The End is Near

Because I actually agree with Christopher Hitchens.

New York is supposed to have learned from that and from similar errors of the past, and to have understood that Brobdingnag is all very well—indeed is very desirable and impressive—in Wall Street and Midtown, whereas a touch of Lilliput is necessary on the Lower East and West Sides. And the strange and interesting thing is that all three other great bohemian quarters—the ones in London, Paris, and San Francisco—have already confronted a version of this mistake and resolved never to make it again.

I live in the East Village, and hideous new buildings are going up all around. They all look like college dorms; they don’t fit the aesthetic of the neighborhood, and they’re generally horrible eye-sores. Even worse are the high-rises being erected throughout the Village. They push out older residents, and they change the whole dynamic of the neighborhood — not everyone wants to live in a place where every building looks the same and all the stores are chains. As Hitchens says, it’s easy to brand that kind of thinking as “elitist” — which is funny, because it’s not exactly the downtrodden who are making money off of building high-rises and luxury condos — but we all have a stake in preserving diversity and Bohemia, as opposed to a one-size-fits-all model:

Those who don’t live in such threatened districts nonetheless have a stake in this quarrel and some skin in this game, because on the day when everywhere looks like everywhere else we shall all be very much impoverished, and not only that but—more impoverishingly still—we will be unable to express or even understand or depict what we have lost.

About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

37 Responses to The End is Near

  1. No offense, but am I supposed to feel sorry for you and other New Yorkers? Please. I live in a small town where there’s nothing to do, where I feel alienated and I’m treated like an outcast by white people (I’m Deaf, brown, and Muslim).

    I don’t give a sh–t what’s happening to NYC. The fact is, many of us can’t afford to live in NYC and those who can, are really LUCKY that they live in an amazing city where there’s so much diversity and opportunities. And when New Yorkers bitch about something, it really ticks me off.

    so as a classic saying goes: cry me a f–king river.

  2. Sycorax says:

    When I saw him describing the West Village as a “Bohemian” area I laughed and laughed. My SO, who has fond memories of it from back in the 80’s, was stung, but seriously. The more-money-than-sense crowd took over 20 years ago, just like they did in Soho, just like they did in DUMBO, just like they’re doing in Williamsburg. Yes, the new buildings are ugly and incongruous, but that’s what happens when a neighborhood gentrifies. And I somehow doubt Hitchens spent a lot of time on, say, Avenue B when it was full of junkies sleeping in doorways rather than tapas bars and trust fund boutiques.

  3. But the point here (and I am not a New Yorker) is that the diversity and opportunities that make New York special vanish along with the visual/architectural/neighborhood diversity. The new hi-rises are not only ugly but also ever diminish the range of people able to live in the city and the things that make the city a vibrant place to live. To say that people are lucky to live in NYC is accurate; to say that they should therefore not take issue with the destruction of the things that make it a lucky place is silly.

    Nor is this phenomenon limited to NYC. It happens in mid-sized cities and towns all over the country.

  4. William says:

    DFP: Its people like you who give people a bad name. Seriously, why even bother to fire off a post if all you’re going to do is piss on something someone cares about and whinge about how life is so much worse for you so they should just shut the hell up? Also, don’t bother to preface a post like that with “No offense, but…” You intend offense, others will take offense, if you’re intent on being a curmudgeon at least own it. Theres absolutely nothing more pathetic than a cowardly asshat.

  5. William says:

    Nor is this phenomenon limited to NYC. It happens in mid-sized cities and towns all over the country.

    While it certainly isn’t for everyone, one of the themes of Warren Ellis’ first novel (Crooked Little Vein) was the tension between the increasingly homogeneous American landscape and the increasing heterogeneity of everything behind that facade. All of the places he described (from the gentrified parts of New York, to Ohio, to Texas, to LA) had a conformity forced upon them by their architecture and city planning but a populace in quiet revolt against the aesthetic.

  6. Thene says:

    not everyone wants to live in a place where every building looks the same and all the stores are chains.

    If they do, they’re welcome to move to the Atlanta sprawl. They can even share my cookies. ¬¬

  7. exholt says:

    I agree not so much for aesthetic reasons…but because of the larger serious issue of gentrification which has not only forced most of my childhood working-class friends and their families out of our old neighborhood, but also are driving up housing costs and irresponsible urban planning to the point that NYC may lose the very diversity which makes it a great city to live in.

