- Written by Mike Martin
COLUMBIA, 1/2/13 (Op-Ed) -- About the literal paving over of the charming, historic, Bohemian neighborhood around Hubbell Ave. and several Columbia streets named for saints (aka Hubbell and the Saints), I've heard repeatedly it's just too damn bad neighborhood residents who oppose all the upheaval can't get on board with two simple facts of civic life: "change" is inevitable and "progress" is unstoppable.
These high-handed pundits, however, mislay credit for progress. Instead, area residents like Nina Wilson-Keenan, Mara Aruguete, and Adam Saunders represent the real change in that part of town.
Public agencies with bulging tax coffers like Boone County Family Resources (BCFR) and private developers with bulging loan portfolios like the Odles might get credit for changing things, but REAL progress has come from committed homeowners; preservation entrepreneurs like Mark Timberlake and John Ott; and organizations such as Columbia Urban Agriculture.
These change agents have gradually transformed the neighborhood from poorly-maintained housing and run-down industrial junk (like the old "diaper factory" that became Orr Street Studios) to a hip, urban oasis based mostly on adaptive reuse: of old homes, old buildings, and small plots of vacant land -- a practice epitomized by artist Chris Teeter's clever doors at Orr Street.
Enter the developers, demolishers, and City Hall with yet another giant garage on nearby Short Street.
BCFR has been amassing land in the area for the better part of 15 years. But all that time, they've never had a plan to do anything with it except demolish the little homes that were on it. It's been nothing more than a land bank, many believe for eventual sale to developers.
Student housing represents change, but it is ad hoc change, implemented by well-financed builders like the Odle family, the neighborhood's new largest landowners. Now, instead of streets integrated culturally, ethnically, and economically, Hubbell and the Saints have become home to housing segregated by age, occupation, and ownership status -- the occupants (students) own none of it.
Columbia's history has proven time and again that segregated rental housing is a bad deal that only gets worse.
Without a diverse mix of owner-occupants and varying income levels, rental slums are often the final result. Even the well-kept public rental housing downtown -- segregated by race and income -- is gradually sliding into oblivion, along with the hopes and dreams of the generations it has housed.
Student rentals haven't faired much better. Columbia is ringed with them, hundreds of units both newer and older that also slide into oblivion, as tenants tear them up, wear them out, and move on to the next big thing. Yesterday's hot student neighborhoods are today riddled with crime and despair.
The vast expansion of segregated rental housing all over downtown is change we're all getting that residents of Hubbell and the Saints are seeing up close. No wonder they consider it a strange definition of progress.