By Todd Hannula
We set up our first office in Chapeltown, Leeds in 2005. The first thing we did was take the metal bars off our big beautiful office windows. The landlord, a regeneration organisation, said we would have to pay for any damages by thieves. Because you know… “Black people steal things.”
Three years went by without incident, except our enjoyment of the occasional sunshine and the sending of a subtle message to everyone who walked by: This. Is. Not. A. Jail.
There was trash on the streets. “Dirty people, black people are…” is what people thought – and said. Actually, it was because the trash cans stopped at the edge of the posh (see ‘white’) area to the north. They returned on the other side of Chapeltown as the city centre started. We petitioned the council to put bins on the street. They replied with metal rings and clear plastic bags and never really emptied them regularly.
There wasn’t a cash machine within the neighbourhood. Because, obviously, “Black people don’t need access to banks.” We asked several banks to put a machine into the neighbourhood, but we gave up after over two years of pointless calls. To this day, I don’t think there are any ATMs in the area, excepting the fee-charging cash machines.
Development is controlled by large urban development firms who build stuff that’s ‘good enough’, because “Black people don’t appreciate art or beauty.” So what you get are homogenised, cheap looking health clinics and regeneration projects built by well meaning but leaderless, faceless organisations.
Private landlords are allowed to let their property sink into an abyss of trash and disgusting overgrowth. Imagine this happening in the neighbourhood just to north – not.
Subtle and explicit racism is still rife because institutions have lost or never had the ability to deeply care about areas that are different than mainstream (see ‘white’) areas.
When you go through lovely spa towns like Harrogate, remember that the council picks up thousands of pounds of trash before 7 am EVERY DAY. It tasks teams with picking up the broken glass on Saturday/Sunday mornings, and prioritises beauty (flowers anyone?!) to benefit the community.
Without this prioritising and power gained from significantly more tax revenue borne out of longstanding advantages, Harrogate could look like any other place.
I don’t know what the answers are… but, I do know that we need to ask better questions.
What would happen if…?
What would happen if we made art/beauty a priority in economically challenged neighbourhoods? This can be white or black neighbourhoods, especially in England, where the population is 80%+ white.
What would happen if we put basic services into these neighbourhoods, such as picking up the litter and creating drop off points for fly tipping (kinda hard to take your mattress to the tip on the bus).
What would happen if we put people on the streets to show that police care first and respond second (not the other way around)?
What would happen if we cared enough to build aspiration and opportunities into these neighbourhoods (instead of community centres)?
What would happen if we saw colour as a positive difference instead of a liability, a risk?
What if we acknowledged white privilege and fragility? What if we acknowledged that wealth is largely the result of advantage and not better choices?
What if we stopped talking shops and focused on making the basics awesome in all neighbourhoods -such as education, public realm, security, health, and transport?
Todd Hannula is part of the Inspiring Women Changemakers Collective. He is an experienced NED who has served on private, non-profit, public Boards and advisory groups. Todd injects ideas and fresh thinking to build strategies key to achieving near-term objectives with long-term sustainability.
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