12.04.2005

A challenge

This evening, Natalie and I were discussing my earlier post on art in Broome County and my fears of gentrification. I was bemoaning the process of "improvement" that drives out poor folk, especially people of color, from their traditional neighborhoods and turns them into "yuppie" areas. Myself, being a long-time proponent of tradition and the importance of "place" and the heritage that we inherit in a place that is associated with our families and our lifestyles, saw gentrification as an entirely negative experience.

Natalie, while agreeing with most of my points, argued that she really couldn't think of another way to rebuild communities without gentrifying them. After all, isn't a building full of yuppies better than one crumbling away into oblivion? Aren't coffee shops and art galleries better than no businesses at all? I was a bit uprepared for this statement (she has a habit of catching me that way) and didn't have a good response. While I plan on thinking about and researching this topic, I would like to invite readers to a challenge:

I would like to hear how can our communities revitalize themselves without betraying their heritage? How can we have vital towns, villages and cities without evicting the residents of those places? Does anyone have any ideas? Does anyone know of any examples of communities who have succeeded in a rebirth without selling out?

A firm believer in competition, the person who presents the most informative example of progress without gentrification, or the most creative plan for carrying this out (as judged by the obviously biased judges Jesse and Natalie) by the end of December will be given the purely symbolic honor of: York Stater of the Month.

I look forward to seeing this discussion continue on the comment boards (to participate click the light blue number just right of the title of this post... that's the number of current comments).


Posted by Jesse

6 comments:

John Flash said...

Hi. First-time poster here. And I figured this was a fitting topic for my first post, as I am a new member of a community in Philadelphia that is becoming "gentrified." The area I live in, Fishtown (fishtown.us) It's an area that was once the center of the fish industry on the Delaware River, hence the name Fishtown. It's an area that has been made up of primarily old German and Polish and Irish families. It's been pretty much a tight-knit working class 'hood for the longest time, even after industry left and people got screwed, these peeps stuck together. Recently tho, trendy greed developers have started building luxury apartments and bars and the New York Times has labelled Philly as the "sixth borough" ( an article which I'm not going to link to cuz its bullshit manhattanite arrogance in print). So all these rich white people have been invading the space of these people. I don't see any of the people living here benefitting from it. Why would they want to go to some Real World-esque martini bar? All this money is going into things that benefit the new yuppers moving in.

I think, in order to successfully "gentrify" a community, and I'm not even sure that's the worde we should be using, probably more like revitalize or just plain old "embrace" there needs to be more community stuff. More stuff aimed at the people living there and possibly bringing the new and old families and newcomers together. More meetings, discussion groups, development aimed at making existing buildings and things better. How about showcasing the art and music of people in the area? How about fixing the crappy sidewalks in the neighborhoods instead of makin the trend bar sidewalks smoother than pancakes in Heaven. There's really no set plan I can think of besides an emphasis on the new, the old, and bringing the two together harmonioisly which benefits all. It'd be great if newcomers made friends with people in the community and hung out at local old bars and whathaveyou. Thats my dish.

Jesse said...

Does anyone know of a community that has been attempting something like this? I've heard rumors that zoning has been used to combat gentrification.

Jesse said...

Up in Ithaca, a man named Paul Glover has been thinking for several years about how to sustainably develop Ithaca without destroying its unique character. He was the brains behind Ithaca's money system (www.ithacahour.com) and has recently published an essay on a hypothetical "Whole Ithaca Stock Exchange" (http://www.ithacanews.org/WISE/wise.html) which I think is interesting reading, if a bit hard to understand (Mr. Glover's writing style jumps around a bit)

Jon said...

Hey Jesse and others,

This problem is not one that is lost on the progressive movement. In fact, just pointing it out goes a very long way. As you rightly point out "bettering" and "beautifying" communities functions according to concepts of what is good, bad, and ugly. For example, it will be pivotal to keep pointing this out (over and over) as New Orleans is rebuilt with federal monies. The desire is going to be to build upscale lofts, tourist accomodations, expensive restaurants etc. Again, unless someone screams, "but the majority of New Orlean's residents won't be able to live in New Orleans" the problem will remain.

BUT... let me get back to what makes for beautiful and better. Natalie is right to point out that coffee shops, art museums, and full apartment complexes are good things. In fact, I would say that they are beautiful and better things than their opposite. Just as we have to be careful not to displace people who have lived in communities their entire lives... we also must not do that at the expense of fundamentally questioning the exploitative economic structures that have led to poverty, disallusion, urban blight, etc. We ought not want to preserve what is ugly (poverty) just so we don't feel bad about disrupting traditional ways of being (because those ways of being are exploitative and destructive).

