Flood 2011

By Legs Akimbo

Forty five days and counting…that’s how long ago the flood ended and the wait for FEMA trailers began. The Binghamton Press reported 5,000 homeless people throughout Broome County because of this tragedy. What urban renewal couldn’t finish the flood has…namely the forcible removal of many of the poorest people in our community. The temperature last night dropped to 42 degrees and promises to go into the 30’s sometime this week. So many questions remain…are the trailers insulated, will they be sited at their former dwellings or grouped together in some strategic hamlet without benefit of economic development (i.e. laundry, bus shelters/stops, the ability to get a loaf of bread or milk for breakfast)?

Soon after Broome County lost IBM and Endicott Johnson, college students became the new “product” to be exploited. Rental prospects turned from bad to worse for the working poor as the rush for student housing became the mantra of every two-bit developer from Chenango Street to Conklin Avenue and Murray Street to Helen Street and beyond.

County Historian Gerald Smith in his sweeping pictorial history of Binghamton cites urban renewal/removal as the leading cause of the “death” of downtown Binghamton. One tactic that was used repeatedly to change the downtown landscape was eminent domain (the right of the state to seize property “for the good of the community”). Usually the good is defined by small elite power brokers with an impressive body of experts to do their bidding. Many of these projects razed lovely architectural gems that are now parking lots. They depopulated neighborhoods but eventually sputtered out leaving abandoned buildings that are now the heaping rubble of sexualized or insurance arson. One of many bad results is that we now pay cops to protect these remaining shells of more, faster, higher, bigger…the daily mantra of capitalist development.

Could eminent domain be used now for the community needs in this crisis? Two buildings stand out-the former Sheraton Inn/Renaissance Plaza on Front Street and the IDA financed former bank on Court Street across from Boscov’s. There are many others but these and in particular the Sheraton building, are very appealing. Why?

Why should nice views be the exclusive property of the rich?

The Sheraton is already set with rooms, baths, showers.

There is enough room for a small grocery/laundry/daycare center in the building.

Its vast rooftop is ideal for solar, wind, green experiments.

It is within walking distance to many services.

It could be the first building of a community land trust.

The large parking lot could host a farmer’s market and other outdoor benefits.

Like the Chenango and Susquehanna that caused this crisis, political and economic outlooks and forecast/projections rise and fall. As this article is being drafted the Binghamton Press announced that FEMA trailers would be coming soon for the Southern Tier. The question remains how many, when and how long? Whatever the results, we need to build movements that are for the majority of people not the small elites at the local, state, federal or international level. As our masthead states, “Our lives are more valuable than their profits”.

 

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