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Posts Tagged ‘revitalization’

hazleton_1280

Photo: Erin Clark/Boston Globe
Hazletonians reacted to a hula hoop competition during Fun Fest in downtown Hazleton, Pa., a city that has benefited from the influx of immigrants.

In 2019, the Boston Globe did an interesting series on battleground states, going into communities to listen to a range of voices in hopes of understanding what people are really thinking. Laura Krantz covered Hazleton, Pennsylvania, where residents have mostly embraced a change of industry — and of population.

She reports, “Bob Curry is a man in constant motion, not unlike this fast-changing community he’s always championing. Passing a colorful mural in the community center he runs, its rainbow letters spelling out a Maya Angelou quote about the strength and beauty of diversity, he paused for effect.

“ ‘You see our mural, if you don’t like it, get back on the elevator, you’re free to leave,’ Curry proclaimed.

“He’s kidding — sort of. The Hazleton One Community Center is in a small city all too familiar [with] incendiary anti-immigrant proposals and political dog whistles. … Back in 2006, the City Council voted to make English the official language and proposed fines for landlords and employers who rented to or hired undocumented immigrants, all in an attempt to preserve, as one official said back then, ‘Small Town USA.’ …

“Curry and most others don’t feel a need to talk about that anymore. Time has marched on, and Hazleton has changed with it. …

“Like the rest of this swath of northeast Pennsylvania, Hazleton flourished more than three-quarters of a century ago during the mining of the anthracite coal buried deep below the region’s green hills. But that industry, and that generation, began to fade in the 1950s.

For a while Hazleton was practically a ghost town. Then starting in the early 2000s, something strange happened. A new industry took root, and with it, a new population of mostly Latino families arrived from New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia.

“Hazleton is located near a confluence of major highways that connect it to much of the Eastern Seaboard. The proliferation of online shopping gave birth to a booming sector of distribution warehouses, long low-slung buildings tucked into the rolling hills that surround the city. And with those warehouses came salaries that would cover the cost of a perfectly nice home. Families arrived in pursuit of a middle-class life. …

” ‘Everything has changed here,’ Curry said. …

“Amilcar Arroyo is in many ways the personification of this change, as well as the chronicler of it. He is the publisher of El Mensajero, and from his first-floor office, he has seen the sleepy downtown street revived by Latino families who have flowed into town over the past two decades. There were few children when Arroyo arrived some 30 years ago from Peru; now they are everywhere.

“Amid the surge in Latino residents, Arroyo has taken it upon himself to show the town the many contributions of the Latino community. There always seems to be a need for more justification.

“So he keeps a tall whiteboard in his office where he has scribbled a long list: barbers, beauty shops, car garages, grocery stores, restaurants, bars, discotheques, furniture stores, pawn shops, transportation companies, media companies, cleaning businesses, photographers, DJs, nail artists. One afternoon, he remembered he needed to add something else — food trucks.

“ ‘I want to present how many businesses we have in Hazleton,’ he said. …

“Up the hill from Broad Street, the gridded neighborhoods are filling up again with young families. Flowers sprout through cracks in the sidewalks. Sloping awnings cool front porches. Tucked between the modest homes is the community center that Curry runs with his wife, Elaine. …

“Curry left a corporate job to run the center full time when it opened six years ago. He and Elaine don’t take salaries so this is not a luxurious retirement, but their house is paid for and their daughters graduated from college. …

” ‘We always talk about how one candle lights another. This ain’t one candle lighting another, this is lots of candles and really helping to try to illuminate the city.’

“When they opened the center, the Currys hoped they might see 300 children in the first month of their after-school program. Instead, families flooded through their doors, and they’ve never served fewer than 1,000 people — children and adults — each week. …

“After the center opened, the Currys quickly added English language courses for adults, citizenship classes, bilingual pre-kindergarten, and summer camps that cost $25 per week.

“This summer, the project was murals. The basement walls are now splashed with color. The hallway smells of paint. The children started the summer painting a daytime mural, but soon added a nighttime scene because someone drew fireflies and they needed the dark. …

“Earlier in the summer, [after news] that there would be massive immigration raids across the country, … someone drew an alien spacecraft that captured the fireflies, and many of the children painted rocket ships hurtling away through the darkness.

“ ‘There is an undercurrent of nervousness and trepidation that flows through the city,’ Curry said. …

“Mariluz Rodriguez represents the new Hazleton. Her family moved here from Queens, N.Y., when she was 8. Now she is a mentor at the center and preparing to leave for college on a full scholarship.