So the question is not, "how do we preserve this way of being for these people against capitalistic "beautification," but rather it is, "how do we transform economic structures in such a way to make real beauty possible?" Its the problem of reconnecting poesis with poesis.

Jon

Jon said...

Hey Jesse and others,

This problem is not one that is lost on the progressive movement. In fact, just pointing it out goes a very long way. As you rightly point out "bettering" and "beautifying" communities functions according to concepts of what is good, bad, and ugly. For example, it will be pivotal to keep pointing this out (over and over) as New Orleans is rebuilt with federal monies. The desire is going to be to build upscale lofts, tourist accomodations, expensive restaurants etc. Again, unless someone screams, "but the majority of New Orlean's residents won't be able to live in New Orleans" the problem will remain.

BUT... let me get back to what makes for beautiful and better. Natalie is right to point out that coffee shops, art museums, and full apartment complexes are good things. In fact, I would say that they are beautiful and better things than their opposite. Just as we have to be careful not to displace people who have lived in communities their entire lives... we also must not do that at the expense of fundamentally questioning the exploitative economic structures that have led to poverty, disallusion, urban blight, etc. We ought not want to preserve what is ugly (poverty) just so we don't feel bad about disrupting traditional ways of being (because those ways of being are exploitative and destructive).

So the question is not, "how do we preserve this way of being for these people against capitalistic "beautification," but rather it is, "how do we transform economic structures in such a way to make real beauty possible?" Its the problem of reconnecting poesis with poesis.

Jon

Jon said...

Ok. So I've given this more thought. In my last comment (apologies for double posting it) I posited a theoretical for getting rid of the problem of gentrification moving the poor out of their neighborhoods vs. leaving impoverished neighborhoods intact. That answer was, obliterate poverty and class divisions, thereby freeing beauty as such from capital.

Recognizing that that is not something easily thought about, or done, I've tried to come up with at least one or two practical suggestions (although I still hold firm that these are but compensations and temporary stays within a larger, more important fight - namely the one I describe above).

Suggestion 1 - Block grants. Here in Syracuse the city has already, and will continue, giving millions and millions of dollars in corporate welfare to DestiNY USA to (supposedly) build this monolithic capitalist playground that will be filled with things average Syracusans cannot afford. The premise is that this thing is going to save Syracuse by bringing outside investment and tourists in. Given that the thing is going to be hermetically sealed (if its built), I just can't see how this is going to benefit real people here one iota. It will just give them a wider variety of outlets to whisk their money out of the area via corporate chain stores (even if they are fancier chain stores). For one, The Gap and AnyOtherMegaFranchise, Inc has no link to what is now being called "the soul of Syracuse" so the moment any store of that type in Syracuse drops below profitability, WHAM, its pulled out. (All of the empty chain groceries, convenience stores, etc whose skeletons line our boulevards serve as an index to this)

Instead, I think it would be wiser to take all that money and invest it into the people who have been here, have a link here, and are unlikely to leave. If you give a low interest 10 year loan to a small business run by locals, you are doing a couple of things that are better than giving 5 million dollars of tax break to a Loews or Eckherd. 1. You are guaranteeing that this entity will be in place for at least 10 years in the community. 2. You are granting the money to a person who is unlikely to pack up and leave on you (if for no other reason than that they do not have the kind of mobility that capital does). 3. You are going to end up with a business that has character, one that will contribute to the fabric of a sector of the city in a way that no Gap or Old Navy can (no matter how "quirky" they try to make their corporate identity by - yes, Starbucks, you may have a "local info" board, but I know that same damn board is up in the Starbucks in Kansas City, nice try at indiosyncrisy, but you can't buy local like you can't buy love. City planners know that what makes a place come to life is the kind of vitality that no chain store can bring. 4. If you have locally owned businesses, you are increasing the chance (a lot) that money will stay in town a little longer. The more you can get money to circulate before leaving town, the healthier the economy. Say you spend ten dollars at WalMart. That ten bucks is taken and shipped to Corporate, one half a cent is sent back to an employee in your area. If you spend that ten dollars at a local hardware store, the owner who lives above it or down the street is more likely to take that ten bucks and spend it in town (either on construction for improvements of his shop, coffee and eggs at the diner, or on an employee that MUST live in the area (as opposed to Wal Mart that pays (albeit very little) employees all over the world. Why finance a cashier in Kansas City when Syracuse is of greater concern to you?

Okay - I promised more than one solution for this problem. But block grants is all I have right now, and I need to finish my real work!