    Heck, I am still a bit peeved even 10+ years on about how one high school classmate’s family was booted out of a rent controlled apartment on the lower east side so the landlord can replace working-class tenants with wealthier young professionals working as bankers and lawyers or well-off NYU undergrads whose parents are fully supporting their tuition and living expenses in the city.

    How great of a city will NYC be if gentrification continues to the point where the only people who can afford to reside within its limits are the upper/upper-middle class? Especially when this issue is not limited to Manhattan as illustrated by the gentrification of once working/middle-class outer borough areas like Williamsburg and Astoria.

  8. exholt says:

    Nor is this phenomenon limited to NYC. It happens in mid-sized cities and towns all over the country.

    Yep, I’ve seen the same dynamic in the Boston area as the rents skyrocketed like crazy from the mid-late 90’s onward…only slowing a bit in 2003-4. A Boston-based friend of mine did his master’s thesis on the Boston housing crisis and how it was affected by gentrification, encroachment by local universities(especially NEU, BU, and Harvard), and crappy policies/inaction from the Boston/Massachusetts politicians.

  9. UnFit says:

    Sigh… I live in on of those not-quite-bohemian-anymore neighborhoods, and I just learned that the small, independent movie theater rigth across from my place is supposed to get torn down. Guess I’ll have to go over and sign their petition…

  10. Jill says:

    I don’t give a sh–t what’s happening to NYC. The fact is, many of us can’t afford to live in NYC and those who can, are really LUCKY that they live in an amazing city where there’s so much diversity and opportunities. And when New Yorkers bitch about something, it really ticks me off.

    so as a classic saying goes: cry me a f–king river.

    Ah, ok. So as long as you live in NY, you never get to complain about the fact that the things that make NY great are being undermined? Come on now. As others have pointed out, this isn’t a NY-centric problem — I just happen to live here, and so it’s what I know. But it’s been a problem in the other major cities Hitchens mentions, and is increasingly becoming an issue in places like Austin, Portland and other smaller cities that attract large creative classes.

    No one is saying that you’re supposed to “feel sorry” for anybody. All the post is saying is that I’m irritated by the high-rise condos and chain stores pushing out long-time residents and local businesses, and destroying the culture that makes places like New York special.

    There are certainly far better critiques of gentrification and greedy urban development to be made than the one I made in this post — this is just something I fired off while I was taking a study break and happened to come across an article I found interesting. You can even tell me that yuppie scum like me are the reason that chain stores and high-rise condos are coming into places like the Village in the first place, and that gives me no right to complain. But “You live in NY so you have no right to complain”? Not buying it.

    Plus, you know, this is just my own little corner of the internets, and I fully reserve the right to complain about whatever I want.

    And if you really don’t give a flying fuck, why bother to comment at all? Just skip the post and move on.

  11. Plus, you know, this is just my own little corner of the internets, and I fully reserve the right to complain about whatever I want.

    And if you really don’t give a flying fuck, why bother to comment at all? Just skip the post and move on.

    my apologies if it came across that way. I still like your blog, though. I guess the NYC post just ticked me off, but moving along….

  12. talknormal says:

    Just wanted to second everything exholt said about gentrification (which I think is absolutely the biggest issue at stake here) but also add: Even setting aside the issue of gentrification, one of the big problems with New York City is that it’s uniquely easy to develop in, insofar as like, if you own a piece of land, and build within the standard zoning regulations, you can pretty much put whatever you want on your property–the vast majority of construction happening in NYC now is as-of-right, meaning it is not subject to any kind of public review process. For people who believe developers should be held accountable to the communities they build in, this is sort of a massive problem. In this sense, I don’t think the issue is elitist at all–it’s really a question of whether folks should be able to have a say in what gets built in their community, and be able to advocate for developments that do in fact benefit the community. I mean, if some wealthy developer dude wants to build a luxury hotel down the block from me, shouldn’t my neighbors and I be able to have some say not just in how the building looks, but also on the kinds of jobs that are provided (local hires, living wages, etc), whether the construction work is environmentally sustainable… things like that? These all seem like pretty important issues to me. I’d also add that (IMHO!) a big part of why New Yorkers *don’t* have a significant say in these matters is because the present mayoral administration is like terminally pro-development, wants the entire city to be a giant tourist attraction, and doesn’t give a crap about the quality of life of anyone who isn’t stupidly wealthy.

