Redevelopment in North Omaha

Interview with OIC Neighborhood President, Tanya Cooper

Isa Luzarraga, Lifestyle Editor

In the midst of a summer filled with updates on the current pandemic and heightening racial tensions, the purchasing of multiple blocks of property in North Omaha between 24th Street and Lake Street has seemed less relevant. However, this future redevelopment could spell significant changes for Omaha as a whole. The Sherwood Foundation, RH Land Management, 75 North, and other partners have been purchasing buildings and lots in the area, preparing what looks like to be a widespread renovation of the North Omaha community. The Hoofbeat staff wrote an In-Depth focusing on the racial and socioeconomic inequality across the Omaha Metro Area earlier this year. Shown in the infographic below of Millard North’s student population, only 17% are considered economically disadvantaged, compared to 60% of Omaha North’s student makeup. Economic and racial segregation across Omaha brings into question the motives of land developers and the amount of influence community members should have over such projects. President of the OIC Neighborhood Association, Tanya Cooper, believes it’s important to bring the inhabitants of North Omaha to the table when discussing development efforts. This is her Q & A.

 

(The Sherwood Foundation declined to be interviewed)

(Answers are shortened for clarity)

 

Q: What are your responsibilities as president of the OIC Neighborhood Association? 

A: My responsibilities are to advocate for the neighborhood and the neighbors at city meetings and in places where the average person never has a seat at the table. I advocate for them to have that seat. I have been called upon to intervene where city planning was being abusive and threatening to an elderly neighbor. I wrote a letter on her behalf to the city so they would redo a botch job on a curb they did at her home. I hold events like meeting and a movie to bring neighbors together to help the neighborhood. I walk to work every day and I talk to different neighbors on the way there and back home. I just try to make sure I listen to my neighbors because it’s important for people to be heard and to feel like they contribute to where they live.

 

Q: In the Omaha World Herald article you are quoted as saying, “White people need to stop coming into a black community and making it all about what they want to see for us. … We are not the children, and they need to start bringing us to the table at the beginning instead of trying to put us in the seat that they have made for us on the tail end of things.” What do you think is the best way to go about bringing black people to the table? 

A: I think most people believe it has to be something complicated; I don’t think so. It really is as simple as an invite to a meeting for future community ideas about the future of a space. An example would be Mike Maroney* was considering bringing Artists Lofts to 24th and Lake to the vacant space behind the Union of Contemporary Art. He sent out invites to the community, so they could come and be a part of his vision and they loved that. He formed a board made up of the community and got ideas on how things might, or might not work. Everyone was excited because they were a part of something. It was respectful. Black people haven’t had much respect in their lives and really it’s all we want. We understand that people have money and can do whatever they want with it, but the one thing they don’t have control over is how others are going to feel about it! My mom used to say, “It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it” and if people coming into North O., no matter what color they were, thought more about how they did things, our conversations would be different. And honestly what’s wrong with having those respectful conversations?

*Mike Maroney is currently the President at the Omaha Economic Development Corporation.

 

Q: What do you believe is the best route to take regarding incorporating public opinion into the developments? Should there be representatives from the community weighing in on the foundation’s actions? 

A: I think I may have eluded to this in my previous answer, but yes, there needs to be full community buy in, and when neighborhood leaders the community actually trusts are brought to the table a different atmosphere is created. We do it because we love our community and our neighbors, and we live in the communities we serve. This should be the first thing developers, or the philanthropic community looks at when they give money, form boards, or buy up property and look for input. Who are the people with boots on the ground? Who are the people who don’t have anything to gain? Because those are going to be the people who will tell you the truth and who will help you achieve what you need to achieve. And don’t be confused, I say things the way I do, not to hurt people’s feelings, but because honesty is how we heal and get to a better place in this world. 

 

Q: For others looking to become educated on the development of communities that have fewer resources, who should they turn to for information?

A: They should learn everything they can about redlining* and gentrification in Nebraska. You need to understand the difference between Eminent Domain and Blighted and Substandard Learn about Community Development Block Grant Funds—- if these funds are for disadvantaged communities then how are people not from the area using them? TIFF funds— same thing there needs to be independent education done by young people who really want to help on this, because then you will understand for yourself what is happening to North Omaha.

*Redlining is defined as the systematic denial of services by federal government agencies and local governments to occupants of specific communities. To learn more about redlining in Omaha click here

 

Q: Will the renovation and development help the community? If so, in what way? What do you think are the long lasting social and economic implications of the development? 

A: I don’t have an answer for this question because the neighborhood was not informed that there was all this development. We found out about the property purchases in the interview. It very well may be a good thing. I am not against improving the landscape; I don’t think anyone is. We just want to be included in a consistent respectful way. Right now it feels more like the development doesn’t have anything to do with us and is why we weren’t invited into the conversation. It feels like the goal is to push us out. Maybe this isn’t the case, but this is why conversation is necessary.
All I can say is that according to social media pages and conversations I had later that day many were upset, but not surprised. Also, February 29th 2020 The OIC Neighborhood Association held a meeting with Othello Meadows to speak about plans for Omaha Small Business Network building that 75 North* just purchased. He promised to keep the community at the table and he heard from neighbors themselves about how they left out they felt and the issues they had. This was a great start because with communication comes understanding.

* To read more about the project, visit 75 North’s website at:

http://www.seventyfivenorth.org/

 

Q: Anything else to add? 

A: Transparency has to be paramount when dealing with areas that have suffered from discrimination, Redlining and gentrification. Communication is key; open honest conversations are necessary to facilitate understanding.