“ ‘It was just weird being different at first, but after a while it didn’t matter, you’re just part of the community,’ she said as she paused to have a snack. …

“This year, Elaine Curry gave her a wall to paint her own mural. She designed a glowing bouquet of flowers that surrounds the doors to the elevator.

“These are the things Rodriguez thinks about, not demographic shifts, presidential politics, or a sense of belonging. She’s gotten a few looks over the years, but she said she has never felt like a target of racism.

“Here, even though there are always the little things that you get from people, we still have it off really well, and we make it work.’ …

“Penelope Rodriguez [her mother] said she has never felt the kind of racism you hear about on television in Hazleton. Her co-workers and parents in the PTA have been kind and welcoming. The neighbors on their street know each other. …

“ ‘The unknown, which is the great fear, becomes the familiar. And when it’s the familiar, your biases start to dissipate,’ Curry said.”

More here.

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Photo: Breeder gallery
The Breeder gallery in Athens has helped bring international attention to contemporary Greek artists. With all sorts of people thinking more creatively in the economic crisis, Greece is showing signs of revitalization.

My high school classmate Pat posted lovely vacation pictures this spring that reminded me of a long-ago tour of the wonders of ancient Greek art. Those wonders are still there to enjoy, and now, it seems, contemporary artists are adding a modern vibe that is bringing energy back to a country that was recently in danger of collapse.

Charly Wilder reports at the New York Times, “There are places we live and places we visit, and then there are the other places. Places we return to, where we put down roots, but not strong enough roots to hold us — places that change us, that we haunt and are haunted by. Nowhere embodies this for me more than Athens, a city I’ve watched shift and evolve, endure crisis and chaos and economic collapse, and yet emerge from the wreckage as one of the continent’s most vibrant and significant cultural capitals, more popular than ever as a tourist destination….

“Neighborhoods that were rundown and neglected have become seed beds for the arts, like Metaxougio, which not long ago was best known for its junk stores and Asian groceries, but now hosts the thriving multispace Bios and one of the city’s most important contemporary galleries, The Breeder, which has helped bring international attention to Greek talent like the painter Sofia Stevi and Stelios Faitakis, a street artist whose murals evoke Albrecht Dürer and Diego Rivera. …

” ‘It’s been interesting and hellish,’ said Theodosis Michos. … Back in 2006, he was a staff writer for Esquire Greece, but like almost all the Greeks I know, the crisis left Theodosis out of work. …

“‘We all got fired or we quit because we weren’t getting paid,’ he said. And yet in 2013, arguably the lowest point of the crisis, Theodosis was part of a collective that launched Popaganda, an online magazine that covers culture and city life through an Athenian lens. ‘The first thing we did to resist the crisis psychologically was to tell ourselves again and again: O.K., we are artists, we are writers, this is the best time for us, because when artists have nothing, they can do anything,’ he said, adding that this isn’t actually true. ‘We told ourselves this so many times, that we started to believe it.’ …

” ‘It’s like the whole world is coming on vacation to Greece [now],” said Fotis Vallatos, the travel editor of Blue Magazine, the in-flight publication of Greece’s largest airline, Aegean Airlines. …

“As tourism has increased, Aegean Airlines expanded from 18 mostly Greek destinations in 2001 to 145 all over the world today. Fotis is now often on the road, exploring those destinations and the many inventive restaurants and visitor attractions that have emerged in Greece since the crisis, from a wave of young chefs using Nordic, French and East Asian cooking techniques on local ingredients, to a multitude of ‘second-act producers,’ people left unemployed or underemployed who returned to the villages where they grew up and began to sell homemade, organic, artisanal Greek products — to phenomenal results.

“ ‘I think everybody became more creative after the crisis, more cooperative,’ he said.”

Read more about this renaissance at the New York Times, here.

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Photo: Bloomberg Philanthropies
Theaster Gates, an artist and activist, was a leader of the project called “Arthouse: A Social Kitchen,” which won a million dollars for Gary, Indiana.

Bloomberg Philanthropies have seen that public art can revitalize communities, so the nonprofit is renewing its Public Art Challenge.

Ben Paynter writes at Fast Company, “Several years ago, Bloomberg Philanthropies launched a competition to award struggling cities $1 million each for trying a novel approach at revitalization. It was called the Public Art Challenge, with the goal being that each place should think up some big, unifying, and life-improving masterpiece.