    Anyway, for New Yorkers who do care about what’s getting built around them, I’d recommend getting in touch with your neighborhood Community Board (most meetings are open to the public), write your councilmember, attend public hearings… stuff like that. However limited, there are avenues for public participation in land use and development matters and I think it especially behooves NYC residents in this day and age to avail ourselves of them when possible.

  13. Roxie says:

    Oi, Thene, that’s not so fair.
    We don’t even really have a bohemian “area” to begin with (unless L5P counts?). Although I do detest the “SoNo” made up crap.

  14. the15th says:

    It’s worth noting that labor unions are completely in favor of the hospital redevelopment that Hitchens opposes on aesthetic grounds. When it’s labor vs. preservationists and “close neighbors” (read: NIMBYs), I find it hard to side with the latter.

  15. Jack says:

    I agree not so much for aesthetic reasons…but because of the larger serious issue of gentrification which has not only forced most of my childhood working-class friends and their families out of our old neighborhood, but also are driving up housing costs and irresponsible urban planning to the point that NYC may lose the very diversity which makes it a great city to live in.

    I agree, exholt. Yeah, I like “Bohemia” or whatever and think it would be terrible if “haven(s) for the artists, exiles, and misfits who regenerate the culture,” as Hitchens puts it, disappeared from NYC. However, I’m way more concerned about the aspects of gentrification that involes displacement of low-income people from their homes and communities. And lots of times, the new Bohemian quarters are responsible for that sort of thing. Take Williamsburg, which you mentioned. First the “artists, exiles, and misfits” helped clear out the low-income Polish and Latino residents of the area, and now the less romanticized yuppies and their condos are helping to clear out the bohemians.

  16. Holly says:

    What Jack said.

    Bohemia is a breeding ground for generic, profit-raking real estate development. Artists, musicians, young folks just out of college, cool clothing stores and coffee shops — they’re all actually working for the real estate developers, paving the way for condos and high-rises and paving OVER lower-income “less desirable” communities that used to be there; they just don’t know whose pockets they’re lining. Not until they’re forced out the neighborhood by rising prices too. When you look at it this way… hipster is just another word for sucker.

    That said, it can be damn hard to find a place to live in some cases without ending up contributing somehow, in some way, to the constant ongoing waves of gentrification that wash over this city.

  17. RyanRutley says:

    When “Bohemian” areas get squeezed out, the “Bohemian” doesn’t stop existing — the “Bohemians” just take it with them. Art, cultures, dissent, colour, energy, life, growth, don’t stop just because they aren’t happening when they used to happen. Don’t worry Jill, cultural homogenization isn’t just undesirable, it’s completely impossible.

  18. Paige says:

    I find NYC overwhelming. Too much, too close together. Having said that, the little Bohemian areas are the only parts of NYC that I enjoy spending any substancial amount of time in… I think that if New York (and other cities of its kind) continue to gentrify as they have been, they will just become shells of what they once were. All the residents that gave it is original flavor will start over somewhere else…why live in caucasian acres? (No slander there…it is merely terminology based on the color palette of suburbia) I live in Nashville and the same thing is happening here. They take a house in the “bad” part of town, buy it for 150k and flop it for 400k. Looking for a home couldn’t be more disheartening. There are a couple little bohemian areas but they are quickly getting encroached on…so basically you have more and more creative types looking to move into an area that is getting smaller and smaller. Sometimes it just seems like society is saying “We don’t want your kind here.” Funny that those who spurred initial interest in an area are the first ones to get booted.

  19. William says:

    When “Bohemian” areas get squeezed out, the “Bohemian” doesn’t stop existing — the “Bohemians” just take it with them. Art, cultures, dissent, colour, energy, life, growth, don’t stop just because they aren’t happening when they used to happen. Don’t worry Jill, cultural homogenization isn’t just undesirable, it’s completely impossible.

    But it does disappear. Sure, for awhile the communities move, but they get smaller, less vibrant, more spread out, and lose their history. Over time they start to fade away, or they become parodies of themselves. Living in Chicago you can see it happening now. Some of the businesses manage to somehow make it and stay, some of them move far away, some of them sell out, some grow up and drop out, but things become decentralized. Sure, the bohemians still exist, but the communities do not. The next generation of kids who would have become part don’t have anywhere to go, to learn, to try things out. Attrition sets in, and before long all you have are shadows.

