I’m going to be writing about an urban renewal incident in Richmond, Virginia, as it reflects much of what I learned in both Campaign Academy and CATs Fast Track(I have come to realize over time that these two programs cover extremely similar topics), and I may have a bias for Canada.. Richmond, in a rather folklore-sense was built upon seven hills, much like Rome. Within the valleys of these hills is Fulton, a “thriving African American neighborhood, with businesses and shops, professionals and blue collar workers living side by side.” You may be wondering—who are these “blue collar workers”? Adjacent to Fulton was Montrose Heights and Fulton Hills. neighborhoods that thrived with businesses, shops, and homes much like Fulton. However, this is where the similarities end. Fulton Hills and Montrose heights are white communities, and much like white communities throughout history, they looked down upon the African-American valley. Not only literally since they were, you know, looking down from the mountains but because they were looking down upon the African-American race. Possibly because they viewed them as incapable, or incompetent. People have unlimited justifications for their biases.
In the 1970s, urban renewal movements swept through the Fulton neighborhood. Similar to the stories in chinatown, families were displaced, the elderly were moved, the community as a whole was weakened really. And guess what, Fulton’s two white neighbors managed to avoid urban renewal untouched. Perhaps this was a matter of probability, and the black neighborhood just happened to be on the unfortunate, receiving end. Or perhaps not, as it has been demonstrated time and time again in history that poor, minority communities are often intentionally targeted with acts of gentrification, abuse, and manipulation. Some people left the neighborhood, but many of them stayed. And waited. Houses were torn down, but residents sat quietly through the empty fields in silent protest. As pent-up frustration and anger collected itself, a community group eventually formed in Fulton in hopes of reviving it to its past prominence. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Besides community efforts, the city itself seemingly acknowledges its mistakes. The Planning Department and Historical Richmond Association show zero intent of hiding it, and local musicians have written about it.
Today, Fulton Hill is an urban neighborhood composed primarily of a working class. The city is slowly being renovated and rehabilitated, and white residents are slowly moving into the neighborhood. So everything is all fine and dandy, right? Well yes—and no. The city itself is doing fine, but it is has also been heavily gentrified. Is this not what we’re scared of for San Francisco’s Chinatown? It is a relatively poor community that faces constant threat of destabilization, standing its own only through the efforts of the people and the community. It may seem fine now, but so did Fulton at the time. This is why I bring up the story of urban renewal in Fulton Hills. The story of Fulton Hills is very similar to Chinatown today, and by studying Fulton, perhaps we can truly prevent gentrification in Chinatown.