North Charleston Redevelopment Is A Game Of Chess

By Barney Blakeney 

Vigilance, perseverance, planning and execution. I think that’s what it takes to be successful. So when I read last week two news stories about redevelopment occurring in North Charleston, I thought about something I’ve encouraged through this column – really since I’ve been writing professionally. That is collective effort to achieve positive impacts in the Black community.

I’m currently locked in a difference of opinion about “The Black Community” with a friend whom I respect enormously. He says there’s no such animal as “The Black Community”. I say the Black community exists just as any other collective exists. And as such, I think the Black community has responsibilities as a collective. One of ‘em is to be vigilant about the redevelopment of the larger community that threatens the Black community.

The two news stories I read were about residential and commercial development in the city’s southern quadrant that will be taking place at Horizon Village on Rivers Avenue and at the former site of Shipwatch Square a few blocks away, respectively. As the new S.C. State Port Authority takes shape in the area, that quadrant of the city is poised for redevelopment. The southern quadrant also is home to the city’s greatest concentration of Black residents. History teaches when redevelopment occurs, Black residents are displaced.

The Horizon Village project continues redevelopment of the old George Legare/North Park Village public housing complex. Some 99 additional homes are to be built at the complex where about 280 housing units already exist. The property is owned by North Charleston Housing Authority, which uses developers to construct low income housing. The complex offers some housing opportunities to low income residents in an area that’s rapidly changing

The Shipwatch Square redevelopment will help spur that change. The city owns the land that formerly was the site of the Pinehaven Shopping Center, the North Area’s first suburban shopping center. As a kid, I remember going there to get the polio vaccine which was administered to us children on a sugar cube. Despite the planned location of a badly needed grocery store at the site that’s located at the epicenter of the south end’s food desert, I’m not so sure the redevelopment will be as beneficial to Black folks. I don’t think that many of us will be there to benefit from whatever comes to the site. With all the redevelopment planned for Mixon and Durant avenues, I don’t see a lot of Black folks living there in the future.

I had the opportunity to meet and talk with actor Danny Glover last weekend. He was in town headlining the Charleston Civil Rights Film Festival. Glover came at the behest of vaunted civil rights activists and Summerville native David Dennis. I was amazed at the stories told by those men. They are among those civil rights activists who don’t just talk the talk, they walk the walk.

Anyway, the 71-year-old Glover who is a San Francisco, Cali. native, said the neighborhood where he’s lived since age 11 has experienced the same redevelopment/gentrification that’s occurring in North Charleston. Property values have increased exponentially and the folks who used to live there can’t afford to anymore, he said. I asked him what communities can do to prevent the displacement. The first thing he said was that the issue isn’t as much about race as it is about economics. If you can pay, you can stay. But too many Black folks can’t pay, so I asked him what they can do. That’s the dilemma, he responded.

Former Charleston City Councilman, economic consultant and Black community advocate Kwadjo Campbell however is making some suggestions to address that dilemma. In an economic development stimulus package he’s presenting to Charleston County Council, Campbell proposes business development and job training as elements necessary to financially empower Black communities.

In a recent call for support he said, “Economic development is our new civil rights movement. Without it and without you joining it, we literally get wiped out. No more Union Heights, Macon, Liberty Hill, Snowden, Mosquito Beach. Say goodbye to Black majority districts and influence within the three major municipalities in the region (which are) the three major bodies that control the economic, social direction and future for the region. Property in the Waylyn is already bidding at $120,000. The people bidding are not African American. Where it took 20 years to gentrify Downtown, it took only 10 for Mt. Pleasant. And now that the secret of Charleston is out, I estimate North Charleston to gentrify in the next three years. Unless we do something about it.”

National Action Network S.C. State Coordinator Elder James Johnson said Black elected officials must be more aggressive in addressing the need for low income affordable housing. They must push for the construction of more low income affordable housing. In the meantime, his organization is exploring options like rent control to offer more options to residents where the housing stock already exists.

Charity Missionary Baptist Church Pastor Rev. Nelson Rivers said his church soon will conduct a meeting to address redevelopment in North Charleston and hopefully come up with a model that can be duplicated which outlines community participation in the process. Rivers emphasized that such efforts have to be driven by leadership within communities. The issue is about who is accountable, Rivers surmises.

I think that accountability is a collective one. I think the approach to challenging redevelopment in North Charleston that displaces Black residents must be a comprehensive approach that requires the community to respond collectively. We’re lamenting the displacement of Black residents from downtown Charleston as we watch the same thing happen in North Charleston. This is chess, not checkers. Success requires vigilance, strategic planning, perseverance and execution.

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