Tommy Head, a friend and colleague of my wife (and a native of Huston, Texas), sent me a link to a fascinating publication that I would have never found on my own….In the March 2006 issue of Governing Online (a magazine for state and local governments) there is an article entitled “Land Rush: Inner cities are becoming hot places to live. Does government have any business telling developers to keep out?” by By John Buntin (it also contains a GREAT photo essay by the same author, see example below). This article outlines the current situation in Houston’s Third Ward, a traditional African-American enclave that is currently being invaded by artists, young professionals and their “gleaming new urban lofts.”
What fascinated me about this article was 1) the historical similarities between Houston and Dallas and 2) the differing tone about development in these urban areas vs. the tone typically used when covering development in historically rural Northwest Arkansas. In the Governing article, one of its principle figures (Garnet Coleman) takes an entirely negative view of the process….he, in fact, turns class and racial discourse on its head with statements like: “You can tell a neighborhood’s turning, when you see them out at night walking their dogs.”
…Gotta love that
The article, however, does a good job of covering the different understandings and the basic conflict presented by gentrification….Houston’s case is eerily similar to Dallas, where James Davidson, Maria Franklin & I have documented a similar history of space, class, race and urbanization through the historical and archaeological records. Check out a paper we gave to the SHA in 2004, or James Davidson’s chapter in our Household Chores and Household Choices volume.
In a different gear, these two cases present us with a discursive disjuncture when compared against the case of “rural” Northwest Arkansas. Benton County is the fastest growing county in Arkansas and is the 3rd fastest growing county in the United States. The Rogers/ Bentonville/ Springdale/ Fayetteville metropolitan area growth is creating higher demand for residential amenities. Wal-Mart, Tyson, J.B. Hunt and vendors are bringing in upper level management to facilitate their expanding Corporations. These transformations change the structure and feeling of the community in ways not dissimilar to urban transformations, but the public tone is radically different.
But compare for a moment the tone in this Governing article with the overwhelmingly positive tone normally present in articles describing development in Northwest Arkansas.