Crippled Creek

After a century of empty promises, Minneapolis officials are finally poised to spruce up the polluted waterway that meanders through the city's north side. What changed? The buying power of the people who will live there.

Considering the great area of north Minneapolis, its proximity to the center of the city, and its importance as a coming residence district, a direct auto road to the heart of the city seems necessary and due....North Minneapolis, given such a door to the downtown district, would not be long in filling up with the most desirable class of resident.

--from an editorial published in the
Minneapolis Journal, January 23, 1916

 

Being something of a naturalist, when Dave Stack moved into the Harrison neighborhood in north Minneapolis 19 years ago he immediately began exploring nearby Theodore Wirth Park. But it was nearly a year before he discovered Bassett Creek trickling along a rocky ravine about a block west of his own backyard. Trash littered the badly eroded embankment, which was overgrown with weeds. Still, Stack could see the beauty in the murky waters of the nearly hidden stream.

"Being an environmentalist makes me kind of an oddball in my neighborhood," Stack says as he stops to finger a clump of buckthorn that appears to be trying to smother the less aggressive plants around it. "Harrison is one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city. People are worried about survival. And when you're struggling just to get by and pay for food, the environment seems like a pretty unimportant issue--and I can understand that."

Over the years Stack and others concerned about the creek--many of them residents of Bryn Mawr, the more prosperous neighborhood just west of Harrison--have organized cleanup efforts. A couple of times a year they ask volunteers to spend an afternoon picking up trash along the water's edge. Those events have helped make the stream look better, he says. But much more needs to be done to transform Bassett Creek into the kind of waterway people want to live beside.

"It's more brackish than usual today," Stack says, pointing at the water that looks black in the afternoon sun. The stream is running a little higher, he adds, than it was last night when he tried out his new kayak. At least two dozen mud-caked beer bottles he fished from the creek the night before are lying around on the shore. He was hoping someone might have picked them up by now.

It is almost impossible to imagine what Bassett Creek--sometimes called Minneapolis's "other creek" or "Minnehaha's forgotten stepsister"--might have looked like before the city rose up around it. The waterway begins its 12-mile journey to the Mississippi River at Medicine Lake in Plymouth. Its shallow stream flows through Golden Valley, New Hope, Crystal, and Minnetonka, into north Minneapolis and east through Theodore Wirth Park and the Bryn Mawr neighborhood, where it is still relatively pristine.

Things deteriorate from there, however, as the creek makes its way downtown. Down a small hill from where Stack is standing, a small portion of the stream can still be seen just west of the Minneapolis Farmer's Market before the water is funneled into a century-old tunnel at Dupont and Second Avenue North. Past rows of dumpsters, heavy equipment, and rusty Canadian Pacific Railroad cars, the dank water rushes over beer cans and makes its way around chunks of concrete. Then it wends through a ravine that separates the Minneapolis Impound Lot from three industrial sites, Pioneer Paper, Scrap Metal Processors, and the now-closed Warden Oil Company.

The underground tunnel carries the water beneath Harrison and Sumner Olson--the former public housing site--through downtown, and on to the Mississippi River, where it dumps out just north of the Plymouth Avenue Bridge.

If all goes as planned, Bassett Creek may soon become a beauty, the centerpiece of a long-awaited redevelopment of Minneapolis's near north side. About a half a mile northeast of Stack's bungalow-style home, 770 units of public housing have been bulldozed in recent years, the result of the federal housing discrimination lawsuit known as Hollman. The suit's controversial 1995 settlement was supposed to thin out the amount of public housing concentrated in that one area by dispersing residents into affordable units spread out across the city.

Ever since it was handed down, the Hollman decree has been the subject of almost uninterrupted controversy. Intended to improve the living conditions of former public-housing residents, the settlement is widely seen as benefiting the city at the expense of the poor. Critics have repeatedly lambasted city leaders for failing to provide promised replacement housing for the 519 impoverished families displaced by the redevelopment and for slashing the number of affordable-housing units to be built on the site.