    Google “Maxwell Street” and Chicago. It used to be a great little strip with people who lined up and sold anything you can imagine. Incense, cheap musical instruments, clothes, used books, soul food, bicycles, anything you could want (legal or illegal) you could find walking down Maxwell Street. The whole place had a soundtrack provided by old men and their guitars or saxophones. It was all sold by unlicensed locals who often made the stuff themselves. It was Chicago’s own little bazaar. First it had been Jewish merchants, then black, then Mexican, but during it’s entire lifetime it was one of a handful of integrated places in the city. In 1994 the University of Illinois Chicago Campus decided it wanted to expand. So now Maxwell Street is part of a college campus and a private high-end housing development. They put up a little monument to what once was after they put up the cookie-cutter buildings. Communities die all the time, and at best all thats left is a plaque and the memories of a couple generations.

  20. Morgan says:

    you want real, come to bed-stuy and we’ll swap—i’d be up for some ersatz (and fresh produce) this summer, it’ll be great.

  21. Holly says:

    So now Maxwell Street is part of a college campus and a private high-end housing development. They put up a little monument to what once was after they put up the cookie-cutter buildings. Communities die all the time, and at best all thats left is a plaque and the memories of a couple generations.

    Sad as it may feel for Maxwell Street and the people who were attached to its transitive incarnation as a little bit of bohemia… these areas and neighborhoods keep cropping up, and as another generation of artists and 20-something cool kids wants to find a place to hangout, they’ll move to whatever the next cool neighborhood is where the rents are cheap because there are no middle-class folks there or it’s predominantly an immigrant area. And the whole process will begin over again, rising rents and prices first driving out the poorer folks and immigrant communities and then driving out the bohemian types. Over and over.

  22. fishbane says:

    my apologies if it came across that way. I still like your blog, though. I guess the NYC post just ticked me off, but moving along….

    You know, you hit a nerve with me, too. I live in NYC (just moved to my first nice digs in the city, yay Park Slope!), and lived in SF before then. And you know what? I moved both times with very little money on hand, expecting only a couch and a tough time finding a job. The vision of NYC as something unobtainable is a silly myth at best, and I think sometimes an excuse of the comfortably envious. Yes, it is expensive as hell here, compared with the backwater Tennessee town I went to highschool in. Yes, high urban density leads to dazzling displays of wealth disparity. But guess what? Not everyone who lives here is an investment banker, lawyer or trust fund baby. In fact, even dumb people seem to do just fine. Just like everywhere else. If you want to live here, do it.

    PS: It is also mostly smelly and dirty, and the past few days notwithstanding, the weather usually sucks, to my ruined by San Francisco standards.

    On topic, yes, developers like Wolenetz are doing their best to destroy the character of local neighborhoods. It is too bad.

  23. exholt says:

    Not until they’re forced out the neighborhood by rising prices too. When you look at it this way… hipster is just another word for sucker.

    And the character changes within the neighborhoods when this happens is dramatic. Up until high school in the early 90’s, my friends and I used to go around Greenwich Village where the atmosphere was quite accepting of non-conformity in many areas, including how one dressed….a good thing considering I wore hand-me-down clothes until several months after college graduation.

    When I went back there to visit friends, attend informal casual academic events at NYU, and just to stroll around started around 2003, I was shocked not only at the numbers of people seemed to be well-off judging by how they dressed as fashionistas…but also by how many had no compunctions with openly calling me a “slob” for dressing casually in generic t-shirts and jeans/shorts….the same sort of wear that was not deemed worthy of public censure just a decade before.* In my mind, the jury’s still out on whether to continue to ignore them….or order an inexpensive messy drink and toss it on their expensive clothes and laugh at them getting their just desserts for being overbearing busybodies.

    * After having to wear business casual or even an occasional suit for 8+ hrs/day 5+ days/week, the last thing I want to be wearing at the end of the workday or the weekend are clothes that remind me of my work environments.

  24. belledame222 says:

    Nor is this phenomenon limited to NYC. It happens in mid-sized cities and towns all over the country.

