Thursday, June 14, 2012

Good-bye to the Fourth Ward

Tonight, I am sad.

At the beginning of the year, I decided that 2012 is the year I find a home. I've lived in Houston's Montrose neighborhood for almost nine years, and a couple of blocks from the Fourth Ward for the past five.

Many Houstonians don't even know about the Fourth Ward. It's a hidden little pocket that is easy to miss if you stay mostly on the freeways.

After the Civil War, African-American families moved into Freedman's Town, which is now known as Fourth Ward. Fourth Ward ends abruptly at Taft Street - I live on the other side of Taft Street. During Jim Crow, the side of Taft where I live was the "white" side. And there is still segregation in my neighborhood, although now it is the segregation of custom. One side of Taft is still predominantly African-American.

The other side became home to Hispanic families after white families decided the suburbs were for them. Then, Montrose's flourishing gay community became part of the neighborhood fabric. And stereotypically, on the heels of the gay community came gentrification.

I've lived here for almost nine years, but I can't afford to live here anymore.

When I started to look for a home, I found that the entire neighborhood is vanishing. The historical shotgun shacks of Freedman's Town are being torn down. The 1930's brick bungalows? Being torn down. 

This is what they are building:

Gigantic, massive, townhomes that sell for 400,000+ dollars. 

I have nothing against townhomes, in theory. The idea behind the townhome revival is that with higher population density, each person has a smaller footprint. There can be more walkable neighborhoods with mixed-use development. Communities spring up.

But these townhomes are not meant to be green. They are meant to be trendy. They are replacing well-built brick homes that need a little love with plaster and plywood. They are replacing people like me.

I'm excited to move into my home in July (more to come...)

But I'm sad because this place that I've loved is disappearing.

About two weeks ago, I came home, and six homes surrounding mine were "for sale." They were all sold as "lots" even though each one contains a lovely brick home -- all needing work, for sure, but sturdy enough. The renters were told to move at the end of the month.

This afternoon, I came home to find the Medical Examiner's van parked outside the house next door. My neighbor committed suicide. We don't know why. We probably never will. But we know that he was incensed that he was being forced from his home of 15 years. That is why I am sad tonight.


Anonymous said...

Eye opening and heartfelt piece about an historic neighborhood. I want a shotgun shack!

Ren said...

Oh Cat

What a sad, sad story. This kind of thing seems to be happening in many places, totally ruining the history and personalities of many places.

Looking forward to hearing about your move and new home. Hope it all goes well and smoothly for you :)