Don’t blame Walmart

Maria Scruggs

Dear Editor,

Redevelopment and community redevelopment has taken on various names and models within south St. Petersburg.  While I am certain that the consultants, elected officials and community folks have been well-intentioned, the results have been the same:  These planning processes have used a huge amount of public resources with very little sustainable impact on the residents and businesses within south St. Petersburg.

Walmart was just another quick fix to the complex socio-economic issues within Midtown and within the Southside CRA.

In a 2013 Harvard report titled “Advancing Inclusive and Sustainable Urban Development: Correcting Planning Failures and Connecting Communities to Capital,” the authors identified key deficiencies that exist within developing countries that attempt urban planning. While the focus of the article is on developing countries, the findings mirror the deficiencies within urban communities here in America, and more specifically St. Petersburg. Examples of their findings include:

Finding No. 1: Plans for “slums” seldom situate them in the context of broader plans for the urban region. In the Southside St. Petersburg CRA plan, there was no mention of a specific strategy linking Midtown to employment /business opportunities within other economic engines within the city.

For example, the Innovation District sits adjacent to the Midtown community.  Nowhere in the Innovative District’s visioning summary report, nor in the South side CRA plan is there a strategy of how residents or businesses within the CRA could be linked to employment, educational or business opportunities within the Innovation District. The Ocean team agencies within the district purport to employing more than 1,600 people, yet there is no mention of how residents and businesses within the CRA could potentially benefit.

Finding No. 2: Community organizations often are weak and not incorporated into the government’s overall urban planning process.  Some were incorporated into the Southside CRA planning process, but many of those organizations didn’t have the membership capacity or leadership to meet the demands of the planning processes.

Finding No. 3: Many of the government sponsored partnerships fail to formulate specific strategies to improve or redevelop “slums” in ways that leave the poor better off. During the beginning of the CRA planning process, I urged city staffers to formulate specific goals and strategies that were aimed at ensuring that residents and businesses directly benefitted from the CRA process.  I was repeatedly told that the goals and objectives were intentionally broad and general. Staff went as far as developing a document that gave credibility to this approach for the development of the plan.

Again, while the recommendations within this report are aimed at developing countries, they still speak to the types of strategies that must occur within urban communities in America. One recommendation most noteworthy is to invest in training and nurturing local entrepreneurs who are dedicated to meeting the market demands of the “poor” and who will employ them in their local businesses.

The City of St. Petersburg must cease the practice of pouring public resources into private businesses as a sole economic development strategy for Midtown, Childs Park and any other economically depressed community within St. Petersburg.

Maria L. Scruggs, President, St. Petersburg Branch NAACP

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