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The end of Mount Holly

Images from disappearing neighborhood
/ Source: MSNBC TV

Images from disappearing neighborhood

A small, low income neighborhood in New Jersey could become the epicenter of a challenge to a landmark civil rights law.

When the township of Mount Holly decided that crime in the area had become unmanageable, they decided to raze the Gardens and start over.

But some residents didn't want to leave. Having come to the Gardens to get a taste of the suburban American life that they couldn't otherwise afford, several of the residents sued the township, alleging that the redevelopment plan they adopted discriminated against the neighborhood, the only majority-minority part of town. Mount Holly claimed they never intended to discriminate, and that they were just trying to revive the township's economy and reduce crime. The township razed the properties they bought--even as those residents who refused to leave were still living in neighboring homes. 

The residents sued under the Fair Housing Act, alleging discrimination on the basis that the redevelopment would have a disparate impact on people of color in the town. While the courts have recognized disparate impact discrimination for many years, conservatives find the concept questionable, believing that only intentional discrimination counts. The case is scheduled to be argued before the Supreme Court in December, but the township and the residents could be close to a settlement. That would resolve the long dispute and could—perhaps more importantly--deprive the conservative justices of the opportunity to gut another landmark civil rights law.

What a settlement or court decision won’t do, however, is revive Mount Holly Gardens as it used to be. That neighborhood no longer exists, and it’s not coming back. 

Teru Kuwayama made these photographs with a decades-old Polaroid Land Camera, and Fuji FP-100C film. Polaroid type film packs contain a cartridge holding sheets of film, each one a self-contained darkroom that produces a print, and a peel-off emulsion layer that contains the light sensitive chemicals. Typically, photographers discard the emulsion side–but it contains a “ghost image” which rapidly fades to black as it’s exposed to light. It's like the original, analog version of a Snapchat photo. So, as soon as Kuwayama peeled off the emulsion side,he re-photographed it with an iPhone, and extracted the details of the image using apps like Camera+ and Snapseed. The images, caught in mid-disappearance, capture decay of a once vibrant community.