MLK Boulevard, the Delmar Loop, and Checkerboarding

Checkerboarding ( check·er·board-ing ) NOUN

  1. Situation occurring when a prosperous, redeveloped area lies immediately adjacent to a seedy, rundown one. Often occurs in American cities. A checkerboard town.

The checkerboarding in Midtown allowed Martha to pawn her mother’s jewelry on 1st Street and then sit down to feast on 5-star French cuisine at Madame Lisieux’s  on Charles Ave within 15 minutes.

America is rife with checkerboarding. No matter what the scale or ratio of wealthy to poor, in every city across the country, you will find pockets of gentrification next to blocks of abandoned buildings and pothole-infested streets. In Savannah, GA, northern Martin Luther King Street bustles with boutiques, restaurants, and hotels, but once you go south past Gwinnett St., the shops become discount stores, the restaurants become drive-thru’s, and the hotels become housing projects . In my own home town of Baltimore, MD, every spectrum of American wealth (and lack thereof) can be found by driving up York Road. In Chicago, IL, segregation is so huge that the north side and south side might as well be different cities.

What does this have to do with Beloved Streets of America?

What inspired Melvin White to found Beloved Streets of America was checkerboarding at it’s finest. The Delmar Loop, now one of the hippest spots in St. Louis, was not always so polished–or safe. “Back in 2005,” said White in a recent interview with Green Time. “I was traveling down Delmar Boulevard and remembering what Delmar Boulevard used to look like. It was kind of a crime-infested corridor.” Over a 15 year period, investors, businesspeople, and city planners collaborated to gradually transform the University City section of Delmar Boulevard into a thriving plaza of restaurants, bars, and entertainment venues. Meanwhile, a mile away, Martin Luther King Boulevard sat in ruins.

This discrepancy set off something in White as he stood in 2005, looking at the street sign for Martin Luther King Boulevard and all the depravity around it. “You’re seeing abandoned buildings and prostitution happening right there in front of [you],” said White. “I thought ‘Wow. This is not fitting for a man who gave his life to uplifting communities across the country.’”

In the 7 years Beloved Streets of America has been an official nonprofit, support from the city of St. Louis to revitalize MLK Boulevard has been sparse at best. Meanwhile, the Delmar Loop recently got $ 51 million to construct a trolley line.

Why should we care?

Both checkerboarding and neglect on MLK streets are national phenomena. In the case of the Delmar Loop and MLK Boulevard in St. Louis, it shows clear priority for business over history, culture, and people’s livelihood.

Washington University is within walking distance of the Delmar Loop. One possible reason the city and county pour so much money into it is to attract prospective students and young professionals thereby attracting more money into the city.

This is all well and good, but what about the people who already live in St. Louis? What about the people who live on and around MLK Boulevard? Why can’t we get even an MLK Legacy Park?

And if we want to think business, why hasn’t anyone capitalized on the centuries of African-American history in St. Louis? What about the civil rights era? What about the Dred Scott Case? Hell, what about Chuck Berry?

I’m not talking about just museums, people! I’m talking jazz clubs, gospel music festivals, soul food restaurants, commemorative parks. The whole reason checkerboarding exists is to segregate.

We should care, because our culture has been segregated for too damn long. We should care because people are starving. We should care because they don’t need to be starving. We should care because the world is not a checkerboard.

What do you think? Leave me a comment below!

And remember

It’s not a black thing; it’s the right thing.

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