhere), is the concept of carefully planning and managing the revitalization of economically depressed areas so the result is a mixed income neighborhood that is able to retain some of its original residents.
New policing policies in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil intended to clean up the cities notoriously dangerous favelas has quickly led to new businesses (restaurants, yoga!), residents (mostly foreigners), tourism (boutique hotels, travel guides!), and rising property values (from $2,500 to $75,000 for house in 6 years!) . This unchecked gentrification (in contrast to the article above) is already displacing long time residents. If you are interested in learning more about other unintended consequences of Rio’s new policies, check this story as well, also from NPR.
“How old do remnants of our material culture have to be before they’re considered artifacts? If you’re a gamer, not very old at all.
This week, Canada-based game developer Fuel Industries got approval from the city of Alamogordo, New Mexico, to excavate the site of the so-called Atari Dump — a desert landfill where the famous video game manufacturer Atari buried hundreds of tons of broken and outdated merchandise in 1983. For gamers, the Atari Dump is the stuff of lore…”
I would like think this tree house is nurturing a love for history and historic preservation in a generation of kids! Click through for more photos and a description of this 100 sq ft beauty!
The Fight Over Gezi Park – Tom King
King weighs in over the controversial development in Istanbul that has caused wide spread protest and media coverage this week. “The proposal, we’re told, is to use the site [of Gezi Park] to build a replica of the long-ago (1940) demolished Taksim Military Barracks, which will be used as a shopping mall. ” And developers are twisting historic preservation ordinances to make it happen.
Forty-five years ago today, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee as he stood on the second floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel.
Just days after King’s assassination, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1968 and King’s legacy was cemented. His advocacy and activism not only advanced the Civil Rights Movement in the US, but it influenced civil rights struggles world wide.
The Lorraine Motel and other buildings associated with King’s assassination were purchased in the early 80s and 90s by the Martin Luther King Memorial Foundation, and now house the National Civil Rights Museum.
Fortunately, the owner of the Lorraine, Walter Bailey, recognized the significance of the motel to the history of the Civil Rights Movement early on. After the assassination of King, he maintained rooms 306 and 307 (those used by King and his entourage) as a shrine to the activist’s memory, even as the motel suffered a long and steep decline. When the motel was threatened by foreclosure and demolition, he reached out for help to maintain the property as a civil rights memorial and the Save The Lorraine campaign was born. A group of concerned citizens formed the Martin Luther King Foundation (later called the Lorraine Civil Rights Museum Foundation). The Foundation raised enough funds to purchase the motel at auction on the courthouse steps, saving it from sure destruction. Using the design recommendations of a former Smithsonian Institution curator, the Foundation created the educational facility and memorial site that today is the National Civil Rights Museum.
The museum complex is comprised of the Lorraine Motel, former Canipe’s Amusement store and rooming house, and the empty lot in between. The properties were an integral part of Dr. King’s assassination investigation. The museum became custodian of the police and evidence files associated with the manhunt, indictment and confession of the assassin of Dr. King in the late 1990s. Many of the items, including the rifle and fatal bullet, are on display at the museum.
As one might suspect, the use of the motel to memorialize King and the Civil Rights Movement has not been without controversy. Using the site where the civil rights leader was slain has been called insensitive and morbid. It has also been faulted for causing gentrification surrounding the museum, forcing the traditionally low-income African American population out of their homes – something antithetical to King’s teachings.
Despite the controversy, it is difficult to deny that the link between Martin Luther King, Jr., the Lorraine Hotel, and the Civil Rights Movement is strong. No one can forget the iconic image of King’s prostrate body on the second floor balcony surrounded by a group of people pointing toward the boarding house – an event that was followed by turmoil and a long, contentious investigation.
What do you think? Is the Lorraine Motel an appropriate site for the National Civil Rights Museum? Is it insensitive or morbid to preserve it for visitors to experience? Or is it a powerful and moving place from which to discuss the Civil Rights Movement in America and one of its most beloved leaders?