But now that the deal is done, the city is busy drafting blueprints and street maps charting what will become of the site of the former projects, 73 acres of prime real estate perched a short walk from downtown Minneapolis and boasting an unparalleled view of the skyline. They envision something tasteful and upscale, old-fashioned urban dwellings with front porches and gabled dormers that will attract a new class of people. The plans call for wide, tree-lined streets flanked by rolling grassy hills and sidewalks for strolling. The only thing missing is water--the lakes and rivers that make parts of south Minneapolis so sought-after.

Most people around today don't know it, but the north side once had creeks and lakes just as south Minneapolis does. Long before people figured out how much water can boost property values, though, most north-side waterways had been filled in, covered over, and built on. Over the last 100 years, city leaders have often considered the idea of correcting the shortsightedness of their predecessors and turning the north side into another lakes district. In the end, plans were always dismissed as too costly. It appears that now, however, the city is ready to spend the money to bring sparkling blue waters to the north side.

Stack suspects he ought to be thrilled, and in some ways he is. As a member of a group called Friends of Bassett Creek, he has volunteered his own time to work on the city's plan for the Bassett Creek Valley, bordered by Glenwood Avenue on the north, Interstate 394 on the south, Cedar Lake Road on the west, and Interstate 94 on the east. But truth be told, he's a touch melancholy at the prospect of getting what he thought he wanted.

"People are concerned that revitalizing the creek will mean gentrification so they won't be able to afford to live here anymore," he explains. "But this neighborhood is so rundown at this point. It's hardly changed since I moved in. The very same house in Harrison would go for twice as much in Bryn Mawr just a few blocks away. So to me the question is, Where does making an area more livable switch over into gentrification?"

Stack's voice trails off as he looks down at the stream, considering the countless cleanup schemes that haven't come to pass. "With property values going up and the new development going in, it seems like they have the political will to really go through with it this time," he says. "I think creeks are so special. It just seems like such a shame that the water and this beautiful view have been wasted like this for so long because the poor lived over here, so no one cared."

 

"The annual overflow of Bassett's Creek, resulting from spring thaws in the low land in north Minneapolis, caused a call for the police patrol boat yesterday, and several families, isolated in their homes by the sudden rush of water during the night, were rescued from an uncomfortable position.

--A news report published in the Minneapolis Tribune on March 14, 1913.

 

Buried deep underground, in the bedrock beneath Bassett Creek, is a valley that stretches south through Minneapolis's chain of lakes toward Bloomington and the Minnesota River. More than 10,000 years ago, water from melting glaciers filled the valley and turned it into a lake. Over time, the Mississippi River filled the lake with deposits--hundreds of feet deep in some places--of sand, silt, and clay.

The land created by these deposits was soggy and unstable and would, thousands of years in the future, swallow up much of what was built on it. But the wetlands, including the meandering Bassett Creek, were an ideal habitat for wildlife. Before the arrival of European settlers in the first half of the 1800s, the Dakota tribe used the creek as a trail route, and they hunted and fished in its tributaries, marshes, and floodplain forests.

No one alive today seems to know what the Dakota called the creek. But settlers who staked claims along its banks dubbed it "the brook." In 1850 a man named Joel Bean Bassett moved into the valley and built the area's first steam-powered sawmill at the mouth of the creek near what's now Theodore Wirth Park. The lumber company he created prospered.

Immigrants from Sweden, Germany, and Norway flocked to Minneapolis in search of work in the growing milling and lumber industries. Between 1880 and 1885 the city's population of 45,000 nearly tripled. Trees were cut down and wetlands were filled in to make way for houses for workers, and within a few short years the Bassett Creek Valley was crisscrossed by railroad tracks. The trains were followed quickly by electric streetcars; one major line ran down Glenwood and Sixth avenues, drawing middle-class families to the Harrison neighborhood. By 1915 the area east of Penn Avenue North had become populated by Victorian homes. Shops opened and the district thrived.

