All talk and no action as residents vent at foreclosure town hall

June 11, 2010
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John W. Fountain III

Urging a major financial institution to “step up” community relations is a lost cause. Park National Bank is gone, and no amount of anecdotes and examples of kindred experiences can change that fact.

As Austin struggles with the complex issues that accompany impoverished communities, there was a disturbing notion that settled into my thought during the exchange between residents and US Bank  at the town hall meeting in Hope Community Church Tuesday nightgentrification.

Humboldt Park used to be a haven for everything Puerto Rican. Wicker Park and Bucktown were not always the preferred hangout spots for yuppies. And the Gold Coast was notorious for its close proximity to the Cabrini Green housing projects.

John W. Fountain III

This is the first time I have been able to recognize the true initial process of uprooting an entire community.

The town hall meeting was another example of a community’s plea for change fallen on deaf ears.

Both US Bank officials, Bill Farken and Robert McGhee, seemed unmoved by the heartfelt pleas of concerned citizens. Their corporate stares negated genuine responses or emotions to any questions. They were middlemen in the game of haves and have-nots.

There are no community banks in Austin. There is not a central neighborhood public high school in Austin. There are no major factories or large-scale employers in Austin. Crime continues to put property value at record lows. And now with a monetary conglomerate foreclosing on homes, Austin is ripe for a take over.

The face of Austin is changing. My friends and I were just talking about the influx of Hispanics moving into the 37th Ward, while Humboldt Park is turning into an eclectic mix of art lovers and café enthusiasts. I shudder to imagine Austin in the next 10 years.

I have stuck to my motto that Austin’s untapped resources remain in its rich diverse people and the relationship that elected officials have with neighboring areas.

It’s time for these same community activists to “step up!” Come up with creative ways to fund a $25 million dollar pot of its own. It’s time to call on the silent potential that lies waiting in the background. Use grassroots fundraising as a foundation. The panel that sat at the head of the town hall meeting was a united front made up of representatives from other major organizations.

Virgil Crawford of the Westside Health Authority mentioned turning a challenge into an opportunity and that the entire West Side was inclusive of a few surrounding suburbs.

It is time to stop being concerned with what other people are doing to Austin and make a push for Austin to be what we want it to be. I am willing to bet that another town hall meeting will not persuade US Bank to be the community respecter that Park National was.

What do we do next?

austintalks.org

6 thoughts on “All talk and no action as residents vent at foreclosure town hall

  1. Embrace change and make it work to the benefit of yourself and your community. Welcome new people to the community, their energy and ideas and look for ways to mutually benefit each other. I don’t see Austin as impoverished at all – I see Austin as potential that has not been unleashed. I see so many opportunities for new businesses in Austin by Austin residents and for Austin residents. The only question is who will step up and take advantage of opportunity?

    I recommend a town hall meeting to discuss specific ways to improve Austin at a grass roots, do-it-yourself level. There is no pot-of -gold that will improve Austin, it has to come from the people of Austin.

  2. “My friends and I were just talking about the influx of Hispanics moving into the 37th Ward, while Humboldt Park is turning into an eclectic mix of art lovers and café enthusiasts. I shudder to imagine Austin in the next 10 years.”

    Seems to me like you’ve fallen into the same flawed mentality that white residents of the J. Daley years clung to – protect the neighborhood from outsiders (aka blacks and hispanics). Almost every Chicago neighborhood has changed hands in its ethnic makeup over the years, and you would be foolish to ignore that fact. Wanting to protect Austin from real estate developers looking to make a buck is not a justification for xenophobia, and (I’ll call it like I see it) racism. There are plenty of hispanic and “cafe enthusiast” white people who want to see the integrity of neighborhoods protected, and neighborhoods are strongest when they have diversity of culture and income.

    I also don’t understand what argument you’re trying to make when you talk negatively about the changes made to places like Humboldt Park, Wicker Park and the area surrounding Cabrini Green. Do you long for the days of rampant gang violence in Humboldt Park, the bombed-out urban decay of Wicker Park in the 90’s, or the failed urban renewal projects that isolated low-income residents from the rest of the city? The displacement of lower-income residents due to gentrification is a problem, no doubt, but so are crime-ridden, dilapidated neighborhoods that deter potential homebuyers.

    The issue you’re talking about falls almost entirely in the “gray” area, stop looking at just the black and white.

  3. Actually, the phrase you quoted was merely an observation linked to the bigger picture of a large-scale , government-facilitated takeover of a community bank. The result subsequently affects Austin and its surrounding communities.

    Too often gentrification leaves people out in the cold. The poor, uneducated, the ones of whom the system has failed are further isolated, dispersed and disenfranchised. I guess, for you, that’s okay, maybe.

    It’s intriguing that you bring up racism and J.Daley in the same passage. There is no way that you can remotely compare my observational opinion to the J. Daley era. The corruption that followed his campaign, the insistence in the order of “shoot to kill” after the King assassination riots, the conditions of the housing projects, the police misconduct and the open assault on any group that resolved to assist in the deficiencies in the African American communities were a major part of J. Daley’s political machine.

    Austin has been an inclusive neighborhood for quite some time. The organizations that push for Austin all believe in a neighborhood where opportunities for the pursuit of happiness can be obtained for all of its residents. The specific areas that I have referred to have long been deprived of the resources (education, health care, employment and quality police-community relations) necessary to quell gangs, drugs and violence. From the meetings I have covered, there are no racial barriers. There is a vested interest from multiple perspectives on where this area goes from here.

    By the way, I am one of those eclectic art lovers and café enthusiasts! I agree change is good, great even, but we must be mindful of the casualties.

    I do appreciate and respect your input. Again, I think more conversations like this need to occur in order for our city to holistically move in a positive direction.

  4. I, too, was initially slightly offended by the comment about “art lovers and cafe enthusiasts”, as I am one of them. To top it off, I live in Humboldt Park. Perhaps this makes me the ultimate yuppy. However, when I visit a cafe, I attempt not to go to the new place down the street, but rather I walk to Cafe Calao, as authentic to the the Humboldt Park neighborhood as they come. Rather than be dissapointed last year when the Division street businesses in Humboldt Park stood up to developers who were trying to buy them out, my husband and I applauded their efforts and continued to support and frequent their stores and restaurants.

    It’s also important to remember that cafes and art galleries are not inherently bad, and that younger individuals with money are not always trying to change the makeup of the neighborhood. That being said, I know that oftentimes individuals who are new to the community often try to move the neighborhood in a different direction without even realizing it. They assume that all change is good change, when that isn’t necessarily the case.

    So, a challenge: To those who already live in the Austin neighborhood, don’t be afraid of new people moving in. They may want to collaborate more than you think. To those who are moving in, realize that Austin had a history BEFORE you were there. Work to preserve its legacy while truly keeping in mind what is best for the community.

    I raise the challenge to b

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