The Lorraine Motel is designated an historic site by the Tennessee Historical Commission. More than $3 million people have visited the museum since it opened in 1991.
To wrap up my post-Olympic series, I’m going to share a few images and descriptions of historical places demolished to make way for Olympic venues.
Techwood Homes, Atlanta
Techwood Homes, completed in 1936, was the United States’ first public housing project. Built on the site of a shanty town the project was meant to provide clean and safe housing for low-income families employed downtown or at the nearby warehouse district who had been living in the 14 block slum called Techwood Flats.
Techwood Flats in 1920 via the Digital Library of Georgia/Wikimedia
FDR dedicated the new housing in 1934 before the project was completed. The units provided electricity and running water to every resident. The complex also included lush landscaping, parks, stores, and other amenities. Unfortunately, the project displaced 1,611 residents of Techwood Flats. And though 26% of Techwood Flats inhabitants were African American, Techwood Homes was a segregated facility. Only white families were permited to rent the units.
Residents of Techwood Homes in the late 1930s via the Library of Congress/Wikimedia
Techwood Homes was integrated in 1968. Within six year, fifty percent of the facility was occupied by African Americans prompting plans to relocate its inhabitants to the outskirts of the city. Fortunately, that plan was scrapped. Less fortunately, the complex became a hive of crime with gang and drug related activity by the 1980s and continued to be crime ridden into the 90s.
Despite being listed in that National Register of Places, the majority of the Techwood complex was demolished in preparation for the 1996 Olympics. According to the Georgia Encyclopedia, officials and city leaders feared international reaction to the high crime and poverty. Only the most architecturally significant buildings were retained, mitigating the loss of historic fabric. It was replaced by mixed-income luxury apartments that few Techwood residents could afford.
One of the few surviving Techwood Homes buildings via WABE
Although the crime rates and poverty were untenable, it is unfortunate that so many people were displaced by this decision. It is also unfortunate that a more preservation friendly solution (renovation, adaptive reuse, etc) was not found. The demolition of the Techwood Homes complex represents a missed opportunity and is a great loss to the history and character of the city of Atlanta, even if that history was mired in negative race and social issues.
Beijing was once characterized by hutongs – narrow alley ways densely populated by courtyard houses with tile roofs that wind away from main boulevards and squares. Many of these labyrinthine hutongs dated from the 13th century when the Mongol founders of the Yuen Dynasty created the city’s grid. This once ubiquitous feature was dwindling even before the city hosted the Summer Olympics in 2008 due to the rapid development and modernization of the city. It is estimated that of the 3,600 hutongs standing in 1980, only 2,000 remained in the lead up to the games. Many of these remaining structures were destroyed to make way for Olympic venues and the infrastructure to support them.
Aerial view of a Beijing hutong via Xian Tour
As development ramped up in anticipation of the games, the reaction of Beijing’s residents and officials was mixed. Some insisted that the hutongs and their homes were in good condition and that the traditional community of courtyard life, with neighbours who take care of each other, was preferable to high-rise apartments (this is no less true in 2012 – hutong residents threatened by continued development remain loyal to their way of life). Others believed the hutongs were overcrowded and lacked modern services, like basic water and sewage, necessary for people to live safely (still a concern today in remaining hutongs).
Beijing hutong via Shiho Fukada for The New York Times
Both sides have valid points. Community and tradition are vital to the culture of a city, but clean and healthy living environments are essential for the safety of modern urbanites. A balance must be struck. Unfortunately, the cost of modernizing hutongs to meet modern expectations is costly. However, it is by no means impossible. It is impossible, on the other hand to replace the hutongs once they have been demolished and no matter on which side of the argument one falls, these hutongs are culturally irreplaceable.
Hutong Life via Beijing Xingang Tours
In 2012, UNESCO estimated that more than 88% of the old city’s hutongs no longer exist – most were demolished in the last 30 years.
