Friday, September 12, 2008
Benton Harbor: The Urban Goldmine by Akindele Akinyemi
I was given a tour or the City of Benton Harbor yesterday by a co-worker of mine who works very well with our children in the community. We have been told that Benton Harbor was a poor, old and poverty stricken town with no hope.
That is no more than a half-truth.
YES, we do have poverty stricken PEOPLE in Benton Harbor because they do not realize their potential. While some are fighting the upcoming development of the new Harbor Shores development on the lakefront in Benton Harbor ( a development, when finished will bring in over $500 million in tax revenue) I want to begin to pay attention to the Southside of Benton Harbor.
I am not trying to fight the Harbor Shores development because the people who are backing it are the Whirlpool Corporation. However, I have noticed a lack of commercial and community development on the Southside of Benton Harbor where development is sorely needed.
There are some parallels in terms of paranoia from Blacks in this community of 11,000 where they are completely contempt of living in poverty. If there are some young people from the City of Chicago or Detroit who wants to begin to redevelop the city then Benton Harbor is your ticket.
There is a growing art scene in this city and while the city commissioners do not have a clue about free market economics there are some in the city who want to transform it into a financial district similar to what we see with the Four Asian Tigers overseas.
What is needed in Benton Harbor economically is (1) competition and (2) regional transportation. There are too many foreigners that have moved into the City of Benton Harbor and are making money from running gas stations, banks, and party stores. It is almost a replica of what we see in the City of Detroit. Blacks are so happy in achieving social power we forget that others concentrate on economic power FIRST then political power by working both sides of the aisle.
Speaking of working both sides of the political aisle the people here are not as hard on Black Republicans or urban conservatives as they are in Detroit. The people, regardless of socio-economic background, are open to ideas from both sides of the aisle. While we have many Blacks in the city who vote Democratic they have not attacked me or other urban conservatives in the same matter as they have in Detroit. Perhaps, this is a safe haven for urban conservatives to build economic and congruent political power in a city that needs direction.
Regional transportation is necessary in the Benton Harbor/St. Joseph region because as the region itself begins to transform itself into a resort/commecical/technology park we will have to explore the idea of connecting both big and small towns together under a transportation regional authority.
The Southside of Benton Harbor is ripe for redevelopment. But the present leadership cannot get the job done. A plan should be in place to re-zone the area for a mix of commercial and family development. To increase the literacy rate in Benton Harbor we need to reinforce those literacy centers that already exists in the city by pushing for family homeownership that will help re-create a tax base. Churches should be in the business of developing Community Development Corporations (CDCs) to help reshape and redevelop portions of the Southside that has been gutted by the recent riots of 2003. While Gov. Granholm has a task force in place to help shape the city it will take those citizens who are born and raised in the city to bring it back to life.
Anyone who wants to make money in the city of Benton Harbor can do it. There is so much going on here economically. The development of a urban chamber of commerce is necessary for urban business development in Benton Harbor. Of course, the only way a city such as Benton Harbor is going to come back to life is reshaping its educational system. However, just like Detroit, the Benton Harbor Area Schools are designed to fail our children just like Detroit. This is why we need additional charter schools that work in the region to help our children prepare for ownership in a global climate.
Benton Harbor is a gold mine for development, buying homes and creating a urban dynasty for decades to come. In order for this to happen the residents must embrace family values through educational chocies to create wealth creation for our community.