Radio host Barbara Hamm Lee came to campus this week, talking for almost two hours with both Literacy Fellows and Engineering, Design, and Innovation Fellows about a major renovation project that will dramatically change an area near downtown Norfolk.
The St. Paul's revitalization will cover roughly 200 acres. It will impact about 4,700 residents - including 2,200 children - over the next decade or so. Three public housing communities will be torn down with the goal of rebuilding and sprucing them up.
EDI Fellows study infrastructure challenges facing vulnerable populations, and they have been focusing on the St. Paul's revitalization. Literacy Fellows, who advance literacy as a way to break cycles of poverty, volunteer at Tidewater Park Elementary, which is near the heart of the project.
In the long term, the project should make the area more appealing. But in the short term, people will be displaced. They can obtain vouchers to help them find new homes. And they are guaranteed spots back in St. Paul's when it's rebuilt, if they choose to return.
However, there are plenty who are still anxious.
Ms. Lee is executive producer and host of Another View on WHRV. She's also President of Sharing Info, LLC, a communications consulting company, and a spokeswoman for the St. Paul's revitalization. She started by giving the students a history of past development projects in Norfolk. For instance, Ghent used to be public housing, she said. That changed around the 1960s, but many residents couldn't afford to return once the new homes were in place.
That history makes many current St. Paul's residents wary, Ms. Lee said. Some residents elsewhere in the city are also apprehensive. They'd rather that those displaced by the project not move into their backyards.
After learning about all those complexities, students wanted to know more. They peppered Ms. Lee with questions. Many were about how the project would impact education.
Tidewater Park Elementary's demographics will likely change, Ms. Lee said. If the overall environment of the school improves, that'll be a sign that the project has been successful.
She also challenged them to learn more. Go to community meetings, which are open to the general public, she said. Read The Color of Law, a book by Richard Rothstein that discusses this topic on a national scale. Visit www.stpaulsdistrict.org and the Norfolk Redevelopment & Housing Authority Facebook page.
Also, talk to the Tidewater Park Elementary students, she said. Find out their concerns.
"You are the decision-makers of the future," she said.
After thanking Ms. Lee, the students came together and brainstormed their next steps. They were eager to get to work.