Everyone loves a story about an underdog, so we’ve brought you several. These are stories about people who had developers, powerful corporations, and governments try to force them out of their homes, but stood up against them and stayed put.
1) Kelly Williams was a teenager when the city of New York announced its plans to bulldoze her building as a part of the many Upper West Side tenement buildings slated to be demolished in the name of urban renewal. She fought back against the powers that be, successfully organizing tenants in her West 88th Street building to stop the demolition. A half-century later, her childhood home is now a low-income co-op building and an example of the battles that spawned during the urban renewal era.
Williams, who is now the executive director of Strycker’s Bay Neighbourhood council, which has fought tirelessly to bring back people who were displaced by the city’s urban renewal plan says, “Connecting to the history, and understanding how a building remained low-income or how we got a middle-income building constructed, will make people have a better connection to the West Side.”
At the time, the area was home to a mix of low-income Puerto Ricans, whites, and African-Americans, and was considered somewhat of a ruin. As such the urban renewal plan of 1959 was intended to revive the neighborhood without destroying its character. Williams states: “This urban renewal was supposed to be different […] They were going to do it in stages and be focused on not necessarily completely bulldozing a neighborhood. The goal was to maintain the ethnic and economic diversity of the neighborhood, but also to improve the quality of the housing.”
However, the results were mixed. At 91st and Columbus Avenue, there is a spot known as “Site 30” where 70 families had agreed to leave their homes. In exchange, they were promised slots in public housing, but that housing was never built, according to Williams. Ultimately, the urban renewal paved the way for the gentrification of the Upper West Side, which created the diverse yet wealthier neighborhood that exists today.
2) Edith Macefield’s property was coveted by developers looking to tear down the existing properties and rebuild their own. They offered her over 1 million dollars to buy her house, but Edith famously refused. Instead, they built their properties around her home and she later became the inspiration for the animated film “Up”.