Interview with Douglas Flowe: In this post Douglas discusses his research on the Love Bank Basketball Court and Cherokee Street, spaces he characterizes as occupying the boundaries between segregation and gentrification.
How did you choose your site? What intrigued you about that particular place?
I found out about the basketball court because I attended an event where someone mentioned it, and they were talking about the issues between the neighborhood kids using the court, and the businesses on Cherokee Street surrounding it. It sounded like it would be a good site of contention between neighborhood change and long-term residents.
What kinds of questions do you find yourself asking about the site, and how are those questions shaping your exploration of the place?
Since I see the basketball court as representative of the efforts of neighborhood residents, the business community, and organizations like the Cherokee Street Non-Profit (CSNP) to temper gentrification, most of my questions are centered around understanding how these groups have collaborated, and how they have clashed. In the case of the Love Bank, we see a bit of a clash; CSNP is committed to giving children in the community a place alongside all of the new development, and it seems that most business owners are also interested in the same. However, the court has also become a pivot point for conversations about crime in the neighborhood, and it has caused a split in the community.
What challenges are you encountering with site-based study?
Trying to speak with people that are involved, setting up appointments, getting access, and figuring out who to speak to is not always that easy.
What were your expectations about the project and site, and what have you found that has surprised or even shocked you, and forced you to revise those expectations?
What has surprised me is that I was expecting this to be primarily a story about two different economic and racial demographics coming into contact. And I’m realizing that it’s not the same black/white racial binary that is common. Instead, a lot of the business owners who are unhappy about the court are people of color, often of Mexican descent, and there is not always as clear cut an economic bifurcation between the competing forces as I was expecting.
How has collaboration played a part in your research process?
If we think of interviews as collaboration, it has impacted my work in that a lot of the information I have about the history of the interaction between the community and the businesses come from interviews with someone from the Cherokee Street Non-Profit.
How do you plan to incorporate visual content into the publication?
Although I’m writing about the Love Bank Park, I’m also writing about Cherokee Street, and seeing the court as a metaphor for the struggle that’s happening as the street develops. So I plan to take pictures of the basketball court and other parts of Cherokee street - some of the businesses - and some of the parts of the surrounding neighborhoods. There are 4 separate neighborhoods, so I want to get an idea of how those areas are different, through images.
How do you see your research going beyond an academic contribution?
Locally, it seems like Cherokee Street is unique in the city in that it is gentrifying, but it is doing it in a unique way. It is doing so very slowly, and this is happening because of very specific efforts of people that live there. And so in contrast to a lot of other communities experiencing the same kind of change, it could possibly provide a model for other improving parts of the city. There is a model of DIY urbanism that they’re working on, and this could help us enter into some conversations about how more effective and less alienating neighborhood change can take place in St. Louis.