Activist community

Fifth Ward bike tours aim to educate the community about gentrification and relocation in a historically black neighborhood

Kendra London and Felicia Latson looked like captains of a Houston cycling team on a sunny Saturday morning, leading a peloton of riders wearing matching t-shirts down Lyons Avenue in a De Facto Tour of Fifth Ward.

This race, however, did not culminate in medals. Instead, the goal of Fifth Ward activists is to use the bike tour to educate other residents about gentrification and displacement, and encourage them to raise their voices before the fabric of their neighborhood is damaged. irrevocably modified.

“If you don’t start coming to meetings and helping with your voice, we’re going to lose. It is not too late. (The developers) feel like they’ve already won,” London told the group of about 20 cyclists as they stood outside Feeling Juicy, a juice bar in the Fifth Ward that London touted as a gem. neighborhood.

The juice bar is near several sites that London, which runs community group Our Afrikan Family, sees as symbols of Fifth Ward’s precarious future. A few blocks west is the former site of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital — a medical center that was once one of the only places black Houstonians could receive health care — which is ongoing redevelopment into a 179-unit apartment complex.

Further southwest is the Kelly Village public housing complex, which stands to lose a number of residents if the Texas Department of Transportation is allowed to go ahead with its Interstate 45 expansion. Although the overall project is in limbo as TxDOT faces federal reviews and complaints, federal officials in December lifted their pause on planning to rebuild the southernmost segment along the Interstate. 69 and Texas 288, where the two freeways meet I-45 near Third Ward.

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“Be careful, educate yourself,” London, 40, said. “People will always invade first where there is least resistance, so if you don’t talk, you don’t resist, and it’s easier for them to destroy us.”

TxDOT did not respond to a request for comment, but previously defended the expansion saying it will make the highway safer and less congested and provide “quality of life improvements for residents, businesses and others”, points that opponents of the project contest.

London first came up with the idea for the Fifth Ward bike tours, which it calls the Storytime Bike Line, after joining a bike ride along the I-45 expansion several years ago. Seeing the potential impacts of the project – the destruction of hundreds of homes and businesses along the highway, mostly in minority and low-income neighborhoods – she felt that a more localized bike tour would be a good way to showing residents of the Fifth Ward the ripple effects it could have on their own homes.

Resident Services Coordinator at a local apartment complex, London saw a disconnect between people making decisions on Fifth Ward’s behalf and those impacted by them, and has since staged several rides in an effort to have a Storytime Bike Line on the third Saturday of each month.

Latson, who helped lead the most recent ride, is a community organizer and social worker at the neighborhood’s Legacy Community Health Clinic — which recently set up a program that gives patients free access to Houston Bcycles, on their doctor’s prescription, to combat conditions such as diabetes or hypertension.

Latson, 43, was motivated to start educating her neighbors about transactions in the Fifth Ward after seeing the $2.5 billion East River Project — a 147-acre mixed-use development on the southern edge of the neighborhood — go through a process that she described as opaque.

“I consider myself to be an involved and knowledgeable person in the community, and so the fact that I had no idea a community benefits agreement was even being worked on…how did my neighbor or my grandma mother or someone who has just left work understand this document?” Latson said.

This Saturday, the Storytime Bike Line group gathered around 9 a.m. in a parking lot at Lockwood Drive and Lyons Avenue, where London greeted the cyclists with a shout and a hug. Houston BCycle vans pulled up with free bikes for riders who didn’t have one, and about a half hour later the group was ready to pull out.

“Everyone follows the leader! We follow Felicia, she goes very fast because she is disrespectful,” London joked.

With that, the group took off westward down Lyon, shouting greetings to neighbors sunbathing on their front steps or waiting for the bus. They stopped at local businesses and community landmarks – such as St. Elizabeth’s Hospital and the DeLuxe Theater – as well as the office of the Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation (CRC), which London has called out for disputes over alleged interests in his dealings, such as the transformation of St. Elizabeth into co-ed housing.

Fifth Ward CRC President Kathy Flanagan-Payton and Founder Harvey Clemons, Jr. both serve on the board of the ward’s Tax Increase Reinvestment Zone, which has donated $100,000 to the project.

Fifth Ward CRC officials did not return a request for comment.

For Walter Mallett, a resident of nearby Kashmere Gardens, the bike tour illustrated how larger societal injustices play out on a smaller scale.

“It’s a universal thing, it’s not just a Fifth Ward problem,” Mallett said. “(This bike ride) connects these issues to people who may not know most of these issues.”

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