August 7, 2018

Southeast Gateway Development Moves Forward Long After Happy Hill Was Gentrified

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Monday night’s city council meeting was the first meeting of our city’s elected body in over a month. At Monday’s meeting, a bakery/wine shop on Reynolda Road was approved, a property on Northwest Boulevard was rezoned, as were two churches.

The rezoning of the Burger King on MLK Drive was postponed yet again. The BK on MLK will likely stay closed until BK lets the City have it their way.

Speaking of the City of Winston-Salem having it its way, the city council unanimously approved a four-story apartment complex in the Southeast Gateway development, near the Gateway YWCA.

Of course, Winston doesn’t need any more luxury apartments. But beyond more housing for the segment of society that needs it the least, these new apartments in the Southeast Gateway have a little-known backstory. They are part of the Southeast Gateway project. A project that goes back decades.

The Southeast Gateway project was implicitly about removing Black residents from historic Happy Hill (a prerequisite for bourgeoisie development) and replacing them with predominately white, upper-middle-class residents down the hill, at the Gateway-a place with little, if any historical significance.

It’s not a coincidence that the Southeast Gateway development at South Marshall Street and Salem Avenue got off the ground in 2004, roughly the same time that the destruction of Happy Hill Gardens began.

But don’t take my word for it. Councilmember John Larson was a participant in the destruction of Happy Hill and the construction of the Southeast Gateway. Monday night, Councilmember John Larson, a historian by training, gave the city council a history lesson on the Southeast Gateway, from the 90s until today:

The Southeast Gateway plan has been aspirational since early 1991, when it was decided that something needed to done to connect the North Carolina School of the Arts to Old Salem and on up into Main Street and the whole traffic circle development, the acquisition of land, partnerships with Old Salem, School of the Arts, Salem College-Winston-Salem State was involved in this as an aspirational idea to clean up an area of Winston-Salem that had fallen into disrepair. It was confusing. Traffic patterns were confusing. And the community came together and created a plan; basically what we are looking at today. This plan was multipurpose/multiuse, residential/commercial was to be placed in it. That was back in the 90s. Novant went in with a medical center. We had a housing development go in-Summit building went in. But then things stalled, we all know what happened to the economy as well. This is the first opportunity that we have seen to populate an area that needs people to support commercial operations…

There we have it, from the horse’s mouth. The colleges around Happy Hill conspired with developers and the City to build a residential/commercial development that didn’t include Happy Hill.

As the City was encouraging residential growth in the Southeast Gateway-a decade and a half ago, the City limited Happy Hill’s residential density.

When Happy Hill was redeveloped the early-mid 2000s, Happy Hill Gardens was razed and low-density, mixed-income housing replaced it.

The city doesn’t want Happy Hill to be densely populated. Future plans for Happy Hill include a huge new athletic park complex for Happy Hill Park, complete with a bog garden. All those athletic fields and a bog garden will be nice-but they appear to be an expensive buffer between the remaining Black residents of Happy Hill and their mostly-white neighbors.

The city/county document that I posted earlier in this article contains a telling paragraph on page 4, under the heading, Other Applicable Plans and Planning Issues:

As noted in the Staff Report for the original rezoning in 2004, the development of the subject property represents a long term, collaborative redevelopment effort between various public and private entities. The city of Winston-Salem has invested approximately $2,000,000 in the acquisition and clearance of the overall Southeast Gateway property and approximately $1,000,000 for site preparation, remediation, and infrastructure improvements.

Is that $3 million including the massive, wooden pedestrian bridge between the Gateway and the YWCA? What about the $2 million that the Winston-Salem City Council gave neighboring 1001 S. Marshall earlier in the summer? That’s a lot of local tax dollars for the Southeast Gateway/South Marshall.

The City of Winston-Salem certainly has taken an active role in making the Southeast Gateway a success. Just like the City poured untold millions into transforming the Salem neighborhood into Old Salem during the 1950s and 1960s.

By contrast, Happy Hill, a neighborhood every bit as historic as Old Salem was not preserved.

Urban renewal, the state’s first public housing development, and the construction of Highway 52 left Happy Hill a shell of its former self. Bill Clinton’s HOPE VI program, with the local support of the W-S City Council and HAWS, removed the Black character from an African American neighborhood whose roots go back to the early 19th century.

The neighborhoods on the other side of the creek from Happy Hill were lavished resources by the City. Happy Hill received only empty words of praise and a couple of historical markers.

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