APV controversy typical of divisive tensions

Some saw it as a skillfully composed urban community, complete with broad, tree-lined courtyards, well-designed modern architecture and worthy of preservation. Others saw it as a run-down, crime-infested eyesore that illustrated the failure of large-scale public housing in this country.

Some viewed its demolition as a scheme by racist leaders and greedy developers to displace minorities and snatch up prime real estate. Others viewed it as a poor use of valuable land and saw its demolition as an economic necessity.

Some felt that its preservation was a historical and cultural imperative. Others felt that efforts to preserve it were nothing more than the actions of obstinate community leaders and stubborn residents bent on impeding progress.

Almost everybody has some sort of opinion about Allen Parkway Village. The tenants of the 963-unit development, which was constructed in 1942, were evacuated two weeks ago, bringing an unceremonious end to the 20-year-old battle concerning its future.

The project, placed on the National Register of Historic Places during the 1980s, has always been controversial. Consider the way in which San Felipe Courts, later renamed Allen Parkway Village, was constructed. Paving over 37 acres of dilapidated yet historically significant Fourth Ward slums and in its stead creating massive blocks of housing was seen as a preferred manner of urban renewal during the `40s. Now, that philosophy is considered racially insensitive and overly intrusive,

Consider that the project was originally designated a whites-only complex, despite the fact that it was located in an area whose population was predominantly black. The complex was not integrated until the 1960s.

Consider the fact that, after the fall of Saigon in 1975, many Vietnamese refugees who made their way to Houston and who now comprise a significant sector of our city's population called APV home.

Consider the massive struggle over the future of the project, which pitted residents and community leaders against city officials and developers. The political and legal tug-of-war over Allen Parkway Village can be viewed as an example of the social, ethnic, philosophical and economic tensions that divide this city.

However, as is the case with most public housing projects, Allen Parkway Village fell into disrepair and began to present itself as an unsightly and hazardous pocket of urban decay. Although APV's demolition can be seen as another sad example of how we Houstonians are too eager to destroy our own history in the name of development, it also must be recognized that APV represents a concept of public housing and social engineering whose time has come and gone.

The entire complex will not be razed; 286 units will be preserved and renovated, so that at least part of this landmark will remain. Perhaps we are beginning to take some interest in preserving this city's past: 10 years ago, the entire complex would have been demolished.

Gray is a senior architecture major.

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