The sad refrain of giving up on Rockford

By Shane Nicholson
Managing Editor

The “Not in my neighborhood!” cries of those wanting to see the death of the South New Towne Drive housing project have a rather apparent and seedy undertone.

Even from initial statements put out by County Board members last month reeked of it. “I believe that this project will have an ill effect on property values and has the potential to increase crime,” said District 16’s John F. Sweeney.

Then you had last night’s meeting at Gregory Elementary School, one that really showed a democratic process in action.

“We don’t want it!” was the refrain from a noticeably monochromatic crowd. Let them speak? Nah, it’s better to just shout over them.

“It’s like a concentration camp,” said one resident of the proposed plan without a hint of irony. “Are they supposed to stay in this little park? Are they going to run through my yard and play in my yard?”

Gasp. Children happening through your yard. The horror of it all.

So what is it they don’t want? What about the project would have an ill effect on property values? Why would crime shoot through the roof? And what about those kids playing everywhere?

You can beat around the bush all you want–call it Rockford’s peculiar east side/west side problem–but when it settles out it’s simple as former RPS teacher Mary Jo Powers said Thursday: “I think what’s behind all this is racism, but nobody wants to talk about that.”

No Mary, they don’t. They want to hide behind property values and haphazard playing children and boogeymen who will bring untold crime and pestilence to the area.

They want to look inside their own bubble and not worry about the empty shell that sits on the other side of the river.

They want to slap each other on the back every time a new community awareness group does something to benefit the already (relatively) prosperous east side of town.

Look no further than the raucous and at times obscene celebrations over a chain restaurant opening on East State Street. People are more passionate about buying Italian beefs from yet another out-of-town business than they are about enacting progressive solutions to systemic ills in their community.

It’s as if denying persons a chance to climb out from under 30 years of decline on the west side of town is a measure of success for a neighborhood.

“Buy our houses for $105,000 a piece and you’ll have units already built,” was one of the sound bytes to end all sound bytes from Thursday’s meeting. “I’ll leave! I will leave!”

And there you have it in a nutshell: the uniquely east side solution to fixing Rockford is maintain the status quo, one that has seen this town slip down the ranks of Midwest cities in nearly every economic indicator. And if you try to fix it–try to break the cycle that has led us to this point–well screw it, I’ll pack up and go.

Congratulations, you’ve given up on your city. You’re not part of the solution; you’re part of the problem.

You’re part of the reason that half of this community has been stuck in an economic death cycle for decades with no recovery in sight.

You’re part of the reason that upward mobility in parts of this community is nothing but a pipe dream.

You’re part of the back-slapping meeting crowd who praise each other for anything but real progress, who sit around and talk about all the problems in our community and then come up with such solutions as “Let’s have another lunch meeting next month” instead of creating jobs.

You’re part of the reason Rockford is what it is, and because you can’t fathom the thought that something different needs to be done to change it you’re part of the reason it will stay this way indefinitely.

And all of this vitriolic shouting Thursday night based around preconceived notions of how people live on a side of town that those so disgusted at the thought of having new neighbors actively and proudly avoid. Those boogeymen on the west side will getcha, what with their drugs and their property value-sucking magic powers.

Yes, it’s most certainly a potential new construction project in your neighborhood that will be the death knell of your property value; not the decades of economic decline for the entire region allowed to go unchecked because a good portion of people on the east side of Rockford would rather build a wall up Rockton Avenue than address needs and concerns of residents in those areas.

“That’s what you’re bringing in here, nothing but drugs,” said one very angry woman at Thursday’s meeting. “Why don’t the mayor put them in their neighborhood?”

Nothing but drugs. Not people trying to make a living. Not families trying to do better for their kids (who may or may not run through your yard). Drugs, that’s all people from the other side of town have to offer.

“We know we have an obligation to do more than just maintain the status quo,” Mayor Larry Morrissey told WREX Thursday night.

Sadly Larry, it seems a large chunk of this town doesn’t agree, even if they can’t bring themselves to lay bare exactly why that is. Maintaining the status quo of a divided Rockford is exactly what they want. That is unless you can somehow make it better without doing anything they can actually see.

So we have it: Not in my neighborhood! The cry of the oppressed masses of South New Towne Drive, having to consider the notion of neighbors who don’t fit their ideal image of what the east side of Rockford should look like.

