Lives Bulldozed Away and All for the Love of Football.
September 4, 2013
The drumbeat was on.
The countdown was with us.
One hundred and twenty-one days until the worshipful Super Bowl would come.
One hundred and twenty days . . .
One hundred and nineteen . . .
Soon the Big Game would be here. Then we would be rewarded in full measure and then some.
The world’s adoring attention.
Dollars so numerous they would be impossible to count. Dollars freely drifting about for so many among us to grab, cling to.
Restaurants at capacity.
Private jets, one behind the other, gleaming and gliding into the expanded municipal airport, bringing not only a diverse array of VIPs, but even abundantly more dollars to add to the already mountainous stack.
Fun. Joy. Celebration.
Ah, yes, football.
Are you ready for some football?
And the planning for it had been so collectively successful, so superior, so standard-setting, that surely this bowl of bowls might come again in no time.
But even as the drumbeat, the countdown went on, the rich rewards already were ours.
What the football team owner had built — with the major assist of a deep, deep reach into citizens’ pockets — already had enormous impact.
NFL football games. College football games. High school football games.
But it would be much, much more than that — boxing, basketball, soccer, bull riding, concerts.
Why, some would dream that someday, the stadium of stadiums might even serve as the centerpiece for a national political convention.
The possibilities would be limited only by the imagination.
So, a good case could be made that the football team owner would emerge as kingpin of the venue men.
And so the stadium was here.
Here to enrich, reward, enthrall, entertain, captivate.
So, I would go see football at the stadium.
I marveled at the vastness of it all, the ingenuity, the engineering, the construction.
I watched the roof magically open in no time at all.
My eyes went often to the enormous video screen – indeed perhaps more focused there than the game on the playing field itself. Nothing like it. Absolutely nothing.
I sat there in my comfortable seat, the ticket for it costing more than I once made in a week.
And I suddenly wondered:
Whose living room am I sitting in?
Whose back yard?
Was the place I occupied once the middle of the cozy little neighborhood street where children rode their bikes or aging couples – hand-in-hand – took their daily strolls?
For, let us remember, this once was a neighborhood of hundreds of people, of many scores of modest homes set on gently-rolling terrain with mature, shading trees and promising flower gardens of varying success.
A place of dreams and memories.
Of yesterdays and todays and, had the stadium not come, awaited tomorrows.
For those who called this home, it was their oasis, a place of quietude and solace surrounded by the growing busy-ness of a city on the move, a city on the prowl.
It was their place of living, this neighborhood was. And all that that means.
I have lived in this same city for some half a century.
I occasionally drove through the little neighborhood that occupied this place – this place where the stadium now stands — for decades.
And, living in a neighborhood not far away that is my own oasis, I could imagine when those who called this place home heard those two awful, disquieting, unsettling words:
Then one day I could no longer enter the streets of this quiet little neighborhood chosen by others as the perfect location for the big, dominating stadium.
Barricades said no, blocked me, turned me back.
The bulldozers came. The big trucks came.
And, one home at a time, one debris-hauling truckload after another, quickly took this oasis neighborhood away.
Homes became rubble.
Supplanted by this massive stadium, this place of wonder and excitement where now I would sit to watch football.
As I sat there, I wondered where all of those people of the displaced neighborhood went.
What happened to them? Where do they stroll these days, where do they bike, where do they garden, what happened to neighborhood friendships established and nourished over months and years and decades?
Oh, I know, I know. They got dollars. Eminent domain is not totally devoid of considerations. Those who take what is yours do have to pay for what they extract, though the fairness of the payment amount often is debatable. The law says payment must be made.
But dollars are not the sum of it. Not nearly the sum of it.
For what once was here were families, people, lives, hopes, dreams, memories. And so much more – so much irreplaceable more.
Things for which dollars cannot really even begin to completely and fairly compensate.
At another time, in another place, I talked to members of a family that had been dislocated through the sheer, raw, even ugly power of eminent domain.
The father, in his eighth decade, had died. The family attributed his cause of death to the stress and strain and pain and turmoil that had been brutally thrust upon him by the fact that the city in which he lived was taking his home — through eminent domain – to make way for expansion of a shopping mall.
The home in which he had spent most of his life, the one he cherished, the one where he was comfortable, the one where he had planned to spend all of his remaining days.
The medical community assigned other reasons for his cause of death.
But his family knew better; his family knew the real reason, for surely there are those who die of broken hearts.
Eminent domain continues to be hotly debated ad infinitum in our courts, in Congress, in our state legislatures, at city halls, in school administration buildings, at courthouses and in officialdom elsewhere.
And in peaceful little neighborhoods where the tranquility sometimes is threatened – and sometimes is brutally broken — by the encroaching, incessant onrush of what is called progress.
This debate is ongoing and will, of course, be with us even after hundreds of football games are played here.
We will watch some of those games and we will enjoy and we will celebrate. But we will spend some moments too wondering where those who spent years living here in the onetime neighborhood oasis where the wondrous stadium now lives are just now.
And what their lives are like and how they have been affected and how they have adjusted, or have not, to being on the receiving end of those two powerful, disruptive, dreaded words — eminent domain — that immeasurably changed their lives forever.
Yes, we gave those now-gone neighborhood dwellers dollars.
But — as surely as the stadium excites, as surely as it is worshipped — we still owe those who called that now-gone neighborhood home these moments of consideration, these moments of reflection for their involuntary contributions too.
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