For the last few days, I’ve been talking about the Olympics and preservation. Up to this point, I’ve focused on the actual Olympic facilities and their preservation (or lack of). Today, I’m going continue my Olympics wrap up, but I’m going to veer off that course a little. I’m going to talk about people displaced by the construction of massive Olympic venues and what that means for them, for their communities and for preservation.
Forced displacement is not just an Olympics issue. The poor, the homeless, ethnic minorities, the working class – they are often displaced in the name of progress. They are displaced by parks, by urban development and infrastructure. It happens every day. I can think of at least three incidents in Kentucky off the top of my head (Old Birmingham under Kentucky Lake, the Between the Rivers Communities, the Ohio River Bridges Project. But the Olympics is big-time. The money spent is big. The amount of construction is big. The stakes are big. The viewership is big (some speculate as much as 2/3 of the world’s population tuned in for this summer’s games). And the number of people displaced is big and is getting bigger. In 2007, the Centre for Housing Rights (a UN-funded entity), found that more than 2 million people were displaced (directly or indirectly) between 1988 and 2008 by the Olympic games. This makes the Olympics one of the top causes of displacement and real estate inflation in the world.
A man beside his partially demolished home in Beijing, 2008 via NYT
The Centre for Housing Rights also reported that forced displacement increased in each successive city, it disproportionally affected the homeless, poor, and ethnic minorities and it had long term effects on adjacent working class areas due to accelerated real estate inflation. For example, in Barcelona, housing prices rose 139% while rental prices rose 145% and public housing decreased by 76%. The Barcelona games also displaced 90% of the city’s Roma population. In Atlanta, 2,000 public housing units were demolished for the 1996 Olympics displacing 6,000 low income residents. An additional 30,000 residents were eventually displaced due to gentrification. Five years before the London games, property values were already escalating on the East End. More than 1.5 million people were displaced by the Beijing Olympics according to some human rights organizations (the Chinese government denied the allegations). Currently, the favelas of Rio are in the news with stories of people forced out of their homes at gunpoint and bulldozers lining the streets to make way for World Cup and Olympic venues.
Techwood Homes in Atlanta demolished photograph via the Affordable Housing Institute
The people displaced by “mega-events” or the construction of interstates or the creation of parks – they lose more then their homes. They lose their neighborhood and community. They lose their collective history, experiences, and day-to-day routine. Sometimes they lose their livelihood when their business is demolished or they are relocated to an area too far from their place of work to feasibly commute. With little or no compensation. With little or no choice.
They lose the place they grew up. The park where they learned to swing a bat, kick a soccer ball, shoot hoops. The place they had their first kiss. The store that gave them their first job. The church where they got married. The place they started their family. Saw their children take their first tottering step. Shared stories over cups of tea or sangria or Caipirinha with their mothers, fathers, grandparents, neighbors. They lose the culture of the neighborhood. These places and their distinct characteristics just cease to exist.
A home in the Vila Autódromo favela threatened by World Cup and Olympic development in Rio via the Global Post
Historic preservationists talk a lot about place memory. The intangible associations that are wrapped up in a place (historical or not) that give them meaning. This is why we have memorials – a place to go to remember. It’s why we walk through the Coliseum and think about all the people who have walked there before us for hundreds of years. It’s why we touch a bannister in an historic house and think, “I’m touching something George Washington, Abe Lincoln, Margaret Sanger, Louisa May Alcott etc.” touched. Or when we visit the place our ancestors were born – be it another country or a rural farm one state over. Places connect us to our history. For the people displaced by the Olympics that sense of connection is often lost.
On the other side of the coin, some argue that many of the neighborhoods demolished to make way for new development are derelict, have crumbling infrastructure, or have negative associations with the past and the people who live in these areas are better off in new communities with better infrastructure and amenities.
This and a closer look at a few neighborhoods lost to the Olympics tomorrow.