The indictment of a part of Rockford willing to see this city die slowly rather than do anything about it.

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17 thoughts on “The sad refrain of giving up on Rockford

  • June 19, 2015 at 1:54 pm
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    FTA: It’s as if denying persons a chance to climb out from under 30 years of decline on the west side of town is a measure of success for a neighborhood.

    This whole article lays on a thick false guilt trip to those who only want the best for their community. But let’s do the lefty thing and call it racism-that’s the trend these days. Now, reread what you just wrote (which I cite above). Why, after 30 years of decline would anyone want that scenario to seep into their neighborhood? It is NOT the fault of those opposed to this housing project in their neighborhood for this problem. If anything they want to prevent the spread of it! Go ahead, stick your head in the sand and do not tell the truth about the high crime rate in the poor black neighborhoods. Do not talk about the welfare system that has destroyed the soul of the black family-you know, where a mother can get more money and benefits on welfare than a married mother can with a working husband. Don’t talk about the sperm donors not being the fathers they should be. Don’t talk about the government process called entitlements that lead to the crime rates being higher in the black neighborhoods that even put their precious children at risk of being shot dead or hooked on drugs. No jobs so what else to do? No pride of ownership does not make for decent neighborhoods. The best thing that can be done is not these housing projects in the middle of decent neighborhoods (another government funded racist fiasco that tells poor blacks that they aren’t smart enough to do better on their own) but the helping hand up, not out. Stop telling blacks they are too stupid to get anywhere in life without the nanny government. Restore the family and make it an incentive to work by all means possible (make it easier for businesses to set up shop here). Welfare is needed for temporary assistance but it makes for permanent soul destroying poverty as a permanent means of income.

    Now THAT is a big part of the 30 year problem of decline on the west side that nobody wants to talk about. Oh, how wonderfully racist to say that blacks must live in east side white neighborhoods in order to stop the decline of their own neighborhoods on the west side.

    • June 19, 2015 at 4:24 pm
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      Sure didn’t take long enough for one of them to play the “bleeding heart liberal” card, did it? #Predictable

  • June 19, 2015 at 2:25 pm
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    I just don’t understand..if the south or west side is deteriorating…build new there. Plain and simple. Start there..care about the side of the Rockford that needs the help…how is that giving up on Rockford as they proclaim?

    • June 19, 2015 at 4:59 pm
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      There are no stores there, Heather. Very few (terrible) grocery stores. No entertainment options other than bars. Moving there would be like moving to a suburb with worse infrastructure and zero support from the city, which is why the few times they’ve tried things, they’ve died on the vine.

    • June 19, 2015 at 10:41 pm
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      These people are in dire need of services and need to have access to shopping, healthcare and transportation in a safe clean environment with the support of their community.
      I am astounded at the number of people who call themselves Christians who show such venomous hatred toward this project and the people who need it. I live here on the East side and am ashamed of many of the attitudes I am hearing from neighbors. It is very disappointing. If you call yourself a follower of Christ you better ask yourself WWJD.

  • June 19, 2015 at 2:31 pm
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    Of course the people in this neighborhood are upset. They have a right to be. RHA doesn’t exactly have the best track record for maintaining and securing their housing projects. They have been completely out of control for years and yes everyone knows the crime increases and the property values go down all around them. It has happened time and time again. There has to be a better solution than this. Moving to a new neighborhood is not going to change anything. Why not just tear down the rundown housing on property you already own and rebuild there? They have to be torn down anyway. Tear them down and start fresh. Stop making these residents out to be the bad guys. They are voicing very legitimate concerns and they have every right to. Some of them have sunk their whole life’s savings into their homes. This article is so ridiculously one sided it’s unbelievable.

    • June 19, 2015 at 4:26 pm
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      The RHA isn’t trying to rebuild Fairgrounds Projects on the east side of the river. They’re attempting to place people that presently reside in Fairgrounds in a new unit that would more closely resemble Olessen Plaza than Fairgrounds Projects.

      And again, the specific reason that they’ve picked that specific spot was because it would be RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET FROM A POLICE STATION!!!

      But none of that fits comfortably into your narrative, now does it?

