An Open Letter To The City Of Killeen (Especially North Killeen)
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When I chose Fort Hood as my duty station back when I was in the military, I didn't expect to fall in love with the City of Killeen and the surrounding area. I come from a place in Louisiana where crime was incredibly rampant and the air we breathed caused lots of residents to get cancer (Google "Cancer Alley"). So to breathe fresh air and deal with a crime rate that was at or below the national average was a welcome sight for me and my family.
In my time here, I've lived on BOTH sides of Killeen: the South side where business is booming; and for the last 2 years, in North Killeen next to Longbranch Park where the complete opposite can be said and business is dying. Moving to North Killeen was an eye opener because I began to notice a lot of the things and reasons we moved to that side of town starting to disappear.
It began with the HOP bus system. I was without a car for a while, so the North side's easy access to the HOP system was an attractive factor for me as a commuter. But then service for the HOP system was cut by the HOP due to a lack of commitment of funding from the Killeen City Council. Bus routes were slashed, more and more residents were forced to travel further and longer to ride on jam-packed buses to get where they needed. Many were senior citizens and retired veterans on fixed incomes.
Next, businesses began to flee. I noticed many businesses taking advantage of the low cost of space in downtown Killeen and other areas of North Killeen open up, only to close quickly after. Then two of the main grocery stores in North Killeen shuttered their doors: first IGA Foodliner which was literally walking distance from where I lived, then recently HEB on Gray Street announced it was closing. This has put North Killeen in a bad space as a food desert.
When all these factors came into play (and a ton of other personal reasons), I had to move my family back to the more viable part of the city on the south side. But when I rewind the tape of my memory to look back over what's been happening over the last few years in that area, its becoming more and more clear to me: The City of Killeen is actively attempting to GENTRIFY North Killeen.
The Merriam Webster dictionary defines GENTRIFICATION as:
the process of repairing and rebuilding homes and businesses in a deteriorating area (such as an urban neighborhood) accompanied by an influx of middle-class or affluent people and that often results in the displacement of earlier, usually poorer residents
Let's rewind the tape a bit to 2017. MGC Chemicals announced that they were opening up a chemical plant in the Killeen Business Park which is in North Killeen. Naturally, building a chemical plant so close to residential neighbors caused alarm and residents held a forum addressing their concerns. Of course, the plant is currently under construction and the fact that this company is only going to BRING TWENTY SOMETHING JOBS isn't really an "economic boom" for the area upon hindsight.
Let's move on to one year later in 2018. The Hill Country Transit District, operators of The Central Texas HOP transit system, announced that they were considering slashing bus routes in Killeen and other cities due to lower ridership and budget issues. While city councils in Temple, Belton, Harker Heights, and Copperas Cove all kicked in money to help HOP maintain their routes in those cities, the Killeen City Council instead argued that they didn't have the money and allowed HOP to kill off routes. Several routes were cut and put LOTS of residents in a bad position, North Killeen was the most affected. In all fairness, the city council voted to give money to HOP after it passed its city budget THIS YEAR, but the damage had already been done.
When you consider the factors above and the fact that housing in North Killeen is becoming increasingly harder to come by (you essentially have "slum lords" allowing properties to be run down), plus a lack of effort by the city to commit to fixing the infrastructure of these areas, it begs one to ask the question:
Is The City Of Killeen attempting to gentrify North Killeen?
We've seen these exact same steps play out in cities like Austin, where the longtime residents of those areas are driven out, and it almost always starts with the factors I've listed above. When this happens, you drive out the MAIN thing that makes a city attractive: the people. The City Of Killeen LOVES to boast about being a "Top 5 City" to live in, but Austin is also in that "top 5", and what do they both have in common? They are driving out the poorer longtime residents in favor of attracting the kind of residents and industry the city wants.
Change is constant and required, but if you really care about the ENTIRE city of Killeen, you need to include these residents in whatever plans you're trying to create instead of attempting to tip toe by quietly and slowly pushing them out.
I know for a fact a LOT of the members of the Killeen City Council are in the "real estate" industry, and if you're on the council to remake the city to fit YOUR financial portfolio, then I believe it's time to either explain your plan or get ready to incur the wrath of voters to remove you from your position.
As always, this open letter is also an invitation for ANYONE of you from Mayor Segarra on down to come on and explain your plan, but I'm sure like before you won't accept my invite and that's cool. Just know we're hip to what's going on.