But those living closest to Bassett Creek were struggling. With the wetlands filled in, storm water runoff had nowhere to go. Even the slightest rain overflowed local waterways and flooded homes. Newspaper accounts of the times tell of families needing repeated rescue by police boats. In the spring of 1913, homes within a two-block radius of the creek were flooded so badly that families fleeing the rising water had to huddle on their second floors. When the waters receded, the city sewer engineer told residents that he had been instructed by the city attorney not to help them anymore. "A good many of those people have lived there for years and have been through the same experience before," the engineer explained to newspaper reporters. "They know what is to be expected. They are in that condition on their own responsibility and they must look after themselves."

The lumber mills that had thrived from 1875-1885 on the west bank of the river had disappeared. People were crowded together in squalor and began throwing their garbage into the creek. "As time marched on," the Minneapolis Tribune noted, "the bed of the stream began to show the first tin cans, great piles of ashes and other [trash], dead animals, old buggy tops, bedsprings, barrels, and a thousand things that make a city dump what it is."

The water smelled terrible and people worried that it was a health hazard. Park and city officials decided the best thing to do with the filthy flood hazard was to create a closed sewer by lowering the creek bed by two feet and covering the whole thing with concrete. While Longfellow was writing poems in honor of Minnehaha Creek on the other side of the city, few spoke out against the city's plan to hide Bassett from view.

Construction of the tunnel took nearly a decade to complete because work was put on hold during World War I. By 1923 the lower portion of the creek had been channeled into a concrete tunnel a mile and a half long leading east to the Mississippi. The project's total cost was $280,772.

Almost immediately people regretted covering the creek, and they began talking about opening it back up. But the old houses near the abandoned lumber mills were now home to poor white families. Near them lived Jewish immigrants who were better off financially but still viewed as undesirable because of their ethnicity. At the same time, black families were moving into the area in ever-increasing numbers. Some folks believed that reopening the creek might bring "the right people" back to the area. But the idea, it seems, was never seriously considered.

In 1925 city planners turned their focus on the section of the creek in the Bryn Mawr neighborhood directly upriver from the cement tunnel. This portion, they recommended, should be cleaned up and maybe even turned into a park. "The City Planning Commission, after a survey of the creek, reported to the Park Board that it would cost less to [create a] park than it would to cover, and besides would be more beautiful," the Minneapolis Tribune reported in June of 1925. "It costs about $50,000 a block to cover the channel and make of it a sewer. [A park can be constructed] for considerably less than that." The Park Board liked the idea but didn't have the money to make it happen.

Bryn Mawr residents, according to newspaper accounts, objected to the special assessment they would be asked to pay for what they saw as an unnecessary and expensive park project. "Under the original plan, an elaborate development to cost $425,000 for acquisition of land and the laying out of a park, including an extensive playground area was contemplated," explained an article in the Minneapolis Journal. "It soon developed, however, that the majority of the homeowners in the district could not bear the burden of assessments the plan called for. So a number of years of planning and wrangling resulted, until finally it was decided that the park board should go ahead merely with the acquisition of the land needed for the project."

There was no money to buy the land, so nothing happened until 1929, when Minneapolis's first park superintendent, Theodore Wirth, proposed acquiring 50 acres along the valley between Glenwood Park and Cedar Lake Road, which included most of the creek's worst dumpsites. Private citizens, including the owner of the Glenwood-Inglewood Company, a water bottling plant located on the Bryn Mawr side of the creek, donated land, bringing costs down significantly. For a little while, it looked like the creek might end up as the centerpiece to a huge north-side park.

 

Private property abutting the affected area, formerly of little or no value by reason of its proximity to the squalor and filth, which prevailed, has had its position reversed. A liability has become an asset.

--from commentary by a member of the Park Board, Minneapolis Tribune,
June 13, 1937.

