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Thursday, May 1, 2008

"Negro Removal" stalled in Richmond Heights' Hadley Township: given St. Louis history, it will likely go through

Another St. Louis area historic black community has been under siege--but Richmond Heights' Hadley Township may just get a reprieve.

Developers of the $190 million "Hadley Center"--to include "a 150-room hotel, offices, shops, restaurants, 153 houses and 48 condos on 50 acres south of Highway 40 (Interstate 64) and east of Hanley Road"--have been stuck in litigation with area homeowners and now are unsure whether the project will move forward in light of the recent economic downturn.

Take a look at one of the model homes proposed for the development:

If you think it looks like a McBride & Son Homes concoction, then you've won the grand prize! The design is strikingly similar to a group of homes featured at their other Negro Removal project that went through in 2004--McRee Town's razing for Botanical Heights.

Margaret Gillerman of the Post writes:

Hadley Township was founded in 1907 as a company town for Evens-Howard brick workers, many of whom were blacks migrating from the South. Some residents' families have been there for several generations.In the two years since the plan was revealed, some residents moved, some died and at least one house burned. The neighborhood still appears vibrant, if fraying.

Bert Coleman said he needs to be paid so he can put his 91-year-old mother in assisted living.Another resident, JoAnn Bailey, said: "If we can stay, we will stay and be happy. If not, give us our money in 30 days and stop holding us hostage."

Sure, you could make the argument that race has little to do with this urban renewal scheme. The dreary shopping center and squandered transit-oriented development opportunity known as Maplewood Commons has already risen and delivered the area into the open arms of big box commerce. I'm not sure I would want to remain in the area given its character now as an imitation of congested exurbia complete with a super-sized Wal Mart.

Still, the "coincidence" that another black neighborhood would be sacrificed for the goal to transform Mid-County into one big strip shopping center is nevertheless disappointing.

The city of Kirkwood annexed the controversial and mostly African-American Meacham Park neighborhood in 1991. Previously, it was an unicorporated area. What did they do with the land they acquired via annexation? Eminent domain the western 1/3 for a Target store, a couple outparcel mini-boxes, and, of course, a Wal Mart.

The city of Kinloch--the state of Missouri's first incorporated black community--has been assaulted by airport expansion. It lost three quarters of its population and housing in 1990s. Ironically, Paul McKee, Jr.'s own NorthPark development rests within the boundaries of Kinloch. McKee plans to use the land that was taken from the former residents of Kinloch to develop a sprawling industrial park with ample water features. Maybe he would be good for redeveloping St. Louis's north side!

Of course, the list of black neighborhoods demolished by the City of St. Louis during the official urban renewal days is quite sad. The largest are DeSoto-Carr, which gave way to Pruitt Igoe, and Mill Creek Valley, a neighborhood of some 20,000 residents. More recent examples include aforementioned McRee Town as well as Blairmont's demolition by neglect and brick rustling neighborhoods (St. Louis Place and JeffVanderLou, chiefly).

The St. Louis area has a long history of ignoring its African American population until it is convenient to seize their low-valued land and "humanely" remove them from the blight that failed urban policy and structural racism helped to create in the first place.

It's all very convenient for the private developers of publicly subsidized big box shopping centers and industrial park developers in Missouri and in St. Louis, the state's most reliable and willing experimenter.


Doug Duckworth said...

Antonio French didn't like the term Negro Removal, but that's what it is. It's a continuation of horribly racist land use policy. Let's call it what it is.

Doug Duckworth said...

Moroever, Kirkwood annexed Meacham Park in order that they could remove African Americans. They had absolutely no ability before the annexation as it was unincorporated. Residents of Meacham Park voted for the annexation because they believed public services would improve. I would rather be served by Kirkwood than St. Louis County, right?

Matt M. said...

Commentators on the whole Meacham Park controversies as of late would be wise to note that, Doug. Very few do, or care.

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