City Displace

WEST PALM BEACH — I was sitting at CityPlace, talking to a friend of mine, a little breeze off of Hannah, the sun behind the clouds, the few people around us talking quietly, the church bell going off now and then and it was a good place to be.

Then my friend was telling me how she used to live “right over there,” and she was pointing toward Pottery Barn, and I remembered that this used to be a real neighborhood, rather than a fake one, rather than a “cityplace.”

I remembered when I first started driving through the area back in 1998, and how barren it was, not realizing a neighborhood had just been levelled to make room for a shopping center. I remembered the hoopla when it opened, then the subsequent scrutiny of crimes there, the the curfew.

Still it all seemed bright and new, and convenient. We went on talking, though, about the things that hadn’t changed in all these years; the ravages of the crack epidemic, the blight, the uninsured, the failed schooling. For all the traffic and sewer studies that came with growth, no drug treatment center beds, no added services for mental health, no billboards advertising the public health hazards, like HIV that are only getting bigger.

And even as a cloud moved enough to let us feel the heat of the sun for a moment, the beige walls, fountains, store fronts, window boxes seemed more like a stage set than ever.

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