Mayor Turner Appoints White Guy to Lead Third Ward
Rice Management Company, on behalf of Rice University, is in the process of developing the Ion, the Innovation Corridor, and Greentown Labs in Third Ward. Mayor Sylvester Turner decided to install Andy Icken, the city’s chief development officer, to lead the developments of the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) between Third Ward and Rice. Icken is not a resident of Third Ward, he lives in Humble, and Third Ward residents, specifically Houston Coalition for Equitable Development without Displacement (HCEDD), do not have a seat at the negotiating table of this CBA.
As developers continue their unrestrained projects in Houston, terms like “urban renewal,” “revitalization,” “renewal,” and “revival” create marketing hype and manufactured consent around the developments solidifying the city’s role as an epicenter in this capitalist system. Anyone would want to welcome “revitalization” to their neighborhoods, but these communities already know these “revival” projects come with a price — displacement and cultural erasure. These projects are purposefully meant to colonize and remove the culture that is rooted there.
The Ion & Innovation Corridor
An innovation district, the Ion, is in the works via Rice University, Rice Management Company, and is part of an even larger plan to create an Innovation Corridor. Development for three properties is already in progress: the Sears building, 4201 Main; Exxon Mobil building, 800 Bell; and the former KBR complex. The Ion is expected to open in 2021.
Over the next decade, the plan is to expand the Innovation Corridor in multiple phases and be completed in 2023. The HCEDD has banded with a broad coalition to create a CBA that will hold developers accountable in their development.
A particular issue with this development is its ability to easily manufacture public consent around displacing a whole community and their culture. Who doesn’t want an Innovation Corridor? But the truth is that under capitalism this development — this “innovation” — will harm the existing community and it’s not like the workers of these start-ups or companies will likely see the value of their work reflected in their paycheck to the full extent.
Here’s where the community gets pushed aside —
The city included themselves in the negotiations between the community and the developers. Mayor Sylvester Turner decided to install Andy Icken, the city’s chief development officer, back in Feburary to lead the developments of this CBA between Third Ward and Rice. Icken lives in Humble, not in Third Ward. Ethically speaking, Icken cannot sign or negotiate a CBA on behalf of Third Ward regarding the development of the Ion from Rice Management Company because Icken is not part of the community.
For the first time since February, probably due to the pandemic, there were three online community input meetings. The problem, however, was the gaslighting. The first workshop had the chat disabled and only allowed the the Q&A feature which prohibits the community members from talking to each other or seeing each other’s questions. In the other workshops, not only did Rice Management Company not answer questions very well, in some cases, they deleted questions from the chat.
“To delete the question undermined the point of the community input meeting.” — Community member
Community members mentioned a lot of the information given by Rice Management Company was vague and didn’t have a lot of information prepared for the meeting. The main theme from community members who attended the meetings was that there was very little effort put into this project to make the community a true stakeholder in the CBA.
On top of this, there was no transparency, no mention in the workshops of any negotiations that Icken and Rice Management Company are working on in the CBA without Third Ward.
HCEDD has seven working groups and a negotiating team prepared to lead the CBA with Rice Management Company on their own without the city’s or Icken’s “help.” If you want to learn more about these working groups, watch HCEDD’s recent community meeting and fast-forward to 54:46 — side note, all the information in this article is from that meeting.
Already Abusing the Community
The Ion development is already playing a role in abusing the community. Milam & Co Painting, a contractor Rice Management Company hired, is exploiting its workers in the Ion construction, paying workers as low as $8.50 when the average pay is $14 and a living wage in Houston is $17. There are reports of workers getting only a thirty-minute lunch break and, often times, they are not provided water while working outside.
The Loss of Fiesta
On top of that, the Fiesta Mart in Midtown is now slated to become Greentown Labs Houston, a clean energy start-up accelerator. While we are on the verge of a climate apocalypse and renewable energy is needed, yes, Fiesta was a place where the working poor and the working class in the community could get money orders, copies of keys, quarters to wash clothes, and it was a place to pay bills if they didn’t have access to internet. Fiesta also allowed walking residents to take the baskets home, and responded to their community by hiring someone to pick up the cart at the resident’s home. This store was also accessible via the city’s public transit, which already sucks as it is.
The installation of Greentown Labs is another example of manufacturing public consent because while this tech development is needed to combat climate change which has and will continue to create climate refugees, it is easy to use that as a marketing tactic to create excitement and overshadow how the existing community will become gentrification refugees.
The removal of Fiesta has placed yet another barrier on the community, choke-holding them to be displaced as the Third Ward food desert expands.