The Fourth Thursday:  “Urban Renewal Impact” in Asheville

Last Thursday, June 24, 2021, a website and big-data archival interface related to urban renewal in Asheville, NC, were launched by Priscilla Robinson—a local resident who was displaced by the city’s urban renewal program that started in the mid-1960s.  Entitled “Urban Renewal Impact,” the presentation followed the city of Asheville’s three-session series on “Information Sharing and Truth Telling” to address reparations for Black Asheville.

 The seven-part program was actually a double-feature:  It announced the creation of Ms. Robinson’s website as “a voice for uprooted communities”—specifically a social platform for the local residents impacted by Asheville’s urban renewal—and inaugurated “Remapping Southside Community” a digital initiative created by the academics Dr. Myeong Lee and Dr. Richard Marciano.  Using advanced digital technology, this team transformed the urban renewal  archival records of the acquisitions of black-owned properties in Asheville’s Southside Community by the Housing Authority of the City of Asheville (HACA) into an interactive digital interface.  Their information-rich collaborative was the product of more than ten years of work and represents a breakthrough in how digital tools can make archival materials accessible to a larger audience.  The interactive interface “Remapping Southside Community” is accessed through a link on the “Urban Renewal Impact” website, under “Remapping.” []  Anyone interested in searching owners, tenants, or property related to Asheville’s urban renewal of the Southside Community for the years 1965-1980 can use these digital resources.

In his remarks on the considerations and goals of reparations, Ray McCoy, Esq., a distinguished attorney and educator, discussed the importance of the critical work by Ms. Robinson and her team towards reparations “in identifying those who should be the focus of Asheville’s efforts.”  He added how the residents of Southside should be “excited to engage” and “to participate in the process of shaping a reparations program that provides a remedy or redress to the harm done and, hopefully, provides a model for lawmakers across the country to draw upon.”

In his presentation on the importance of the digitization of archives and digital curation, the researcher Robert Parker underscored the importance of archives and the digitization of records to knowledge, and to the understanding of history.  He noted the historical significance of this collaborative project, “Remapping Southside Community,” and its technological achievements in extracting content from thousands of pages of documents and making it publicly available.  For the residents of Southside, “What has been taken away is well documented,” he said.  This interface identifies the properties and individuals of Southside impacted by urban renewal; its existence will not only “encourage and foster new observations and discussions” with regards to reparations, but also will provide “a broad new perspective on the city’s history as it relates to urban renewal.”

The program was highlighted by Portia Evans and Priscilla Robinson, who both recounted their personal stories about the impact of Asheville’s urban renewal on their lives. In “A Personal Journey,” Ms. Robinson narrates a virtual walkthrough of her former neighborhood of Southside, using the interactive features of the digital interface to guide her in a search for family and friends, since dispersed.  Clicking on designated parcels of a digitally-created map, she is flooded with rich memories of a community and the many lives destroyed by urban renewal.   [ “A Personal Journey”: ]

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Launch of the “Urban Renewal Impact” Website & “Remapping of Southside Community” Digital Interface


#1: Opening Remarks & Introductions (Priscilla ROBINSON) — (6’14”)
#2: Consideration and goals for reparations in Asheville (Ray McCOY, Esq.)
Title:  “Remapping Southside Community” —A Critical Resource for Reparations
Text: LINK —  (6’31”)
#3: The genesis of a ten-year collaborative initiative (Dr. Richard MARCIANO)
Title: Making People the Focus of Archives” — (22’07”)
#4: Human-centered design for historical data platforms (Dr. Myeong LEE)
Title: “Human-Centered Design of the Remapping Southside Community Platform” — (6’18”)
#5: Importance of the digitization of archives and digital curation (Robert PARKER)
Title: “Urban Renewal in Asheville’s Southside Community:  A New Digital Interface, A New Perspective on a City’s History”
Text: LINK  —  (6’32”)
#6: Using a digital interface for storytelling and historical context (Priscilla ROBINSON)
Title: “A Personal Journey”: A Virtual Walkthrough Southside Community Prior to Urban Renewal — (9’23”)
#7: Using a website as a social platform for collecting historical information of personal and social significance (Priscilla ROBINSON & Portia EVANS)
Title: “Urban Renewal Impact” — A Voice for Uprooted Communities — (15’29”)

For biographical information regarding the panelists, please consult:  (under “Collaborators”)

Remapping Southside Community

Excerpts of an online digital interface created by Dr. Myeong Lee and Dr. Richard Marciano

One Case of Urban Renewal’s Impact:  PRISCILLA ROBINSON
Using the interactive map of Southside to revisit Priscilla Robinson’s former home on South French Broad Avenue (Block 53-Parcel 1), during urban renewal in Asheville for the years 1965, 1980.

Nearly a half-century after urban renewal began in Asheville, the site of the home on South French Broad Avenue from which Herbert Robinson and his family, including his grand-daughter Priscilla Robinson, were evicted in the 1960s remains vacant.  County Recorder’s Office records indicate, however, that HACA transferred the deed twice on:
* 1/23/76: HACA to HUD (Book: 135 / Page: 151)
* 7/24/95: HACA to H. B. Ferguson Missionary Baptist Church (Book: 1858 / Page: 793)

Property acquired by HACA in 1969 View of the property in 2021
Former urban renewal Block 53-Parcel 1 on South French Broad Avenue in 2021
Formerly: 9 buildings including 1 business (Cut Rate Market Grocery) & 17 families

-Authored by Robert Parker