Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Heritage House: Unintended Consequences

I don't live at Heritage House. I live in the same east Greensboro neighborhood I grew up in. And for most of the last 58 years I've watched my neighborhood fall to pieces because of actions initiated by the City of Greensboro:

"This lively community began to wind down in the late 1950s and 1960s when, under the guise of "urban renewal," thousands of people and more than 80 businesses (many minority-owned) were displaced. Most of those businesses never reestablished."

My neighborhood is finally starting to turn around mostly due to the efforts of outgoing Chief of Police, Ken Miller. My neighbors and I fear what his replacement might bring. Ken and I have had some big blow-ups but all in all I think he has been good for Greensboro.

In the meantime I look at Heritage House and see a neighborhood that was undeserved by the City of Greensboro. For you see, all the things that went on at Heritage House used to go on right in my family's front yard.

My mother and sister-in-law used to have to clean the used condoms out of the playhouse my daddy built for my niece before she could be allowed to play inside. My parents watched helplessly as drug addicts stole the battery out of Daddy's pick-up truck and carried it to the drug dealer's house across the street where it was traded for drugs hours before the police arrived-- if the police arrived at all. Nothing was safe, everything was stolen and no one could go out of the house at night.

One night while visiting my parents I saw how bad it had become. With a little help I took matters into my own hands while then police chief Ed Swing appeared on national television live from Colorado with police chiefs from across the nation and said there was no vigilante behavior going on in Greensboro. I'll never forget watching him speak as we prepared for a raid knowing he was either lying through his teeth or a clueless bastard. I won't say what I did that summer but I will tell you that houses burned to the ground all over east Greensboro that very summer.

That same summer come early August, one year before there was any such thing as a National Night Out, my mother founded our neighborhood's night out event in our front yard as a way to run off the drug dealers across the corner in a house still owned to this day by the Agapions of Arco Reality. That's right, Greensboro's oldest night out predates National Night Out and was held in my yard by my mother. And Tuesday night the neighbors presented Momma with the Certificate of Appreciation. We parked cars in the drug dealer's yard and dared them to say anything. They moved out later that night and never returned.

That disaster that became my neighborhood is what becomes of any neighborhood when major economic drivers are removed from the neighborhood and already the businesses around Heritage House are seeing losses:

"In one sense, people felt like something needed to be done about the clean-up," Robert Spates said. "But as a business owner, you think about, 'We're going to lose a lot of money from those residents.'"

He said many residents of the building were not only regulars, but friends.

"They shop locally because most of them don't have transportation," Spates said.

As the Spates' work to bring the basics back to traditional southern cuisine, they said they hope the city puts some love into Heritage House and returns it to some of its flavorful roots.

"You can't just throw something away and put something to the side and say, 'Let's be done with it,'" Spates said. "It's like leaving a big hole somewhere."

And folks, having lived through it I can tell you it only gets worse from here on out. City leaders made a major mistake in closing Heritage House and the faster the properties are returned to their rightful owners the less damage will be done.