  • June 19, 2015 at 3:06 pm
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    Shane, I do think it will increase crime and thus decrease property values. My comments are at least partially informed by a study done from the Urban Institute and Emory University which discusses the effects of neighborhoods that receive relocated households of concentrated poverty in Chicago and Atlanta from 2000-2009. Your accusations of there being a “seedy undertone” are baseless as far as I’m concerned. This idea that people are being seedy is the easy way to try and paint people into a corner, and it was an expected reaction from some who are always waiting for an excuse to drop that line. I was at the meeting yesterday, and I saw many different types of racial makeups there in opposition. As for me personally, I would be happy to support a plan that gives people a chance, with some skin in the game,to move wherever they want to….a chance for parents in these housing projects to have a good chance at having a say in where their children to go school. Whether that be an expanded voucher program or a local endowment that allows people to occupy homes currently vacant all over our community. There are other options besides the already failed path of poverty concentration. This is a lot about tax credits for a developer and another project downtown. A convenient means to an end, and the willingness by some to sell out a neighborhood in exchange for a downtown hotel.

    • June 19, 2015 at 4:34 pm
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      Yeah, baseless accusation with no precedent at all. #PeopleWhoCareLawsuit #1989

  • June 19, 2015 at 3:58 pm
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    Shane – before you decide this is such a great idea for the people it will be foisted on, why don’t you move across the street from an RHA property.

    My guess is a few days later you will have figured out it is not that desirable of a thing to live next to and understand exactly why no one wants to have one of these abominations next door.

    • June 19, 2015 at 4:08 pm
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      Live on the west side, Bob. Have since I moved to Rockford. Fairgrounds are about 3 minutes out my back door.

      • June 19, 2015 at 4:33 pm
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        Oops. Looks like Bob got burned.

  • June 19, 2015 at 4:07 pm
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    This is Agenda 21 which is going to change Rockford. This housing development should be zoned just like businesses are zoned.

    However, AGenda 21 (sustainable development) says that ALL citizens should live in high rise smaller living quarters. Check out what is happening in CA. You won’t like it but the United Nations and NEW World Order want it and this will happen no matter what. Open your eyes . . it is not just Rockford involved in these sustainable housing developments. . .it isn’t racism or taxes or anything like that. . . beaware

  • June 19, 2015 at 4:32 pm
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    What always humors me about this whole charade is that Rockford’s only 20% black. A FIFTH of the city’s overall population is NOT solely responsible for it continuously outranking the likes of Gary, Detroit & Newark on the list of this nation’s most dangerous cities. The 60% of this town that’s white has more than a little blame to share in that mess. There are people living in that neighborhood that are already on drugs. There’s already crime happening in that neighborhood. Property values in that neighborhood have already BEEN plummeting for a while now. But none of that conveniently fits into a bigot’s narrative, ever.

    This town needs to die. It can’t die off fast enough. Rockford in 2015 looks no different than Cicero in 1967. This town needs to die and be rebuilt from the ground up. Rockford’s former identity as this manufacturing hub where people got a job in a factory, saved up, bought a house & lived the American dream is a pipe dream. This is a dystopian armpit.

    • June 19, 2015 at 8:54 pm
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      There is nothing humorous about linking crime with the color of a person’s skin. It’s not funny, and it’s way out of date, since like 1964.

      Sure, you can run figures, and so what if there just happens to be a certain group that is arrested for breaking the law.

      Unions are lass than 10% of the full time work force, but they are blamed for 100% of the problems in government spending. You say figures say that Rockford has 20% black, like it’s supposed to mean that our crime comes from those 20% of our population.

      Using drugs is not the problem, kids running on or across laws is not the problem. Guns are not the problem, and neither is the growing Homosexual population.

      The problem in Rockford is a CARE problem. Its an individual CARE and GIVE a SHIT problem! It always has been this way!

      The problem is aided by the spreading of the false information that the police are here to protect us. Ask just about anyone, and they will tell you that the police have some sort of a legal obligation to protect you from things. They do not!

      The supreme court has ruled more than once, that the police are only for general protection. A police officer can, by law, continue to eat his sandwich, as he hears you scream RAPE from inside a house. The police are NOT your bodyguard, that is YOUR responsibility!

      Want change? You might want to get off your dead backside, and get involved. Report dangerous illegal acts, and know who it is that lives in and visits your neighborhood.

      Before you report every little issue you are uncomfortable with, some understanding is in order as to the expectation of your call being addresses sooner than later. There are only so many police officers. There are WAY more citizens in Rockford than the police can wait on like a butler. the less you bother the police with trivial crap, the more the police can be there for the issues that involve major law infractions.

