"To faithfully join the work of transforming a neighborhood, one must learn to truly love its people, history, and culture."
On Saturday, January 29th, 2018, the Board of Directors of Square Inch Houston visited exhibits of Round 47 at Project Row Houses. Project Row Houses was founded in the early 90s and is celebrating 25 years of existence this year. Every Fall and Spring, Project Row Houses places on view art installations inspired by our local Third Ward community. Each round focuses on a particular justice related theme.
This round's theme was "The Art of Doing: Preserving, Revitalizing, and Protecting Third Ward." Community voices collectively pulled together to express concerns over the gentrification of Third Ward. Gentrification hits all of us in different ways. Some people are uncomfortable using the term. Some believe it is a good thing for neighborhoods experiencing areas of blight and decay while others reject it wholeheartedly.
Working closely with the Emancipation Economic Development Council, whose work inspired Round 47 at Project Row Houses, I have appreciated getting a clear definition of gentrification that helps to dispel the mist that so often clouds conversations around it. Our definition of gentrification is simple.Gentrification is the influx of wealthier residents into a neighborhood that leads to the involuntary displacement of existing residents, history, and culture.
This definition is so important because it focuses on an injustice; the involuntary displacement of inherent good that already exists. Non of us want our actions, whether voluntary or involuntary to rip apart the fabric of a community. When gentrification happens, people are displaced, and we lose other things in the process. People are creators of culture, and curators of history. In my neighborhood, which is largely African American, gentrification creates a loss of human resources, but also leads to a loss of a beautiful history and culture that is unique to this place called Third Ward.
As our board interacted with the art houses, we began to ask some pointed questions around the work of transformation that we would be joining in Third Ward. We had conversations around alignment of mission, vision, and values. We all sensed that we were joining a work of transformation in our neighborhood that was bigger than any single person or entity.
We were inspired by the very deliberate, concerted, and community led effort to combat gentrification and pursue more equitable community development in Northern Third Ward. We asked hard questions around design and what kind of structure we should place on our small 5000 sqft piece of property.
Some of our questions remain unanswered. But we know with all certainty that it is impossible to join God in his work of transforming a neighborhood, city, country, without truly loving its people, history, and culture. That is why, at Square Inch, from our inception, we have committed to investing and immersing ourselves in the narrative of the spaces, places, and faces where we work, because we believe that God is uniquely at work through them.
Third Ward, Houston is a place of remarkable contrasts; it's beauty and brokenness often collide, yet exist in a delicate embrace that calls anyone who passes through the neighborhood to think deeply about the richness of the history, culture, and people here. We love our neighborhood. We believe as Square Inch forms leaders who transform communities, our whole community will thrive and flourish. We are committed to what God is doing in this place. We partner with a diverse community of people to seek the flourishing of this place!
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