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Monday, Aug. 9, 2021

Planting Seeds Of Renewal

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Allendale advocates say no to I-49 invasion

A coalition of community activists recently hosted a webinar promoting revitalization in the Allendale neighborhood currently considered for the Interstate 49 inner-city corridor.

“#NoNewRoads: Fighting an Urban Expansion in Shreveport” was presented July 21 by Strong Towns, a national organization that advocates for a new approach to building cities. Strong Towns President Charles Marohn moderated the event.

Allendale native Roosevelt Brown served as a panelist for the presentation. Brown hosts the podcast Allendale Strong. While he has moved to Georgia, Brown remains a staunch supporter of the neighborhood where he grew up.

“Allendale is right there next to downtown,” Brown said. “Allendale is kind of this gateway to the downtown area. A city is only as strong as its weakest neighborhood. Right now, Allendale is one of its weakest neighborhoods. That’s why I believe Shreveport is not strong.”

Brown said home ownership, not a new road, is the key to strengthening Allendale.

“Allendale can be the catalyst for the beginning of revitalization in downtown Shreveport,” he said. “To do that, you have to put homeowners there. Homeowners start the revitalization of an area. Highways do not pay taxes. Homeowners do. Allendale will be the catalyst for bringing Shreveport back to its glory days of being a city on the grow. If not, Shreveport will always be lagging behind.”

Brown said talk of the interstate connector had killed the morale of the residents in the neighborhood. He credits Community Renewal with reviving hope by establishing relationships in the area.

Kim Mitchell, director of the Center for Community Renewal, said it was a process that took time and determination.

“In 2002, Community Renewal took its model, which is a relational model that works across the entire city, part of that is focused on concentrated disadvantage. It came to Allendale. At that time, the police wouldn’t even respond to calls in that area of Allendale. It was absolutely the most dangerous place in Shreveport.

“Community Renewal built two Friendship Houses, as is their strategy in these areas, put a community coordinator to live and serve in friendship and create trust as a first step in connecting people who live there to be neighbors. That was the first step in changing this part of Allendale to move from what was the most dangerous place in Shreveport to now being among the safest places.”

Mitchell agreed with Brown that home ownership brought a renewed sense of hope to the residents. That movement started with Dorothy Wylie, president of Allendale Strong.

“She was part of this group that came up from Katrina and worked with the Fuller Center and Community Renewal to build and own their own homes,” Mitchell said. “There are about 52 homeowners now in that Friendship House area.

“In February 2012, I was asked to come and meet with block leaders. They were at a point you could see a hopelessness on their faces. They had been part of what I call creating a miracle. They had taken this place from danger to a place of safety. They had a real sense of community, and now they were facing the power structure telling them they were going to run over them.”

Mitchell listened to the group and agreed to serve as a “planner advocate” for the community.

“We start with our relationships,” he told the group. “That’s all we’ve got. Everything’s on the side of the opposition, and literally the only thing the residents started with was their relationships.”

Those efforts caught the attention of other like-minded people, including Shreveport City Councilwoman LeVette Fuller and civil engineer Tim Wright. Wright is the president and founder of Reform Shreveport, and Fuller is one of its founding members. Reform Shreveport is dedicated to growing engagement and trust between citizens, government and business.

Wright said that in addition to the low morale among Allendale residents, the $700 million price tag for the inner-city connector raises other issues.

“You could probably do half the city for that amount of money,” Wright said. “It’s a lot of money. With a lot of these big highway expansions, it’s expensive in the short-term and expensive in the long-term as well.”

Wright said projects like this one create a lot of debt for the state to take on.

“It paints a picture of what some of these megaprojects do,” he said. “There’s certainly a need for big infrastructure projects. But you really have to weigh the positives and negatives. We live in a state where people are hesitant to raise the gasoline tax. They see deteriorating roads all over the state. Meanwhile, we are trying to build the next big thing instead of focusing on maintaining what we’ve got.”

Fuller said the inter-city connector would displace the area’s residents, churches and other community touchpoints for commercial development that lacks similar character. Fuller said the neighborhood is worth saving as it is because the foundation has been laid for something greater.

“The urban skeleton is already there,” she said. “There are parts of Allendale where you can walk around and feel like you could be in Brooklyn or any other cool, urban area. All you have to do is build it up. Then you get the tax revenue. But you would rather replace all of that with a highway and huge warehouses. It’s a hard vision for me.”

Brown said he has a vision of Allendale that he would like to see preserved for generations to come.

“I have a hope and a dream of what Allendale can live up to,” he said. “It has a rich history, and it needs to be celebrated. Every time I go home, I see it. I can see the downtown area. I can see where we watched fireworks and where we celebrated Juneteenth. That’s the memory I have. That’s the memory I want other kids to have. I want them to have that same feeling of what Allendale gave me.”

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