Beyond gentrification, this is the elimination and erasure of culture and community and the boasting of luxury apartments in front of unhoused citizens and residents that cannot afford it. This entire project sends a clear message that these people simply do not matter, a sign of extreme disrespect and another example of how housing is still a privilege in this wealthy nation.
Special to the USA TODAY Network
Returning home from college after a first-year experience that no one could have anticipated, it was refreshing to come back and see teachers from St. Peter Cathedral and the Salvation Army in Wilmington. These familiar faces were instrumental in helping shape who I am today and they offered a support system like no other that I am extremely grateful for. Conveniently, on that same day I came across a press conference where remarks were being made regarding the construction of Crosby Hill, an apartment community consisting of three buildings with a private courtyard and parking garage set to come to Shipley Street in 2022. While this was cause for celebration for many, for me, this was cause for concern.
The construction of this complex first came as a surprise, but after further research, I discovered that it is all part of the Downtown Development District Plan. It is aimed at the revitalization of the Central Business District to foster job growth, improve housing opportunities, and strengthen adjacent neighborhoods. All of these outcomes sound ideal in theory, but in practice these efforts come at the cost of natives of the city. People who have spent a majority of their lives in the city are seen as an obstacle for property owners and officials set on securing the new identity they have in mind for Wilmington moving forward.
Instead of developing affordable housing that city residents and unhoused citizens can afford, this revitalization effort is focused on attracting the wealthy in the state and around the country to the city. The Wilmington Downtown Development District Plan of 2016 details on page two that this affluent crowd makes up “the critical mass of people that are needed to support the amenities and residential services of a livable downtown.”Such language leads to a false belief that Wilmington’s longtime residents do not have the means or ideas to contribute to the bolstering of the downtown economy and growth. Neighborhoods surrounding the development district are faced with “high unemployment, low income, vacancy, and blight” according to the rationale for this plan, and the solutions are interesting to say the least. The introduction of Crosby Hill, a $62 million development directly across the street from the Salvation Army, a community center and shelter, somehow targets these issues. This development is just one example of many properties going up that are tearing the city down. Even if Crosby Hill does replace a parking lot that may be seen as a vacancy, what does it offer to residents and unhoused citizens? If anything, it creates a greater vacancy in the heart of the city that doesn’t celebrate diverse neighborhoods, but makes it more difficult for those already struggling to survive.
Beyond gentrification, this is the elimination and erasure of culture and community and the boasting of luxury apartments in front of unhoused citizens and residents that cannot afford it. This entire project sends a clear message that these people simply do not matter, a sign of extreme disrespect and another example of how housing is still a privilege in this wealthy nation. The development of Crosby Hill will bring construction jobs to the city, but these may not be long-term secure positions. The developers, the Buccini/Pollin Group offered BPG U, a three-week paid internship this summer for local high school students to gain exposure to real estate development and gain connections for future employment. The program sought to address inequalities in the community, but were those who truly needed and deserved access to the program accepted, or did applicants from affluent cities in Delaware make the cut and take space made for those at a disadvantage?
These are just the realities of such efforts and they are symbolic gestures at best that distract from what is taking place. If BPG’s commitment to Wilmington was not profit but people-driven and focused on true equity, Crosby Hill would be made affordable housing that invites instead of casts away the people of Wilmington. Even a small portion of the 203 apartments being made available at low, affordable prices would bring relief and show a true commitment to the real community of Wilmington by the company. Developing community centers in areas such as those near East 11th Street and even extending out near Governor Printz Boulevard are some examples of areas that regardless of proximity to the intended project would benefit from such installments.Turning vacant spaces into areas that will give back and not take from the community and providing affordable units is how the company’s developments can help revitalize downtown without displacing those who have long had a place in the city. If BPG and elected officials valued and considered what constituents had in mind, it would have ideas and outcomes radically different from the current effort.
Economic development and general growth of the city is crucial, but it is how it is conceived and manifested that is equally if not more important. I believe in the creativity, ingenuity, and resiliency of Wilmington natives and have more faith in their abilities to do for self without wealthy outsiders asserting themselves in the city. The commitment to the growth and greatness of the city is all but one-sided right now and only a privileged few stand to benefit in the long run from the development currently taking place. If the right steps aren’t taken to bring about equitable development that promotes positive community growth with the most disadvantaged at the forefront, greater social and economic problems will develop right alongside these million-dollar structures.
Tyler Busch is from the Newark, Delaware area and graduated from Mount Pleasant High School as an International Baccalaureate student. He is a second-year at the University of Virginia planning to double major in African American Studies and History.