What makes a space or place valuable to a community? How do we decide which spaces and places to preserve and which to destroy? And who should decide? These are just some of the hard questions that will be discussed at a series beginning next week that looks back at Harrisonburg’s Newtown and the R4 Project, the city’s “urban renewal” initiative of the 1950s and 1960s.
In this initiative, Harrisonburg used federal redevelopment funds to clear away a section of the northeast area of Harrisonburg for commercial development. This section, then known as Newtown and covering the city blocks from where Kline’s Dairy Bar now sits all the way to the Little Grill Collective, was at that time the heart of Harrisonburg’s African American community.
Newtown and Project R4 are back on people’s minds and evident in local conversations, such as the recent debate about renaming Cantrell Avenue. There is a demonstrated need in the community to further discuss this part of Harrisonburg’s past, to remember and understand it, and to ask what we might learn from it as we look towards Harrisonburg’s future.
Remembering Newtown, the first event in the series, will be held on Thursday, September 19th at the Lucy Simms Center in Harrisonburg. The series is developed and presented by JMuse Café, an event program of James Madison University Libraries, in partnership with JMU’s Institute of Visual Studies. The main goal of the series is to engage diverse participants across the community in a robust conversation about Newtown.
At Thursday’s event, photographs of Newtown will be on exhibit and speakers will include local residents who grew up in the area, city officials, community organizers, and university faculty. You are invited to be a voice in that conversation.
Subsequent events in the series will be held in October and November. On October 9th, the discussion will continue with Remembering Downtown, focusing on the spaces and places that once stood in Harrisonburg’s downtown, both in and around Court Square. On October 30th, the third installment of the series, Creating Our Town, will consider Harrisonburg’s recent growth and development and the future of our community. On November 13th in Poetry and Place, the series will culminate in an evening of poetry that treats the notion of place as both philosophical and personal, considering how we define it and how it defines us. Community members, students, and faculty will come together and share their work.
JMU’s Memorial Hall Forum
Wednesday, October 9th
Creating Our Town
JMU’s Memorial Hall Forum
Wednesday, October 30th
Poetry and Place
JMU’s Rose Library, 3rd Floor Flex Space
Wednesday, November 13th
All events take place from 6:30pm to 8:30pm. Doors open at 6:15. Refreshments will be provided.
The event series is co-sponsored by Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance, Harrisonburg Redevelopment and Housing Authority, JMU Office for Diversity, Northeast Neighborhood Association, and JMU Furious Flower Poetry Center.
Michael Trocchia is an employee of James Madison University, where he serves as the E-Resources Coordinator for James Madison Libraries & Educational Technologies, the Chair of JMuse Café, and an Adjunct Instructor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion.