Tuesday, September 8, Donald Trump made a campaign stop at Smith Reynolds Airport. At the same time that the Trump hot-air show /Covid-19 party was taking place at Smith Reynolds, the Winston-Salem City Council debated and approved the Smith Reynolds Airport/Whitaker Park Strategic Area Plan. If ever there was a coincidence, that was it. The two events have nothing to do with each other. But, interestingly, while the racism inherent in Trump’s campaign rally is explicit for everyone to see, the structural racism that produced the Smith Reynolds Airport/Whitaker Park Strategic Area Plan requires some unpacking.
Smith Reynolds isn’t much of an airport. Over 30 years since Piedmont merged with USAir, Smith Reynolds is more of a maintenance hub than a passenger hub. Folks don’t fly Smith Reynolds, but empty planes routinely fly to Smith Reynolds to have work done. Smith Reynolds is also a vehicle for state and federal tax dollars. For that purpose, Smith Reynolds was recently given the title of “Legacy Airport.”
“A recent economic impact study, conducted by the North Carolina Department of Transportation, reported that the Airport provided over an $800 million economic output and was responsible for 3,585 jobs. Over the next several years, Forsyth County envisions over $70 million in capital improvements will be made at the Airport.” –SRA/WP Strategic Area Plan
The Northeast Winston communities around Smith Reynolds have gotten plenty of noise, but few jobs from the County’s Airport. The investments that have been made to Smith Reynolds haven’t trickled down to Northeast Winston. Just look at the Liberty Corridor for evidence of neglect and disinvestment.
“the visual impact of Smith Reynolds Airport forms the first and often last impression for air visitors of all types to Winston-Salem.” The Airport, North Liberty Street, Akron Drive, and the immediate vicinity do not currently give the impression of an area that is vibrant, thriving and growing.” –SRA/WP Strategic Area Plan
The 2019 airport meeting that Vivian Burke hosted (see video above) tells the story of a community that’s been shortchanged. From Piedmont Circle on one side of Smith Reynolds to the Carver School Road community on the other side of Smith Reynolds, majority Black, Northeast Winston has not benefited from the Airport in their backyard. Smith Reynolds’ expansion offers little to them, while a grocery store or food co-op expanding into Northeast Winston would be a gamechanger.
The Carver School Road neighborhood is, in many ways, a model area. I appreciate the proximity of modest homes to larger, more affluent homes in that section of the city. The confluence of classes along Carver School Road is refreshing. Located just east of Smith Reynolds, Carver School Road was the main destination of African Americans pushed out of downtown by urban renewal. From Depot Street, Belews Street, and Columbian Heights, Black residents robbed of their homes, mainly for highway construction (I-40 and Hwy 52), relocated near an airport, in what was then the county.
State and federal tax dollars are often targeted at infrastructure projects, such as Smith Reynolds. State and federal programs are rarely earmarked for average Black folks’ needs. Reperatiations were briefly debated during the Democratic primaries, but they aren’t taken seriously by either the Democrats or Republicans. Status Quo Joe Biden couldn’t care less about ordinary Black folks.
The City is playing the incentive game at Smith Reynolds and Whitaker Park, going after whatever funds it can get. Their efforts to assist Northeast Winston have been underwhelming. They’re improving the streetscape, and they’ve built a spec building (a Bob Leak specialty). But they aren’t building or upgrading existing housing in the area or funding a food co-op. Lamp posts in front of long-vacant, rotting buildings, like empty promises of the past, are doing little to assist the people of Northeast Winston.
Planning Board Draft Smith Reynolds Airport Whitaker Park Draft Plan (2)
*Reflecting on this subject, I’m convinced that Forsyth County should set aside a certain percentage of the revenue that Smith Reynolds Airport generates for the people of Northeast Winston, specifically the neighborhoods along Carver School Road. The County could fund a community land trust or subsidize a grocery store or food co-op.