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Statement on the Development of Johnson City

We at Northeast TN DSA want to express concern over the development of Johnson City.

Not long ago there was a push to eliminate homeless people from downtown. We saw those plans advance despite—in fact in the face of— strong community concern. Those who attended the required City Council meetings heard our representatives say they would vote for this no matter what concerns were raised by the community.

Recently we lost one of the institutions that made Johnson City special: the Acoustic Coffeehouse. It was a truly rare and beautiful experience. The reports of consistent governmental harassment should concern any local business owner or private citizen. We are unlikely to ever see the culture and community created at CoHo again. This would appear to be the point for some people.

Downtown is already becoming a place where a growing portion of locals and businesses simply cannot afford to be.

Now we are removing people who are inconvenient to the vision our leaders have for downtown. A vision that seems increasingly homogenous.

The rush to cash out during city developments has a long history of problems, from the Wild West to modern urban redevelopment. What we have seen recently are cities making problems for themselves by pushing workers and the poor out of now valued city centers. Making it harder for them to access jobs and employers to access employees. Communities are pushed out in favor of people who seem more valuable to those leading the development projects. Pushing workers out of the city center removes them from access to services at a time large portions of our community are already struggling to simply survive. Increasingly, cities are having to go back and spend more money to fix these problems. Why aren’t we learning from the mistakes other cities have made?

A 2016 US Census Bureau survey of Washington County found: 38% of households earn less than $12/hr, 24% of people lived at or below the poverty line, on average women working full time earned $6.5K less than men, and 63% of single mothers were living at or below the poverty line. Setting simple morality aside for a brief moment, perhaps concentrating on bettering their lives is a more fiscally responsible way to better our community. The demonstrated failures of the type of development we appear to be seeing brings into question its actual economic responsibility.

For clarity, this is not a screed against local businesses. Look at the history of this pattern across the country. As this economic homogeneity increases local businesses will also be pushed out in favor of big-money investors and chains who will take our money out of the community rather than building it.

Why is this necessary institution being handed over to private developers? Will it really serve the current residents? Will it really serve our community? It will be too late if you continue to wait to ask these questions.

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