James No Bond is re-posting this guest column by Senator José Rodriguez for the El Paso Times. The above graphic editorial by Jud Burgess also printed just below the column, a perfect visual fit for the editorial by Rodriguez.
Here is the powerful editorial by Rodriguez in its entirety—
There are many issues casting a dark shadow on the city push to erase the historic Duranguito neighborhood and replace it with an arena. One is the removal of residents, some of whom have been living there for decades, and who were used by the city to jump start the development process now leading to their evictions.
In the 1990s, the city received millions of federal dollars to fix sidewalks, landscape, place historic street lights and other fixtures, add benches, build parks, and generally beautify the entire area, which is bordered to the east and west by Santa Fe Street and the Union Depot, and to the north and south by Paisano and the Civic Center.
The City did this by using the Duranguito residents – low-income and Latino – to secure funding from a program called Livable Communities. The program was meant to encourage revitalization, and in Duranguito, it worked.
Some have cynically tried to demolish the reputation of Duranguito as justification for removal of residents. This is false and shameful.
The federal investment guided by the city, coordinated with the work of the residents themselves, transformed Duranguito into a vibrant urban neighborhood where people can walk, bike, or use transit to live, work, shop, and play.
In fact, a recent survey by the Texas Transportation Institute on walkable neighborhoods put Union Plaza at the top of the list in El Paso.
This is the type of neighborhood the city has worked so hard to promote, and its impending demolition raises uncomfortable questions: Does the city only value this for wealthy El Pasoans? Do low-income residents not deserve the quality urban lifestyle we are building? Why destroy one of the few neighborhoods that already matches the vision in order to create an entertainment "option" for others?
I believe in community development, and the overall efforts to inspire economic development in our region by focusing energy and resources on the core of our community, the place where El Paso became a modern metropolis. At one point the city boasted a network of street cars and an urban center that rivaled major cities such as Denver and Dallas.
These efforts sometimes require sacrifice. However, I am adamantly opposed to sacrificing our people, and our history. Our people are not disposable, and our history is not replaceable.
I have joined the fight against the sacrifice of our history and our people because the arena has revealed itself to be an insider-driven “economic development” effort that does not clearly benefit our community.
Further, the city is short-sighted in not recognizing the heritage tourism value Duranguito could create with, as put in the 2012 City Plan, "quality urbanism and well-designed buildings in the El Paso mercantile tradition. One would know that they have arrived in El Paso and leave the space with a lasting image of the city."
Over the past eight months, the city has been hard at work demolishing this opportunity. Residents have been removed, and the relationship between the building owners and their tenants has been damaged.
This is contrary to the original vision put forth by the city, which put millions of dollars in El Paso taxpayer money and federal funding into the neighborhood.
As Barry Goodman, a consultant for the city on the project, put it at the time: "The city is intent on redeveloping this area without destroying the traditional residential neighborhoods or displacing families."
We are intent on holding the city to this promise. Duranguito will survive, and the community as a whole will have learned the power of people to hold onto their history and determine their future in this great city.
Do we want a gentrified, glass and steel, sterile, indistinguishable Downtown, or do we develop a unique cityscape characterized by its history and heritage, with unmatched border economic and cultural diversity?
Senator José Rodriguez
El Paso Times, June 18, 2017