      Sure, you might have to go and meet your neighbors face to face every now and then. You might have to take a few self defense courses, and perhaps even find and talk to the regular officers and their supervisors in your neighborhood too!

      When you get to know your neighbors, renters, and owners alike, you will begin to build your ownership of your neighborhood. Perhaps you can organize a monthly dinner at someone’s house, or just a coffee. perhaps you will find that a neighbor needs help with the lawn, or that someone is sick, so you don’t have to resort to giving code enforcement reason to exist!

      Neighborhood too much? How about the street you live on? Even half the street is better than just hiding inside your house waiting for doom!

      This is how to do it!
      I didn’t say ask an officer to come over and talk with your neighbors, but lets see if just the neighbors can talk together. This is YOUR neighborhood, it’s YOUR responsibility!

      Once you have solid communication with your neighbors, you will have strength the police only dream of.

      Your monthly meetings with your neighbors can find out about homes that need extra help, and you can even clean up the abandoned homes a bit so your neighborhood doesn’t become an advertisement for mischief.

      So, open your window blinds wide! Get a porch light working over your entrance and exit doors. Get and pay for homeowners or renters insurance, and make your home look like someone is living inside.

      Plant a flower or two.
      Clean up the trash on the street someone threw out of their window.
      Lift your head and greet those who walk past your home, even if it’s just a nod and a smile.

      No law is needed, and wishing that the boogie man will move far away from you does not mean they do not know where you live.

      Rockford does not need more public housing. Just as people flock here from other places, if we have less places to stay, the people will choose another place to live. Those people can use a home, but I know that they will life just as fine in another city or state for that matter!

      Remove the school tax from property bills and working people will again flock to Rockford and make their home here!

  • June 19, 2015 at 6:35 pm
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    Affordable housing for those who need it should be located near necessities such as grocery stores, shopping (I.e. Target, Wal Mart, Kohls, etc.), and should also be near to accessible public transportation stops, such as RMTD. Think about having to take a bus to and from a grocery store for a minute.

    Not everyone on assistance programs is a leech on society, just the same as in that not everyone on assistance programs isn’t taking advantage of “the system” either. There are the good and bad in all race lines and walks of life. Everyone should have fair and reasonable access to their necessities.

    If anything, realistically, they should be looking to build along the Perryville corridor between Guilford and Riverside. How about that predominantly empty business building off of Olde Creek Road? There could be busy transit to East State shopping, two grocery stores, and is near other amenities.

    Rockford’s “East Side” designation border has continuously been redefined over the years. The border of designation was once the river. East Rockford/Weat Rockford. Then, the border moved. 7th Street, 11th Street, Rockford/20th Street, and now Alpine. Everything East of Alpine is “East Rockford”. Now the river to Alpine is “Near East Rockford”. So, we now have “West Rockford”, “Near East Rockford” and “East Rockford”.

    It’s all about socio-economic designation and elitism.

    And the woman who made the comment for the Mayor to move the element of question into his neighborhood?

    To the best of my knowledge, he does love on the West Side.

    The Mayor, to me, seems like a solid guy who wants better for this city. Rockford has become a very negative place, and has it’s problems. In having said that, your Mayor is a Notre Dame graduate. He didn’t have to come back here. He could have moved anywhere and taken a better paying job than he has taken on. He chose to come back, and has chosen to undertake an attempt at progressing this city. And, in my opinion, he’s done one hell of a good job.

    Rockford is lucky to have him. This city is just too snyde and negative to see it.

    Rockford needs to appreciate what they have, and become a community, or it is simply going go back to the withering and and dying that it so desperately seems to want to resume.

  • June 21, 2015 at 6:02 pm
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    Shane…this article is so well done. Thanks for articulating it so well and telling it like it is. I was there Thursday night. I live in the neighborhood and wanted to get information about the proposal. Unfortunately that wasn’t possible because of the rude, insensitive, ugliness that took place. I have never seen an adult crowd act so totally disrespectful. Had that been a group of people of color, they would have been hauled off to jail!

    It’s evident by some of your responders here that they simply are not able to look at the racism piece. I spent my whole career working with people of color and what I know for a FACT…most of them want what I want…peace, security, a decent place to live, jobs that pay a living wage, etc. Are we really saying that it’s okay to deny them that?

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