Part II: Divesting From Human Happiness
At a national level, the story of how Norfolk divested from its public assets tracks a uniquely American journey–the confounding results of a civil rights movement that achieved the goal of integration in 1964. Having to, by court order, share wealth and spaces exclusively reserved for white citizens, a tumultuous wave of zero-sum, individualistic thinking swept across the nation. It profoundly changed the way white Americans felt about the government’s involvement in the needs of the public. In its crests, the wave carried away the public amenities and leisure spots that once anchored communities and created self-sufficient neighborhood economies. ‘If I can’t have it, no one will’ was the prevailing attitude, pulling future possibilities and rich histories out to sea with the tide of a nationalized individualism.
After integration, the mass white suburban flight carried jobs and resources away from cities on its wings. Left behind were interstates, industrial areas, dump sites, and overcrowded, aging housing made with low-quality materials. Copious corporations and developers eagerly extracted taxpayer dollars and pumped them into far-flung shareholder accounts, and they’re still entrenched in communities today. These golden pipelines rarely dribble out life-giving drops that can trickle back out into the local economy, so in this American model, the roots of communities never grow deep enough to stabilize. Whether we realize it or not, we all now live within the cast of an enormous historical shadow that obscures the sun and, with it, our ability to see one another’s needs.
When local governments withdrew investments in city neighborhoods and placed them into bustling white suburbs, many formerly stable minority-owned establishments shuttered at a record clip across the nation. Once-thriving, integrated areas deteriorated rapidly in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Cities refused to introduce or maintain services, allowing dwellings in integrated and Black neighborhoods to fall apart and become demolished. The local government often then repurposed that land for higher-end housing.
One can easily follow the arc of our nation’s plotline here in our beloved Norfolk, but the nuances of our tale are unique to the culture and history we share. There is light and darkness in our story, but choosing to read our truth together can be a unified act of healing and hearing. Scrubbing the varnish off reality collectively strengthens our minds, and we can use that new resiliency to repair a foundation cracked long ago and build stronger, symbiotic values. Standing on this solid base, Norfolk’s citizens can unite in solidarity and build upward and outward, creating a starburst of opportunity that touches us all.
As you’ll read, Norfolk’s history tells us that when we prioritized citizens’ human joy and quality of life, our unique, sustainable, multicultural micro-economies followed. With allyship across neighborhoods and amongst the Seven Cities and transparency and discourse between citizens and leaders, we can again choose to make impressive, equitable social investments in spaces that meet our shared needs. Norfolk can together re-imagine our most historically successful natural assets and turn them into accessible places where our diverse community can gather for a much-deserved respite.
West Ghent, NFK
Kayce White is a community organizer and advocate passionate about creating unique conversations via artistic and inventive mediums, with the goal of engaging citizens in important local and national civic issues.
Raised in Myrtle Beach, SC, Kayce and her family happily washed ashore in Norfolk after 11 years in Brooklyn, NY. They found a true home for their two little boys and two black cats in West Ghent, where Kayce now heads up the civic league’s safety committee. By day, she runs her sustainable home goods brand HAVEN®.