“That effort has paid off beautifully. According to Bloomberg’s math, the four winning projects … generated $13 million for those four places, both in terms of new jobs, related neighborhood investments, and visitor spending. More than 10 million people are estimated to have viewed those works. …

“Bloomberg Philanthropies head Mike Bloomberg liked the idea so much that he green-lit another round. Any city with a population of 30,000 or more may apply for the 2018 Public Art Challenge. …

“At least three winning metros will earn another $1 million a piece for a concept tackling some critical issue inside city limits. Bloomberg has pledged to cover ‘project-related expenditures including development, execution, and marketing,’ although cities will be expected to share some of the other costs, according to a press release. …

“The initial wave of exhibitions was ambitious. In Los Angeles, artists created a series of installations related to the theme of water conservation amid concerns of drought and storm water waste. In Gary, the community founded ArtHouse, a ‘social kitchen’ to bring people downtown for art displays and culinary classes that work like job training.

“In Spartanburg, police and neighborhood groups helped build fun light displays that also created more safety in public places. In Albany, Schenectady, and Troy, officials and volunteers mapped out and then lit up stacks of vacant buildings — places that were otherwise hidden in plain sight — as ripe for revitalization. The project both spruced up the surrounding neighborhoods and clearly illuminated for officials and investors where future civic bright spots might be.” Fast Company has more here.

In the process of of posting this piece, I learned something about the artist behind the winning project in Gary, Indiana, and I thought you’d be interested.

According to his website, “Theaster Gates was born in Chicago in 1973. He first encountered creativity in the music of Black churches on his journey to becoming an urban planner, potter, and artist.

“Gates creates sculptures with clay, tar, and renovated buildings, transforming the raw material of urban neighborhoods into radically reimagined vessels of opportunity for the community.

“Establishing a virtuous circle between fine art and social progress, Gates strips dilapidated buildings of their components, transforming those elements into sculptures that act as bonds or investments, the proceeds of which are used to finance the rehabilitation of entire city blocks.”

Pretty great, huh?

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Photo: Arden Theatre Company
Staff of the Arden Theatre Company in 1995 celebrating their recently purchased home. The building is at 2nd and Arch, in the Old City neighborhood.

I always enjoy stories about the arts sparking neighborhood revitalization. John Timpane, of the Philadelphia Inquirer, recently covered one from the City of Brotherly Love.

“There’s a lot of turnover in the theater world, many an entrance and exit, so the Arden Theatre Company’s 30th anniversary this season is a testament to clear vision, luck, a lot of work, and even more talent.

“But this story embraces more than a theater – it’s about a neighborhood, Old City, that in part revitalized around the Arden, and how an arts venue plays a potent role in such transformations.

“It began with two 1980s theater buddies at Northwestern University near Chicago. ‘Aaron Posner and I talked all the time about starting a theater,’ says Arden cofounder and producing artistic director Terrence J. Nolen. …

“Cofounder Amy Murphy, who met Nolen when both were at Upper Darby Summer Stage, says … ‘When Terry said, “Let’s do this,” I thought, “Sure, I can go down for a few weeks and help out.” Right. We were 24, young, and dumb enough to do it.’ …

“Arden opened in 1988 with a Kurt Vonnegut adaptation. …

“Is there an Arden philosophy? ‘Our first commitment is to Philly actors,’ Nolen says. ‘When we first opened and started getting great reviews, people said, “Where did you get these actors?” We said, “They’re from here.” ‘

“You can feel that loyalty among grads of the Arden Professional Apprentice Program. … Raelle Myrick-Hodges is founder of Azuka Theatre and a busy theater professional. And she’ll direct an adaptation of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye at the F. Otto Haas Stage March 1-April 1. She says, ‘I began as an apprentice at the Arden 24 years ago, and I’m so grateful I went there instead of to a grad school.’ …

“[Former Arden apprentice Scott] Greer says Arden’s 1995 arrival helped revitalize the ’hood: ‘When they got the space in Old City, they were a big part of changing that neighborhood. There was hardly anything there, and they started bringing in subscribers eight nights a week.’

“Ellen Yin, proprietor of Fork at 306 Market St., … said the Arden presence ‘helped build a clientele for the earlier 5:30-8 p.m. dining hours, which are crucial.’ She and several other restaurant owners regularly have partnerships with the theater. …

” ‘Blown away’ is a term Murphy uses for the whole Arden story. ‘All the people we know, all the good work we’ve done because of it,’ she says. ‘I’m very grateful. All of us are, and I think we always will be.’ ”

More here.

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Attempts to improve housing for low-income people have often destroyed a sense of community. That’s eminently clear in Robert Kanigel’s new biography of Jane Jacobs, an activist who helped to end the construction of the large complexes known as the “projects.”

So there is some irony in a new Global Oneness film about a 70-year-old housing project that probably once destroyed a neighborhood but has since created its own sense of community. Today it is threatened with what sounds like very pleasant improvements.

Life is complicated.