 

Plans for the new park were quickly thwarted yet again, this time by the Great Depression. In October of 1929, the stock market crashed and the country's economy began to tumble. By 1933 thousands of banks and businesses had closed and nearly a third of America's workers were unemployed. City spending on the project disappeared, and plans to restore the creek were again abandoned.

Dilapidated shacks made out of sheet metal and other junk lined the embankments of the Bryn Mawr section of Bassett Creek. Referred to as "Hoovervilles" because President Herbert Hoover was widely held responsible for the nation's decline, the shantytowns only added to the growing perception that Minneapolis's north side was to be avoided by the better classes.

In response to the Depression, the federal government unveiled the Civil Works Administration (CWA), a program of unemployment relief under which men worked on worthwhile public projects and earned federal funds. In Minneapolis the crews' first job was to clean up Bassett Creek. Newspaper photographs show dozens of men chopping at the frozen earth with picks and shovels; they used the rocks and dirt to fill still more low-lying wetland, thinking this would help control the floods that continued to plague the area. The workers used blasting powder to turn rolling hills into rubble.

In 1935, 200 men who got jobs under another employment program, the New Deal's Works Progress Administration (WPA), continued the creek restoration efforts, finally creating a 56-acre park in the area Theodore Wirth had proposed six years earlier. Much of the work they did is still visible today where the stream flows beside the now-closed Fruen Milling Company just off Glenwood Avenue North. Water-damaged banks were braced with retaining walls. A limestone trail was laid beside the creek, and stone steps leading up a steep hill into the neighborhood above were built.

By this time many of the Jewish families that had originally settled in the near north side's Glenwood and Oak Lake neighborhoods--close to the present-day farmer's market--had moved out into the suburbs to the west. Coming mostly from the Seven Corners area near the University of Minnesota's West Bank, black families moved into the houses vacated by their Jewish predecessors. Soon more than half of the families in Sumner Field were African American.

With the Depression-era drive to improve the lot of America's less fortunate came the birth of public housing. By the time Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected in November 1932, he not only had to do something to stabilize the economy, he had to staunch what was quickly turning into a violent rebellion of the nation's hungry and homeless. Federal housing programs were created as part of what would later be dubbed "the welfare state."

In north Minneapolis's Sumner Field, the federal government cleared out 415 families living in what had become a slum to make way for 400 units of low-income housing. Col. Horatio Hacket, director of the housing division of the Public Works Administration, proclaimed from his Washington office that the housing project would be of such high quality it would last for 60 years.

"We are building these homes for the benefit of the lower-income groups who in normal times have found it impossible to obtain good, modern homes at rents within their means," he said. But, as with similar projects around the nation, there was far too little housing for the people who needed it. Families had to apply for the homes, and preference was given to the working poor. Many of the impoverished families who were displaced by the development had nowhere else to go.

Nonetheless, throughout the Forties Sumner Field seemed to improve not only the lives of its occupants but the surrounding community as well. Some city officials wanted to locate small businesses in the area, but others refused to change the zoning laws to allow retail near the housing project. Soon commerce along the former Sixth Avenue--since renamed Olson Memorial Highway--closed up, leaving area residents with nowhere to shop within a mile. Instead, land to the west of Sumner Field was cleared and a hodgepodge of industrial buildings went in, quickly becoming an eyesore to the neighborhood.

To make matters worse, even though residents living in the landlocked projects couldn't enjoy the beauty of Bassett Creek since it had been diverted into a tunnel beneath their homes, they felt the water's presence. Within a few years, some of the buildings' foundations began to crack and sink into the slushy soil. Even before developers pounded the first nail to build the third phase of the giant construction project, Glenwood Homes, they knew they had trouble. Tests of the soil showed muck as deep as 160 feet, causing developers to worry that the footings needed to secure the buildings would bust the construction budget.

