When the topic of urban renewal has been brought up during the documentation of oral histories, volunteers conducting the interviews have encountered long pauses, curt summaries, and unexpected omissions from Lakelanders who recall the experience. This phenomenon of self-silencing has been theorized by Dana Cloud as “the null persona,” or the selective restriction of one’s own identity for safety and self-preservation. From the 1960s through the mid-1980s, the urban renewal process in Lakeland demolished many family homes, displaced 104 of 150 households, and replaced much of the neighborhood with a mix of subsidized townhouses, high-density apartments largely inhabited by students, and an elder housing facility. Few of the many families forced to leave during construction could resettle in Lakeland. The depth of this loss continues to affect heritage preservation in Lakeland today, as current residents in the City of College Park and the surrounding area often have no knowledge of Lakeland and its unique history. In addition to this loss of history, Lakelanders have experienced material loss of generational wealth, access to home ownership, and community building for decades. On a personal level, the impact of displacement has negatively influenced the physical, emotional, and sociological health of generations of Lakelanders.
Lakeland’s story of urban renewal is complex. The Lakeland Digital Archive currently has over 1000 pages of items related to urban renewal, yet many questions remain unanswered. What was the true intent of city leaders? Was the federal urban renewal program set up in such a way to permit positive results for subject communities? The documents presented here do not tell whole story. Together they form a beginning for those interested in discovering more about that devastating period in the history of Lakeland and the lives of Lakelanders. As time goes on, the members of the Lakeland Community Heritage Project hope that more items will be added to the collection to help bring a full picture of Lakeland’s complex history into the view of the public.