From Bronzeville to Beirut

From Bronzeville to Beirut
No Place to Play

An email sent from Beirut to Bronzeville to me from my daughter arrived today.  It was simply the following few lines.

I visited a Palestinian camp on Thursday, and there is a project on rooftop playgrounds they’re interested in. Do you have any information on rooftop development? Read about the camp on my blog.

Hope things are going  well!

My daughter is a teacher at the American Community School in Beirut, Lebanon.  She embarked on this particular two year assignment a couple of weeks ago.
We’re used to her wanderlust.  She  taught in China and spent several months in Mali but this is the longest jaunt  to date.  I have to admit I was a little  shaken at the thought of my outspoken, headstrong and brilliant daughter heading for the Middle East.  It’s a long  road from Bronzeville to Beirut and the distance between rights for women here and there is not a gap but a gorge.  I  was reassured that Beirut is the Paris of the middle east and as my daughter  put it, she wasn’t planning any forays into Syria, Egypt or Libya.   She  did however; participate in a field trip of sorts to a refugee camp for  Palestinians in Lebanon.  The email to us was spawned by that trip.  To fully understand the enormity of the request she made of us to provide info on rooftop construction you might want to read  her blog, Bulletz Over Beirut.

Since she was not allowed to photograph the refugee camp, I  immediately went in search of images.  I am not certain that the photo I have  provided here (courtesy of Saturday Mideast Report) is from the same camp but  the description of what my daughter visited and this are pretty darned close.

After perusing other sites and looking at  dozens of photos I turned to my spouse for an answer.  Is there anyway rooftop developments could be used here?  My daughter knows how hard we  are working here in Bronzeville to green the place up and make the most of the available resources to provide jobs, food and green space but did she think we could work this miracle?  It’s tough enough here. Some older buildings are sturdy enough to support the weight for roof top development and others are being built with that in mind but it’s still tough to get through the permitting process.  From what I could discern there wasn’t even a building with a decent roof to keep the rain out at the refugee camp!  My ever so understanding spouse and resident specialist in all things sustainable will contact her for more information but the outlook is bleak.

My daughter alludes to having spent part of her life in the Bronzeville ghetto in her blog.  By definition we did live in the ghetto.  We moved from South Commons (less well defined as a ghetto) to  35th  street on Priaire Avenue.  At the time of our pioneering move the area had not claimed  gentrification status.  Immediately to the north of  35th street, though still considered Bronzeville, had morphed into the “Gap”.  By the way the moniker has nothing to do with the clothing chain and in fact I’m not sure where the name originated but that is totally off topic.  Needless to say south of 35th street was and still is Bronzeville.   We were in the ghetto.   My daughter was ten  years old at the time of our pioneering to Prairie; her brother nine.  There was serious culture shock. We bought a turn of the century gray stone known as the Money Pit.  The place was a wreck complete with uninvited  “guests”.  There was no swimming pool, unlike the complex at South Commons.  There were vacant lots and once stately homes that had been turned into multiple family slums.

What we went through was nothing compared to the plight of the Palestinian refugees living outside of Beirut.  We might have had concerns about the kids playing outdoors (though they did and survived).  The children in the refugee camp attempt to
play amidst exposed electrical wires running pirated power to their homes.  Electrocution is not uncommon.  Of course my daughter asked what she could do to help. That’s just one of the ways she makes me proud to have gone through all that labor pain. The answer she received was this. The mothers there in that hovel in Lebanon are like mothers everywhere.  They want a decent and safe place for their children to play.  They didn’t mention the fact that unemployment is over 50% (they are not allowed to work in Beirut except in  menial jobs like housekeeping) or that food was scarce.  The children need a place to play.

I thought about this as I reviewed an  incident of this past week.  A bunch of kids threw rocks at a big window in the new senior building at 53rd street.  The senior residents were enjoying a night of bingo and a shared meal.  The rock through the window ruined the evening.  I couldn’t help but think of Washington Park right across the street with its tennis courts and basketball courts.  I wish there was a way to send those rock throwing kids to that far away ghetto, not forever.  Mabe they could visit for just a month.  Would it change them?  Would they notice there is no park or swings?  Or would they just be delighted by all the rocks.  The problem would be there aren’t any windows in those tin huts at which to hurl the stones.   In that refugee camp so far away from Bronzeville maybe they would find a real “ghetto” is no place like home.  Maybe they would decide to find a way to end ghettos everywhere, for once and for all.


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    One of the things that we need to be concerned about when we look at refugee camps around the world is that it may very well be a preview of what could happen in the United States. As the economy continues to deteriorate for ordinary wage earners, the struggle for physical survival will intensify as will unrest in the streets. Long before people are actually starving, citizens will begin to sieze what they need to live by any means necessary. Organizations that profess to be in the community development business should direct their focus to the life support needs of the populations they serve as well as those of their allies. These coalitions are what will allow us to survive until the situation stabilizes within the emerging new order. Make your friends before you need them.

  • In reply to Daddyo:

    I, like you, remember the movements during the '60's. On one hand there were the flower children. The other side were the militants and there was the Martin Luther King, Jr. followers. I often thought that the militants were doomed because the economy wasn't bad enough to shake the roots of the middle class.
    With the emerging economic crises, the obliteration of the middle class and the international movement (but particularly in the U. S.) to cut social programs, more and more people will choose what ever means necessary to survive. Unfortunately violence is a choice. Look at what is happening in Wisconcin just this week.

    I often wonder how many people, particularly people of color, are prepared to leave this country. Maybe I should start a poll? Where would you go? Or how are you prepared to stay in your urban setting? That's pretty much what sustainability is about.

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