By 1959 all of the Glenwood units had been completed. For many, the clean, squat brick buildings--with central heating, modern bathrooms, and community tennis courts--were a big improvement over the tenements or riverbanks they had previously called home. But the poor soil worked against the projects. Over the years, some heavily damaged units were demolished. Others were repaired by construction crews; men lifted the 600-ton buildings with jacks turned in a slow, synchronized rhythm by hand.

In the 1960s, homes to the east of Sumner were torn out to make way for Interstate 94, which was being built to link downtown to the northern suburbs. Families with resources began moving west to places like St. Louis Park, and Sumner ended up virtually isolated from the sorts of amenities that make a community vibrant. A 1965 report by the Minneapolis City Planning Commission noted that the blighted neighborhoods were ill-defined residential pockets surrounded by industrial sites and roadways.

"It is characteristic of the Near-North community that areas of soundest housing and environment are found in the west and the most challenging problems in the east," the report notes, adding that there is "sound housing" in areas such as Bryn Mawr and the North Cedar area near Brownie Lake. "However, housing exists throughout the Near-North which should be saved from becoming blighted and dilapidated. It stands in a sort of borderline twilight zone. It could quickly be returned to the ranks of sound housing if it were treated to a program of watchful maintenance and renewal."

The next ten years brought a blur of urban-renewal projects that failed to renew. Despite continued talk down at city hall, no boulevard was made to connect the north and south sides of Minneapolis, and Bassett Creek remained covered. Meanwhile, between 1960 and 1972, the percentage of near-north-side residents living in government-subsidized housing had nearly tripled, from 7 to 20 percent. Stories in the Minneapolis Tribunequoted area residents who referred to their neighborhood as a "rat colony" and "a dumping ground for poor people consigned to subsidized housing." Residents and city planners agreed that the concentration of poverty on the near north side was at least partially responsible for increased crime, unemployment, and other social problems.

To make matters worse, even though Bassett Creek was covered in the early 1900s, floods continued along the waterway. Densely packed residential and industrial development within the watershed allowed little open space for storm water to seep back into the earth. Water traveling across parking lots and other impermeable surfaces swept pollutants into the creek. The underground tunnel could no longer handle all the water. Worse, much of the creek had again become a dumping ground, so water contaminated by seepage from septic tanks and industrial waste was flowing into people's homes.

In 1976 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said the decaying tunnel's inability to handle its job was putting 250 acres of land, more than 400 homes, and close to 100 businesses at risk. Rebuilding the tunnel would be costly, about $7 million. But uncovering the creek presented its own set of problems since the land on top of it had been developed in many places. The corps proposed a $10 million project that would require the demolishing of only three homes. A new tunnel would be built not far from the old one, and ponds would be created to store floodwaters.

City officials liked a plan proposed the following year by the engineering firm Orr-Schelen-Mayerson much more. That plan would reroute the creek to the north of the old tunnel. Forty-seven homes--some of them in the public housing projects--and 23 businesses would have to be torn down to do this. But the river could then be opened up and its banks surrounded by parks, solving the flooding problem. This idea, the engineers said, would encourage redevelopment by making the area more attractive. But it would cost nearly $27 million.

At the time, the city was pouring money into the $20 million Central Riverfront Park along the Mississippi. The new green space would run along the banks of the Mississippi from the Plymouth Avenue Bridge, past Nicollet Island to the Lower St. Anthony Lock and Dam. There simply wasn't any more room in the budget for Bassett Creek.

Money was not the only thing holding the city back. Low-income residents who stood to lose their homes to make way for what most viewed as a middle-class amenity objected loudly, and the idea was shelved. Instead, in 1992 a new 80-foot-deep tunnel running under downtown Minneapolis to just below St. Anthony Falls was built not far from the old one, which was on the verge of collapse. The $40 million tunnel at last solved the century-old problem of flooding, but it did nothing to revive hopes for restoring the creek or connecting it to the chain of lakes to the south.

