The Columbus Metropolitan Club explores the historic housing project's legacy.
Leslie Sawyer still remembers the names of teachers at her preschool in Poindexter Village, the housing project where her father served as the manager. She didn't live there, yet she recalls the nurturing demeanor of the community. Myron Lowery remembers that spirit, too, from his time there as a child in the late 1950s. "We knew it wasn't the best, but we loved it," he told a packed dining room at The Boat House restaurant during the Columbus Metropolitan Club's forum about Poindexter Village's legacy on Wednesday, May 18.
Lowery, a former city council member in Memphis, Tennessee, and Sawyer, a retired civil servant, were panelists for the forum, joined by Curt Moody, CEO of architecture design firm Moody Nolan, and the forum's moderator, former media executive and activist Ann Walker. They discussed the once-proud, historically black Poindexter Village, which has been mostly demolished in favor of redevelopment. The demolition has been contentious since it was first announced in 2008 because of Poindexter's heritage and its emotional significance within the black community. Activists have fought for years to preserve some or all of the original 35 buildings, which now number only two, a struggle covered in the May issue of Columbus Monthly.
(Left to right: Leslie Sawyer, Myron Lowery, Curt Moody and Ann Walker; photo by Chris Gaitten)
Moody offered insight into the redevelopment process; Moody Nolan has played a key role alongside a variety of other businesses and organizations, such as the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority, the property owner. He said that it has been particularly challenging to communicate the developers' recognition of Poindexter's significance while convincing the neighborhood that the project would be replaced with something better for future generations.
Lowery said he watched a similar situation unfold in Memphis, where he also was interim mayor for three months in 2009. He mentioned the LeMoyne Gardens housing project, where residents were initially upset because they didn't believe they'd be allowed to return after relocation and demolition. Some have come back now, and he said the area is an example of a beautiful, successful redevelopment. But he was skeptical about whether Poindexter's residents would return. "When I was a kid that was heaven-as an adult, I don't know."
After a question from Walker about the area's educational status, Sawyer said that children felt displaced after they were relocated from Poindexter and away from nearby Champion Middle School. "That can be difficult for children-a huge challenge for them," she said. Many questions from the audience expressed frustrations about how to preserve not only the buildings but also the spirit of Poindexter, as well as the economic investment needed to return the neighborhood to stability. One person asked when the city was going to devote the kinds of resources to the Near East Side that it does to the likes of the Short North and German Village.
Trudy Bartley from Partners Achieving Community Transformation-a consortium of Ohio State, the city and CMHA-announced that there will be another Metro Club panel on July 20 to discuss these other pertinent topics, like neighborhood education, health and wellness and economic revitalization. Jeff Lafever, director of the Columbus Historical Society, also announced that a CHS exhibit on Poindexter Village will open at COSI on June 5.
The panelists were optimistic about the chances that at least one of the two remaining Poindexter buildings will be preserved, though there were few specifics about its future use.
"It needs to be preserved," Lowery said. "You need to preserve your history-never forget."
Check out the Columbus Historical Society's website for more information about the Poindexter Village exhibit within COSI.