Race and class are keys here. And it's this reality which Davenport city officials mustn't ignore as the pressure for gentrification mounts.
For more than a century, Palmer College of Chiropractic has played a formative role in Davenport. Yet again, the school is taking steps that could be precedent setting and shape development throughout Davenport's core for years.
It's incumbent on the city to tread carefully here.
Palmer, like any well-run institution, is eyeing its future. School officials want to expand. They want to upgrade. They want to modernize.
But it's those not associated with Palmer, aside from living in its shadow, who are most likely to get the short shrift. It's a disproportionately African American pool of renters. In many cases, Palmer is their landlord after buying their homes years ago and allowing them to fall into disrepair. And they stand to be displaced in the name of progress.
None of this is unique nor unexpected. What's happening in central Davenport is a classic push-pull of urban renewal. The elected officialdom loves little more than large-scale urban investment. Blight, too, is a worthy adversary. And the community as a whole can only gain from Palmer's continued growth.
But there's got to be a better way than merely uprooting a relatively poor, voiceless population and shipping it, en masse, to the northwest side of town.
The import of race and class cannot be understated here. And it's an issue that, going forward, city regulators must take seriously as they push for downtown and mid-city redevelopment.
Already, Fair Housing Act experts have poked holes in the impact study Palmer commissioned at city regulators behest prior to voting on Palmer's proposed planned institutional district (PID). Two analysts -- one actually quoted in the commissioned study -- said Palmer's firm, Mosaic Community Planning, was rife with methodological short-cuts. Of special concern, Palmer's analysts failed to separate Palmer's primarily white students living in the neighborhood from the more racially diverse renters who don't attend the school, the experts said.
From what's now on record, it's simply not possible to assess how Palmer's proposed expansion would harm those now living within the impact zone. Clearly, more study, conducted by an independent firm, is required prior to any vote on the issue. Going further, a plan for those displaced, should the proposed development move forward, must be integral to the process.
Palmer's proposed $50 million expansion poses questions that members of Davenport's Plan and Zone Commission and City Council should consider when faced with any significant zoning policy. Davenport remains a largely segregated city, if only because of the economic realities of race in America. Locals use phrases like "the hood" when talking about the city's poor, African American neighborhoods. And most residents can easily drive block-to-block and say where the black neighborhoods start and where they end.
Already, developers and city officials are eyeing downtown's West End for redevelopment. They talk about the future of the soon-to-be-vacant Kraft plant. Business has started making bets on the West End's future, opening storefronts and bars targeting middle class professionals.
These are, on many fronts, positive developments. It means more tax dollars for the city and its school district. It means a more robust economy.
But, as with so many cities before Davenport, people already live there. They hold little political and financial clout when pitted against the city's most influential organizations. And they're the most sensitive to sudden spikes in cost-of-living.
It's these people for whom Davenport must find a solution.