 

"Here's a note for long-range planners. Real long range. Say about 50 years. Assuming continued expansion of the Minneapolis central business district, what sort of commercial park could be laid out by taking the cover off the creek, and tearing out enough buildings on either side to make the watercourse into a greenbelt? It could be a businessman's equivalent of Minnehaha parkway."

--from an article in the Minneapolis Tribune, May 25, 1958, on the difficult time developers were having with the soggy soil near Bassett Creek, on which they were struggling to build the Glenwood projects

 

Only a few months shy of their 60th birthday, the sprawling Sumner Field housing projects were torn down. In 1992 public-housing residents, represented by the Minneapolis Legal Aid Society, sued federal, state, and local housing authorities over the same concentration-of-poverty issue that had come up nearly 30 years earlier. The plaintiffs, including the NAACP, charged that federal, state, and local housing authorities had for years been segregating the poor, many of whom were black, in the rundown public housing on the city's north side. Rather than fight the matter in court, in 1995 the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) agreed to a settlement, known as the Hollman decree. According to its terms, the federal agency was to pay $117 million to disperse the residents into low-income housing throughout the city. The city was to study ways to reuse the site.

The city initially considered keeping some of the project's existing buildings as part of a future development. But the idea was quickly discarded after studies showed that extensive work would have to be done to rehabilitate crumbling foundations. Quickly the talk turned to redeveloping the area, and once again the idea of "daylighting" Bassett Creek was revived.

The city hired the Design Center for the American Urban Landscape at the University of Minnesota to study the land the city intended to build on. From the Design Center's perspective, restoring Bassett Creek and the surrounding wetland to health was an integral part of making any new community workable. Things have changed since European settlers viewed wetlands as nuisances to be drained and farmed, the authors of the study noted. Today waterways are viewed as amenities and people want to live near them.

But developers should remember the lessons of the past, the designers cautioned. Instead of trying to house people in the floodplain, turning places where the soil was most unstable into park space and ponds would make the neighborhood look better and alleviate some of the longstanding problems.

The Bassett Creek Master Plan has incorporated many of the design center's recommendations into the new development. But resolving the wetland issues will be costly and could take a considerable amount of time, says Lois Eberhart, near-north-side manager for Open Space and Infrastructure for the City of Minneapolis. Eberhart says the development will use green spaces to treat storm water. "There will be a large pond south of Olson Memorial Highway and a small pond to the north," she explains. "We're planning to use bioengineering in the form of natural plants to treat the water, which will also be an amenity for the area."

After nearly a century's worth of development by heavy industry, there are at least two Superfund sites and several contaminated parcels of land within the proposed development area. Private companies will be responsible for at least part of the cleanup efforts, says Eberhart. But just how much money it will take to make this land safe is unknown at this time. "It's too premature to give cost estimates," she says. "It's difficult to know how many years it will take to do all of this, but we're looking at funding sources and there's a lot of interest in making this happen."

In addition to wetland issues that will complicate development along the creek, the city faces several other obstacles. On the wish list is a north-south boulevard that would run from Dunwoody Boulevard, just north of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, to the new community on the Hollman site. An uncovered Bassett Creek, Leighton says, may run along the median of this "gateway to the north side." But to make way for a tree-lined thoroughfare, at least two heavily polluted industrial sites will have to be cleaned up. Even then, if left in their current locations near Interstate 394, the Minneapolis Impound Lot and Linden Yards, where the city's Department of Public Works stores heavy equipment and crushes concrete, will be visible from the new boulevard. That's not quite the beautiful doorway to the north side that the city had in mind.

"It's just too soon to say what will happen," Leighton explains. "But it's a time of incredible opportunity, because the area north of Glenwood is being dramatically redeveloped."

He knows that the city's plans have some residents worried that they may not be able to afford to stay in the neighborhood much longer. "We need to be careful about how we direct development so it doesn't overrun everything around it," he explains. "We want improvement, so we want poor neighborhoods to have more middle-income houses in them. But we want to ensure that it isn't a complete transformation so the poor don't get pushed out. It's a tricky balance."

