Sunday, January 1, 2012
“Should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?” So we sing at the beginning of each new year (or at least, those of us who can remember the words in the wee hours). Given today’s focus on looking back and remembering, I wanted to write about how we remember the past in our cities. I immediately thought of these strange red contraptions (pictures attached, showing viewer and image inside) here in my new hometown, Boise.
There are three of these viewers, and they were the first thing I noticed when I stepped out of my hotel for my job interview here almost a year ago. Their purpose: a testament to Boise’s Chinatown, once a thriving community for over a hundred years, demolished to build a large hotel—the one in which I was staying—and a convention center.
Boise’s Chinatown was razed only after a fight and an Idaho Supreme Court case, Boise Redevelopment Agency v. Yick Kong Corp., decided on Berman v. Parker reasoning. The story is well known to the land use community and to cities around the country: according to an amicus brief filed in Kelo v. City of New London, about 1,600 similar communities across the country, mostly minority, were destroyed through urban renewal.
I appreciate Boise’s effort to try, in some small way, to remember its Chinatown. It makes me wonder, are there other installations out there, in cities big or small, paying homage to the communities lost in urban renewal? Have I somehow missed them in my travels? If there are not memorials, should there be? And if so, should the remembrance be only to the lost community, or also to urban renewal itself? There are likely no easy answers to remembering urban renewal’s legacy, but I think the question of how to remember it remains worth considering, and perhaps even more so on ruminative days like this one.
Along these lines, I’m offering a new year’s gift to readers, which is Amy Lavine’s excellent article, Urban Renewal and the Story of Berman v. Parker, about the historic facts of that case. An interesting and informative look back.