    Yep. It’s a particular kind of gentrification (the rich-poor gap increasingly widens, yes) infused with corporate blobification.

    btw, a bunch of Barnes & Nobles are closing all over the place. too many for the market now, i guess. doesn’t bring the indies back, though.

  25. belledame222 says:

    In my mind, the jury’s still out on whether to continue to ignore them….or order an inexpensive messy drink and toss it on their expensive clothes and laugh at them getting their just desserts for being overbearing busybodies.

    i vote the latter. Seriously? What assbags.

  26. RT says:

    as another generation of artists and 20-something cool kids wants to find a place to hangout, they’ll move to whatever the next cool neighborhood is where the rents are cheap because there are no middle-class folks there or it’s predominantly an immigrant area. And the whole process will begin over again, rising rents and prices first driving out the poorer folks and immigrant communities and then driving out the bohemian types. Over and over.

    Holly (and others), I agree with you that this is a big cycle. Even as I criticize it, however, I’m part of it myself. I moved to San Francisco at the age of twenty-five and live in the Mission, which is chock full of hipsters. But what to do about it? Should we all just stay where we were born and try to make a cool community there? I’m not trying to be a jerk, I’m genuinely frustrated by the situation.

    I’ve discussed the issue with friends who also moved to large cities from the south, and no one seems to have an answer. The best I can think of is not to be a jerk and act like this place is only for me and people like me (well-educated, queer, political, mostly white, etc), but that doesn’t really help rising rent costs.

  27. fishbane says:

    btw, a bunch of Barnes & Nobles are closing all over the place. too many for the market now, i guess. doesn’t bring the indies back, though.

    I was talking with a friend about this phenomena a few days ago – she had the best analogy for it, even if a little overheated. She compared it to ebola – virulent, fatal to the host (in this model, the local book ecology) and ultimately self-dooming, by being too good at what it does.

    I wish starbucks followed the same model. Thankfully, local coffee shops seem to have developed a bit of an immune system (diversification – long live schmears!), and one can still get an OK cuppa at the corner store in the morning for $.85 or so.

  28. L-K says:

    Anyway, for New Yorkers who do care about what’s getting built around them, I’d recommend getting in touch with your neighborhood Community Board (most meetings are open to the public), write your councilmember, attend public hearings… stuff like that. However limited, there are avenues for public participation in land use and development matters and I think it especially behooves NYC residents in this day and age to avail ourselves of them when possible.

    As for Community Boards, they have good intentions and understandably agree with developers when they are promised that 30% of the units will be affordable housing (well…also included in this deal is a lovely tax break for developers), only to find out that “affordable” means just slightly below market value or that the application lottery process is so restricted in terms of a set income range that leaves many families out of luck if they go over the limit by a trivial amount, and strict interpretations of credit histories (without considering possibilities as to why their credit is less than perfect, such as “umm, should I put food on the table/pay the electric bill, or pay the credit card bill on time?”) or the lack of credit history, as I know many immigrants and younger adults that have little or no credit history, no credit cards, or no major bills under their name that would substantially affect their credit (such as myself; number wise it looks great, but in terms of history, it’s barely there).

    So, this notion of “affordable” and Bloomberg’s plan to increase affordable housing still pretty much screws over those who need it the most (and don’t get me started on the NYC Housing Authority).

    And councilmembers? I’m sorry, but I’m pretty sure that, for the most part, they are enjoying the changes.

    Not until they’re forced out the neighborhood by rising prices too. When you look at it this way… hipster is just another word for sucker.

    Thank you Holly! Exactly! It reminds me of a story when it was rumored that Starbucks was going to open in Williamsburg (ended up in Greenpoint), hipsters were outraged and wanted to know why they were even targeting the area. I said “because they are following yas.”

  29. William says:

    Sad as it may feel for Maxwell Street and the people who were attached to its transitive incarnation as a little bit of bohemia… these areas and neighborhoods keep cropping up, and as another generation of artists and 20-something cool kids wants to find a place to hangout

    Thats the thing, a new Maxwell Street hasn’t cropped up. It wasn’t a handful of hipsters making a neighborhood cool while their parents paid their bills, it was a community of working people who had managed to find a way to make things work in a place where they were allowed to work. When Maxwell street was destroyed the city licensed a handful of seller and put them in a new, tourist approved area. Of course, the people who made Maxwell Street wonderful didn’t get licenses and had to go find other jobs. It didn’t pop up elsewhere, it just became a little plaque in a new yuppie area and a few memories.

    they’ll move to whatever the next cool neighborhood is where the rents are cheap because there are no middle-class folks there or it’s predominantly an immigrant area.

