2007. Arboria Park is 56 years old; Stacy is 52. She and Greg are happily living in New Jersey, near Philadelphia where they both work. Stacy has found a wonderful job, and she loves her home. But Arboria Park is never far from her thoughts.
Sophie is attending college and living in the Arboria Park house with friends when she lets her mom know some bad news: The state highway department is planning to put a road though the neighborhood, to benefit the increasing population west of town living in the luxurious subdivisions that Evelyn coveted and envied. The neighborhood association (led by Mr. Jennings, the man who helped Sophie when she was bitten by a dog) is fighting the proposals. Stacy rallies her family to help out, but as they plow through the various highway studies a friend of Autumn’s is surreptitiously passing along, they realize things do not look good for the neighborhood.
This chapter centers around a song by Living Colour, “Open Letter to a Landlord.” I played the song on repeat constantly as I wrote the final three chapters of the novel. It had popped into my mind as I drove down the street in Rodney Village, looking at the houses that had been boarded up and marked for demolition. Though the song was written about an urban environment, I think many of its lessons apply to what happens to Arboria Park in the novel, what happened to Rodney Village in real life, and what is currently occurring in my own neighborhood and our area of the county. (We are losing our last significant green space; the county had an opportunity to buy it for parkland, which we lack, but did not do so.) Vernon Reid of Living Colour was writing about racism and classism in this song; these things are the reason why some people and some neighborhoods have more clout than others and can fight off things like road projects or development (and fight for them if they affect areas other than their own). Urban neighborhoods are destroyed in favor of gentrification; or the needs of aging suburban developments are pitted against those of newer, wealthier enclaves; farmland and wilderness are sold to the highest bidder despite the preponderance of vacant, unused commercial and industrial properties and empty houses in existing neighborhoods. Who benefits? Usually not the people who are already there.
Once again I thank Vernon Reid and Living Colour for the privilege of using some of their lyrics in the book. I have had the pleasure of seeing this song performed live from the front row and talking to lead singer Corey Glover about it a couple of years ago as I was writing the book. My respect for them as musicians and commentators on issues of racism, poverty, class, and the power of music knows no bounds.