The Naked Truth/Jamala Rogers

Jamala RogersColor

Resistance to Community Development Should Be the Norm

Madison’s proposed changes to the city’s zoning code that would facilitate an easier process on the way to affordable housing doesn’t have to be looked at with raised eyebrows of distrust. Unless and until.


There are several factors that need to be explored before fully embracing the changes. Like who is the impetus behind the changes? Who stands to gain from the changes?  Who will be negatively impacted by the changes?

We’ve been doing this community development thing for a while now and have learned some painful lessons. Working-class communities and communities of color have seen their fair share of what happens when developers come into their neighborhoods. Those communities usually end up on the smelly end of the stick.

Their bad experiences include the partial or total destruction of neighborhoods due to zoning or being priced out. This happens when developers come in with a big initiative promising to bring jobs and stability. They get big tax credits and a bunch of other giveaways by the city officials to entice these corporate demons to pick their great city. The neighborhood gets menial jobs, higher taxes and ultimately a class and race cleansing also known as gentrification.

Communities have demanded input into these development dreams. Community input is now a required component if local, state and federal dollars are involved in the project. This has taken the process to a level of shim/sham, thank you ma’am as persuasive reps reel us in with slick presentations and gimmicks to keep us from looking at their projects in a deep, long-term way.

In my book, “Ferguson is America: Roots of Rebellion,” I write about this phenomenon using the historically Black community of Meacham Park. It was an unincorporated section of St. Louis County surrounded by wealthier and whiter communities like Kirkwood. Developers definitely sold the Black folks snake oil that had them believing “annexation” would bring them the much-needed municipal services which had long eluded them. Of course, the deal wouldn’t include any Meacham Park political representation on Kirkwood’s City Council.

Before the dust settled and the snake oil rubbed off, the results were tragic. Half of Meacham Park was taken for a shopping complex with WalMart as the anchor store. It’s now included in the growing list of disappearing Black communities.

This is why answering the questions I raised at the beginning of this article are crucial to the outcomes of these development projects.

Developers are too quick to shut down community concerns as being anti-progress. When an initiative is proposed for a neighborhood, those residents have every right to be at the table —asking the tough questions, making suggestions and ensuring that those who live and work there continue to do so without financial hardship or inconvenience.

In this country, we have communities living near plants spewing out deadly pollutants or neighborhoods which have been marginalized and labeled as no longer worthy of investment.  This is what the residents and neighborhood associations in Madison are fighting against. They should be anti-developer or anti-progress if the plan doesn’t include them and their neighbors’ futures.