    That happens with trendy areas, sure, but not communities. Unique communities die and ghosts stand in their place. Especially in a city the size of Chicago or New York the people move to a half dozen new neighborhoods and the whole thing gets diluted. At best you end up with a bunch of overfed hipsters trying to create an area in their own image. What you’re talking about isn’t new bohemian communities but the shock troops of gentrification. The second 20-somethings with star tats and ironic brown t-shirts show up the immigrants get moved out and the developers move in. Whatever made the neighborhood the neighborhood gets assimilated into the monoculture and crushed down until its just a row of cinder block new construction broken up by clusters of Starbucks and Akira shoes.

    And the whole process will begin over again, rising rents and prices first driving out the poorer folks and immigrant communities and then driving out the bohemian types. Over and over.

    But thats not whats happened. Each iteration leads to a slightly less unique community. You get more posers, more hangers on, more bullshit. The poorer folks and immigrants communities are what make these neighborhoods great. The bohemian types are, at best, a handful of the shit that kills these neighborhoods so rich young white people can move in.

  30. Britta says:

    Ugh. Just want to second all those who point out gentrification is happening in midsized cities as well, caused by all y’all who decide to leave places like NY and SF and move somewhere “hip” and “affordable.” Of course, when you get to all these hip affordable cities, you displace the original residents and destroy the entire character of neighborhoods with this homogenized hipster culture. Meanwhile you congratulate yourself on how “progressive’ your organic vegan cafe with no entrees priced below $20 is, never mind that you just kicked out the neighborhood ribs joint to do so.
    As some one who was raised in a genuinely counter cultural working/middle class immigrant neighborhood in one of these midsized cities, I can sniff out the difference between actual alternative white people and the upwardly mobile self styled “progressive” hipsters. Those are the types who shop at Whole foods, putting the independent mom n pop grocery store out of business, because they don’t carry organic asparagus flown in from Argentina in winter. And with your borderline racist obliviousness (and dislike of the original residents), and your blindness to any cause which is not furthering your hip lifestyle (you weren’t protesting when the drug treatment center got priced out, or the low income clinic had to move further out to make room for more of your microbrew pubs), you act shocked! shocked! when developers come in and put in high end condos, an anthropologie store opens up, and suddenly the yuppies descend to capitalize on your Safe for White People vaguely bohemian culture. Chances are, you *are* those yuppies 10 years down the line, waxing poetic about the yoga spa next to the elementary school you don’t dare send your children to, because actual black children still attend there. (You ship your kid off to an environmental charter school, because it’s more “progressive” to send your children to school with other middle class white children with parents like you, than have them encounter any real diversity a few blocks from your house.)

    Sorry for the vitriolic rant, the “you” wasn’t really aimed at anyone specific.
    I’ve just been super angry about gentrification recently. I just really faced the fact my elementary school, once a vibrant afrocentric school, has been turned into yet another ghetto inner city school because the neighborhood support by the new white hipsters has totally crumbled, and I just found out the low income family center named after my former principal is probably going to be turned in to condos.

    Throughout my city, I see the vibrant urban renewal efforts by local residents being totally sh*t upon by white people who move in and see the entire city as basically “urban disneyland.” I had someone tell me the neighborhood I went to elementary school in was “undiscovered” until a few years ago. Like what, it was freakin’ Antarctica? Could you use more colonialist language than that? The idea white people can come in, freakin’ RENAME a neighborhood, and act like no one lived there before has made me pop a gasket.

    And, FYI, I’m a young white female. If you catch me at another time when I’m not about to have an aneurysm, I’ll explain my more reasoned and nuanced views on gentrification. Now you’re just going to have to put up with my rant : )

  31. Britta says:

    OMG, I realized I was ranting, didn’t know how long it was. Sorry for the denseness!

