Tuesday, September 23, 2014

State-Thomas Neighborhood 1989

I just purchased a half dozen historic aerials focusing on uptown ranging from the 1930's up to 2001.  That's what I do.

I want to take a bit more time with this when I actually have more time, but for the moment I want to focus on the 1989 aerial.  There is a bit of oversimplified mythology floating around that the high density, high cost current iteration of uptown was a pure instance of gentrification.  Greedy developers evicting the vibrant, historic African-American neighborhood that existed there since it was established as a 'freedman's town'.

The assumption is that when the first buildings started going vertical in State-Thomas in 1990, that the neighborhood was still stable as it had always been.  The historic aerials show it was still intact and stable up to about 1979.  The story as I know it from those who were involved in the early planning and design process aligns with the image shown above.  The first developers found vacant land that was leftover after the S&L banks bought up most of the land, cleared the neighborhood to make way for what they expected to be new bank skyscrapers.

Those plans fell the way of the S&L banks.  Somewhere in my office I have a picture of the foundation being poured for the very first building, Post Meridian.  It looks like it is going into the middle of Detroit.  A house here, a house there.  Few in good shape.  Barely more than one per block, if that.  People who worked on the initial plans said the community was devastated and the carcass that was left behind after it had been picked apart by the truly greedy.

The first developers saw the husk of what was and a vision for the future and it wasn't easy.  Lending had to be found over seas because nobody here believed in it.  Apartments had to be filled with friends at deeply discounted rates just so the place look populated.  That was 25 years ago and it is just now filling out fully.  Rather than blame uptown for being uptown and try to prevent any kind of investment from happening in similarly devastated South Dallas, we should be more honest and aware of the chain of events that brought its fall and rise.  Maybe we can do the same elsewhere so that we have a greater supply of walkable neighborhoods that provide opportunity for a wider demographic to enjoy and find opportunity.