Ghent is an upscale neighborhood near downtown Norfolk Virginia that came into being in 1890. It was originally 220 acres developed and inhabited by prominent Norfolk businessmen during the same period as the first bicycle craze hit America. Ghent prospered and grew until the start of World War II when the area became inundated with temporary housing and many of the larger homes were converted into boarding houses. In time the area fell from grace and Norfolk’s surrounding slums encroached closer and closer. In addition to the change in the immediate and surrounding neighborhoods the car had replaced the bicycle by then and people who could afford to were leaving the crumbling inner cities and moving to the suburbs.
Urban renewal came to Ghent in the 1940’s and continued through the 1970’s. Through the efforts of politicians, residents, and developers along with a large influx of federal and local money the area was redeveloped. In the process the slums were razed, new ordinances were put in place to decrease the number of occupants per building and 200 residents lost their homes to the expansion of the medical center complex on Ghent’s west side. Some people were happy with the changes while others were not. Many of the people living in the slums migrated east toward Church Street and squeezed into the city’s remaining low rent housing.
Political and social issues aside Ghent today is a great place to take a walk, eat ethnic foods, sip coffee or catch a movie.