 

"Revitalization of the commercial elements of Glenwood Avenue in the Bassett Creek Valley area depends upon the buying power of the new community to be developed in the Near Northside area."

--An excerpt from the Bassett Creek Valley Master Plan, 2000

 

Last month a few hundred people gathered just off Olson Memorial Highway on Emerson Avenue North to participate in a ceremony to break ground on the $200 million redevelopment. City council president Jackie Cherryhomes counted to three and Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, Minneapolis Community Development Agency executive director Steve Cramer, and others ceremoniously dug into the earth using shovels decorated by North High School students.

Members of the school's choir sang, Harvest Preparatory Charter School drill-team members marched, and Butterfly Dancers from the Hmong American Mutual Assistance Association, Inc. swirled in brightly colored costumes while residents, developers, and politicians mingled and snacked. The evictions and protests of the last five years suddenly seemed far behind, and talk turned toward the future.

The city plans to replace the Hollman site's barracks-style public-housing units with 900 homes meant to blend in with the surrounding neighborhoods. Spacious duplexes, townhouses, and single-family homes designed in traditional architectural styles will have backyards, front porches, gabled dormers, and off-street parking. Tot lots and community gardens will give people a chance to get to know their neighbors; parks will offer a place to stroll.

It's a beautiful vision that's been too long in coming, says Minneapolis real estate broker Sandy Green. "It's an area that has a lot of value but nobody was willing to pay for it," she says. "People would point to the projects and say they were the problem, but I think it was really more about the lack of amenities in the area."

But access to the creek may change that; proximity to water is everything when it comes to property values, continues Green, a longtime member of the Minneapolis Tenants Union and a vocal critic of the city's redevelopment plans. "If you look at home prices, you'll see that even half a block away from any kind of water the value starts to drop," she notes.

"Clearing out the Hollman site meant they could finally have the right formula over on the near north side after all these years," says Green. "You can bet that if the people over in Kenwood had wanted a lake dredged out in their neighborhood it would have gotten done a long time ago. But over north no one had any money, so the city had no tax base to get pressure from. Spending money to uncover a creek for them would have just been wasted, now, wouldn't it."

The public-housing residents who started the whole thing by suing HUD, she says, just didn't see the politics of the big picture when they agreed to the settlement. If they had, they would have known that the city stood to benefit far more from the deal than the residents did.

"Those people were sitting on very valuable property and they were just sort of holding onto it for the city until the time was right," she adds. "I'm not willing to say that it's a full-blown conspiracy. But knowing politics and real estate and knowing the way that public housing over there was allowed to deteriorate in the years leading up to the lawsuit, it does seem more than coincidental that this has worked out to the city's advantage the way it has."

But now that the city has won this one and ground has been broken for the reinvented community, Green says, it's time to move forward. "Now that it's happened, I hope it succeeds," she says. "I don't want to see it become a ghost town over there so people will have lost their housing and their neighborhoods for nothing. Somebody who is making decisions downtown has decided that what has happened to the people of the north side is an acceptable consequence of redevelopment."

Green pauses there, and offers a final word of caution. "Planners have long memories, and these things take time," she says. "Anyone living in a really depressed area of the city ought to be looking around to see that this kind of thing doesn't happen to them."

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1 comments
tgilliss
tgilliss

I'd love to see the City Pages use this story -- and others like -- as a starting point for a new series of retrospective pieces. So much has happened in such a short time. Many things look so different. And, others, well, not so much.

 

It's 12 years later. What was promised and has gone unfulfilled? What projects were completed and how have they benefited the communities they impacted? Are these long-term planning projects still on track, or have other pressing priorities commandeered budgets? All these types of questions and stories. And with all the multimedia possibilities, your readers could get a better visual grasp of where plans came to fruition or remained statice.

 
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