Along with the 2012-13 budget, the City Council's mass approval of a 41-item consent agenda included contract a contract with Self Help for the Southside revitalization and contracts with McCormack Baron Salazar for the Rolling Hills redevelopment. Those projects involve about $28 million of public money over a period of years.
After the vote, City Councilman Steve Schewel (right) was moved "to explain to our community what we've done and why we're doing it." He went on to give a 15-minute speech that precisely laid out his reasoning for supporting the project and believing that the approved contracts – particularly the far larger MBS package – are good deals for the city.
He also framed the projects in a larger context of housing the poor and aiding the homeless, through the penny-for-housing tax.
Wrapping up, though, he changed his approach from financial to historic:
"Finally, I want to say a word about race," Schewel said.
"It is not an accident we are talking about the revitalization of this particular hillside overlooking downtown, adjacent to the once thriving Hayti business district.
"We ride on the Durham Freeway every day, but the route it took was not color blind. The people who routed the Freeway routed it through close-knit African American neighborhoods from one side of our city to another. They uprooted those neighborhoods, sent many of those people into public housing and closed down businesses, many of them forever. ...
"That rubble beneath Rolling Hills and Southside, that rubble is the debris from the freeway construction that came from Hayti, following the wrecking ball.
"That rubble is the wood and glass and metal of the old building there, the ones that got uprooted for the highway. That rubble is the bones of old Hayti, the ribs and sinews of an African American community destroyed by a road, uprooted by a highway and urban renewal.
“It's costing us $1 million just to move that rubble, pack it up and move it out so we can build new foundations. But maybe that million dollars is helping Durham to repurchase its soul. I like to think so. ...
“I think we can transform a critical part of our city and spur economic development, that we can house our poorest citizens decently, and ... if we do it right we can help our city heal a great injustice.”
When he finished, he got a sustained ovation.