The Herald Bulletin

Evening Update


January 7, 2014

Primus Mootry: Looking to the future and focusing on the people


As a practical matter, I have observed cities large and small struggling to re-invent themselves just as we are here. Indianapolis is a good example. So are Chattanooga and Chicago. There are many others, and they seem to be doing quite well.

In the re-invention process, common denominators appear to be annexation, access (as in building near Interstate 69), tax incentives that attract businesses and other economic or quasi-economic actions. As I mentioned earlier, there are many places where such strategies, or variations, are working.

What I have heard very little about, however, is cities that seek to re-invent themselves through investments in people — schools, libraries, cultural centers, job training programs and so forth. What usually happens is that people who are least able to fend for themselves are displaced.

This displacement has a very nice sounding name called “gentrification.” What it means is that poorer folk are uprooted and replaced by wealthier ones. It’s not necessarily a racial thing. It’s a money thing.

I once asked then University of Chicago sociology professor, William Julius Wilson, where do the poor folk go? He looked at me.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe to suburban areas or even warmer states. The truth is, nobody is really keeping track.”

What his answer meant to me is that no one really cares. It is a simple fact of life. As it is said in that Billie Holiday song, “Them that’s got, shall have. Them that’s not, shall lose. . . . God bless the child whose got his own.”

The great Billie Holiday’s soulful sentiment aside, I suggest that it is not until we learn how to enrich the lives of the have-nots in our society that we will truly re-invent our cities and our nation. Some may think this idea is unrealistic. I, however, believe it to be totally realistic and practical.

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