The Global Oneness Project has interviewed Yesler Terrace residents and created a film to spark discussion of the pluses and minuses of revitalization.

Even the Walls is a short documentary about the multi-generational residents living within Yesler Terrrace, a public-housing neighborhood in downtown Seattle grappling with the forces of gentrification.

“For over 70 years, Yesler has been home to thousands of Asian, Asian American, African, African American, Native American, Hispanic, and Caucasian residents. The 30-acre property is being redeveloped quickly and the residents are being forced to make a decision — collect their memories and belongings and leave, or return to a place they know well, but do not recognize due to heavy reconstruction.

Even the Walls chronicles the intimate stories and experiences from the residents of Yessler and defines the human connection to home and community.”

The film is here. Lesson plans for teachers are here. And the good intentions of the City of Seattle are described here.

Photo: Seattle Housing
In an organic 70-year process, the residents of Seattle’s somewhat worn Yesler Terrace have made the “projects” into a real community. So not everyone is thrilled that improvements are afoot.

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Here’s something fun from a BBC blog called “News from Elsewhere.” It’s about new, playful street signs in Sweden.

“A town in northern Sweden is encouraging pedestrians to hop, skip and even play air guitar like Chuck Berry as they cross the road, with a series of new street signs.

“Haparanda Council says it’s part of a scheme launched last year to rejuvenate the town centre. …

“Therese Ostling, who runs the Town Makeover project, tells Swedish TV … ‘They have got more attention than I thought — I see people taking photos of them every day, and sometimes they follow the instructions to jump, leap or whatever else the sign suggests.’

“The idea came from local woman Nadja Lukin, who … wrote to the council, as ‘Haparanda has always dared to try something new,’ and officials responded enthusiastically with signs depicting jive dancing and Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks.

“The makeover, which includes rebranding the centre as the Old Town, has brought new business into the once-rundown area and will continue for another year, but the most important impact of the signs has been to ‘make people smile,’ says Ms Ostling.” More.

Without doubt, if everyone did silly walks across the street, the world would be a better place, a place full of laughter.

Photo: Swedish TV
Swedish TV asks, “Why stroll across the street when you could ‘duck walk’ like a rock’n’roll icon?

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Back in 1987, Frank J. Popper and Deborah Popper argued that the former manufacturing hubs of the Midwest should accept that they were now shrinking and that new realities called for new approaches.

Youngstown, Ohio, never saw itself going as far as the Poppers envisioned (turning large swaths of the country back into “Buffalo Commons“), but it did adopt its own way of making lemonade out of lemons.

As Alexia Fernández Campbell writes at City Lab, “Youngstown, Ohio, created quite a stir a decade ago when it unveiled a novel plan for the city: It would stop trying to return to its glory days as a city of 170,000 people and instead embrace the idea that maybe smaller is better.

“The Youngstown 2010 plan reoriented the former steel-mill town toward providing services to the neighborhoods with the most people, converting abandoned land into green space, and supporting the burgeoning healthcare industry. In doing so, it hoped to keep the remaining 66,000 people from leaving. Since unveiling the plan in 2005, the city has lost only about 1,000 people.

“The Youngstown plan … put into motion aggressive action to fight urban decay and revitalize many parts of the city, says Ian Beniston, director of the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation … Part of his group’s job is to identify the healthiest neighborhoods and fix up the houses there, while demolishing abandoned ones and finding new uses for the land. …

“Ian Beniston: The way I view that is, planning within the realms of reality. It’s not that we don’t want to grow. Given the option to shrink or grow, anyone is going to pick grow. But we’re not operating in such a way as if we’re going to grow tomorrow or even growing now. I think it’s really a common-sense approach. …

“That impacts everything you do … Embracing shrinkage has to do with the fact that we had the infrastructure for 250,000 people and we currently have 65,000. …

“The 2010 plan was very basic, so there was the clean-and green-portions of it, improving quality of life, redefining the regional and local economy, but it didn’t get down to the property level of detail. [The Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation] has taken the next step to developing detailed plans with a more market-and-data-driven strategy on the varying health of neighborhoods …

“In stable neighborhoods, for example, we really shouldn’t be demolishing housing. This is oversimplifying this, but if there is a vacant home there, it is likely something that should be rehabilitated, whereas the neighborhood that is already 70 percent vacant, the strategy is probably demolition and reusing the land for another purpose. For example, recently we started working with a company that grows hybrid poplar trees on these acres of vacant land, which are then harvested.” More at City Lab, here.

Here’s hoping efforts like these improve life for all residents in Youngstown. Pretty sure you have to have everyone on board to make it work.

Photo: Brian Snyder/Reuters  

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