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 night—gentrification.
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.
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?