To the Editor:
The recently launched Annie Glidden revitalization plan signals an important step in recognizing challenges and opportunities in the northwest corridor of DeKalb. However, as the attached article (niu.edu/anthro/beingheard.pdf) on University Village reveals, “development” needs to move beyond brick-and-mortar conversations to include challenging social/cultural issues of racism and classism.
Our biggest untapped asset in the area are the people living there, the leaders of today and tomorrow. Unfortunately, many people in the area, including University Village residents, have been stigmatized in layers of public discourse that marginalize them, creating fear and distrust. Building a plaza, fountain or community center are important “development” objects. However, the real work is creating a welcoming inclusive community in which the hearts and minds of diverse residents feel as though they are empowered, their voices matter and they belong. These challenges and opportunities are embodied in the “development” work in University Village.
After the housing market collapse, struggles for homes and neighborhood development ensued nationwide. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) implemented a “deconcentration” agenda, displacing urban poor, gentrifying big-city neighborhoods and creating new opportunities and challenges in surrounding smaller towns, such as DeKalb. The opposition to the sale of University Village and the city’s effort to grant a zoning variance to allow redevelopment were racially charged with judgmental public comments not so subtly directed at residents, many of whom are African-American.
The City Council narrowly handed the residents and new owners a victory by granting the zoning variance that allowed the necessary funding for redevelopment. However, the much-needed physical upgrades to the village were accompanied by residents being empowered to be “heard” not just “seen.” The University Village is an example of an identity category that is stigmatized. The formation of the University Village Tenants Association was an important empowering counter force. Still, residents fear getting involved and speaking out during public meetings. This kind of fear and marginalization extends beyond the walls of University Village and into other apartment complexes and neighborhoods in the northern Annie Glidden corridor. Similar to University Village, “development” in the broader corridor will only occur when residents trust they’ll be listened to and respected as full members of the community.
Tiara Huggins, University Village Tenants Association
Joseph Mitchell, senior pastor, New Hope Missionary Baptist Church
Kendall Thu, professor of anthropology, Northern Illinois University