  32. Britta says:

    Wow.
    So I reread my comment (still in moderation), and it’s really angry and vitriolic. No surprise, I was really angry when I was writing it. When writing it, I was using a 2nd person hypothetical “you,” but rereading, it seems very personal, and I could see how someone could be offended. Again, if the comment ever makes it out of moderation, please believe me, the “you” is definitely not directed at anyone.

    I’ve calmed way down, so I’ll try to add/explain my views on gentrification. First off, as a white woman with not lots of money, I understand how/why people become gentrifiers, and I will probably be in a similar situation in the future.
    For me, the dynamic that’s problematic isn’t necessarily the white/pocs with more cultural capital moving into poor rundown neighborhood (although there is an inherent power imbalance there that the wealthy developers will see you as more attractive, no matter how much you wish that was not the case).
    For me, the way that this takes place can make all the difference. A person can choose to either integrate into the current neighborhood, educate themselves on neighborhood history, and use their relative power/clout to fight for more vulnerable residents, and support local, grassroots urban renewal, OR, they can choose to patronize new businesses that explicitly cater to them, ignore the history of the neighborhood, and congratulate themselves on how great they are, because they’ve recreated this “progressive” homogeneous upper/middle class white hipster culture in some “undiscovered” place.
    I get that developers/cities have lots of power that poorish white people might not have. But, as potential people with wealth, they do have a certain amount of political clout. With dedication, you’d be surprised at how easy it is for David to beat Goliath in these situations, and actually, how much city officials DO want happy vibrant neighborhoods, and are even willing to block developers to make that happen. The problem is, as I have seen it, is that people who move into these new neighborhoods really are glad when the former neighbors move out, when the local AME church closes its doors, and when the drug treatment center moves out. I’ve seen people absolutely devoted to preserving wetlands 10s of miles away from their home, put not give a fig about preserving their own block.

    No one wants crack houses or gang violence in their neighborhoods. But the solution to that doesn’t have to end with pottery barn. Moreover, while gentrifiers might originally congratulate themselves on “desegregating” a neighborhood, they’re merely beginning a process of changing the segregation borders, like Holly points out.

    I honestly believe that urban renewal can take place, with people of all races and socioeconomic statuses, and will result in truly desegregated, truly diverse neighborhoods, where everyone feels comfortable/can afford to gather in the local neighborhood spots. This takes a lot of commitment on the part of people to fight developers. who care more about their pockets than the health of a city. It also involves a commitment to stepping out of one’s comfort zone and reaching out to one’s neighbors. This won’t look anything *like* urban colonialism, and it won’t involve a “discovering” new territories mentality. It won’t be easy, I think it’s possible.

  33. Roving Thundercloud says:

    No, no, Britta, it was perfect the first time. Thanks.

    I was lucky enough to get out of SF before the dot-com assassination of the Mission District, and moved back to Portland just in time to watch the rise of the hideous “Pearl District” (oh, but it IS bohemian!!!! ’cause it’s got a bunch of ART GALLERIES!!!).

  34. Britta says:

    Thanks, Roving Thundercloud!
    I tried to disguise, but I’m from Portland myself. I totally feel your revulsion at the Pearl, I had real artist friends pushed out to make space for yuppie mania. I had a job there recently, and I was seriously almost run over at a cross walk by a guy in a hummer on a cell phone.

  35. William says:

    oh, but it IS bohemian!!!! ’cause it’s got a bunch of ART GALLERIES!!!).

    In my experience art galleries are to bohemian neighborhoods what the Insane Clown Posse is to African American culture.

  36. Mary Racine says:

    The wingnuts jumped down Madonna’s throat for saying New York was no longer the hip city, but I’ve heard from advertising people and graphic artists that something happened under Guiliani in the late 90s and the cultural capital of the world shifted from New York to London. 9/11 and the Bush madness only nudged it a bit further. The problem isn’t the loss of raging hipsters, it’s the interaction between working professionals and talented broke amateurs. And neither of these groups can really afford to live in New York City anymore. The margin is just too thin.

    Artists are now moving to the extreme rural areas. At least writers are. It’s fascinating to read writer’s blogs and realize that they are in really small towns.

  37. Nora says:

    Gentrification is a strange topic for me, at least, because those who discuss it frequently often seem to be the ones perpetrating it. How can someone who is a part of gentrification actually be against it? But, at the same time, the free market has control over these things. There is no way to stop the supply/demand.

Comments are closed.