Archive for the 'gentrification' Category

Can’t they just catch a cab?

The cash-strapped, teacher-laying-off, social-programs-slashing NYC government somehow dug up $9.3 million to subsidize a privately-run ferry service on the East River. Residents of “Dumbo, Williamsburg, Greenpoint or Hunters Point” are expected to especially benefit.

…some transportation experts worry that the boats will appeal only to an affluent sliver of the population — those who can afford upscale apartments along the waterfront.

…The first boat departed at 7:15 a.m. with a gaggle of dignitaries and reporters aboard. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, in a seaweed-color tie, leaned on a blue plastic table and took in the view of the Midtown skyline.

“You have no idea what this does for property values,” the mayor said approvingly. “Wait till you see all of this development!” He waved at a pair of passing kayakers, who raised their oars in salute.

So, Bloomberg’s budget will eliminate upwards of $5 million for supportive housing for people living with HIV/AIDS, slashes funding for daycare and senior citizen centers, will result in the layoff of more than 4,000 teachers, will close 20 fire department companies, so on and so forth. And folks who rely on the MTA for transit continue to see fares go up and service go down. But a $9.3 million transit subsidy to a private company that will primarily benefit the wealthier residents of only a few neighborhoods and promote continuing gentrification there to boot? There’s apparently plenty of money for that!

This Friday in Brooklyn: premiere of a new film on gentrification and community organizing

This Friday I’m heading to Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn for the premiere screening of Some Place Like Home: The Fight Against Gentrification in Downtown Brooklyn, a documentary by Families United for Racial and Economic Equality. FUREE, a community organization lead by and comprised primarily of low-income women of color, has been rallying the community in a fight against the rampant development that’s going down in Downtown Brooklyn and the surrounding area. While developers, big business, and politicians alike claim they are only trying to improve the community, the development is being conducted with little care or concern for the residents and small business owners who are already there. Some Place Like Home documents the struggle of FUREE, the neighborhoods’ residents, and small businesses against the forces that are trying to push and bulldoze them out. Check out the trailer below.

If you’re in NYC, I recommend you check out the premiere if you can. It’s a fundraiser for the organization and the ticket prices will go far to support FUREE’s organizing around this and other important issues. Other FUREE projects include the Child Care Campaign, which works for better working conditions for child care providers, and their collaboration on the Fort Greene CSA, a community supported agriculture product that aims to provide affordable access to healthy, locally grown food (the CSA offers subsidized shares and accepts food stamps as payment.) And if you can’t make it to the premiere, try to catch the film otherwise – I’ve heard that FUREE is getting requests for additional screenings and may even air the film on some of the local TV stations. You can also donate to FUREE or to other organizations working to fight gentrification where you live.

“We do this because to do nothing leaves others with no options.”

I might not be writing much lately, but other people are. One such person is Valery J, who I work with at one of the organizations I do tech support for. Recently she sent the staff an email entitled “Val’s Reason #2018 for Being Committed to Racial & Economic Justice.” I really appreciated her reflections on gentrification, social justice, and why “the work” is so important. I asked her if I could post it here, and she agreed; she’s also got it posted on her MySpace blog. Enjoy!

On Friday, I attended the first SJL Art of Organizing Session for the year out in Harlem, NY. My partner and I had to bring our daughter to the Bronx to her “Ti-Ti Ta-Ta” (Aunt Liz) for the day.

The session was over and we went to go the baby from the BX and we decided to take a nostalgic walk in the area that evening. It was crazy to see how many buildings that went up that had nothing but gentrifiers going home (it was after rush hour), how bars and restaurants suddenly became “diverse” with ads to rock bands and not salsa or bomba y plena ensembles headlining a weekend event, how many trees were planted in areas that historically had no green space and high asthma rates…the list can go on forever. We took a long walk. The South Bronx looks like Bed-Stuy in its earliest gentrifications stages.

Dave and I are ALWAYS “politicking” and we wondered well, if everything is being “glamorized” for the new folks in town, what’s going on with others who are being pushed out in the name of community development? Where the hell are poor folks are relocating to? We know that shelters are overcrowded and waiting lists for low-income housing are ridiculously long. The economy can only get worse as the Bush and Cheney war continues indefinitely, and New York City Council Members spend millions on phantom organizations while cuts to low income housing, social services, drug treatment, etc. are slashed over and over and over.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I always talk about the psychological effect of racism, poverty, displacement and oppression. We forget that in the midst of organizing for change that the crucible of our arguments shouldn’t always rely on policies or practices but also on the human condition, how everyday people are affected by all of this stuff. It’s easy to point to empty apartments or lack or jobs but not so easy to point to what’s really going on with people who are left out to hang by all of this. It’s not so easy to speak on the effects of disempowerment, disenfranchisement and destabilization on people because they’re not quantifiable.

So, Dave, Aliyah and I got on the 2 train at 149th and 3rd. We took the baby out to play and for a feeding. We were rolling into 125th Street when the emergency brakes went on. We sighed and figured some prankster opened the damn panel. (I’m so old school.) We were in the first car and realized a homeless man being pinned down to the ground by an elder Latino man. The homeless man was about to jump on the tracks when the elder sprang into action. A life was saved because someone cared, did something about it and didn’t think twice to look within.

On the way home, we went on about how sad it is that the land of milk and honey (sarcastic reference to what the US “markets” to the world) has enough resources to waste among the “haves” but doesn’t give a damn about the “have nots.”

I remember feeling a deep sadness because my heart went out to the man that felt that in his imprisonment between a rock and a hard place, that his only option was to end his life. Because things were too much and this was what was left to end the hurt.

What I also remembered is why we all engage in the fight for social justice. Because, like the elder, we spring into action, we care and we do something. Even if that action is hard, causes us to sacrifice, causes inconvenience and causes pain, it’s this act of self-less-ness that offers at least some hope to those who are between a rock and a hard place.

This work isn’t easy. And yes, we have to respond to things as they show up. Our shoulders may feel heavy and our minds run a mile a minute. We argue and bicker and gripe to relieve stress, eat mounds of mac-n-cheese for comfort and lay our heads down to rest with left-over thoughts on what the hell to do next.

I guess I just wanted folks to realize that our work is greater than the burdens that we endure. That we do this not to be rich, not to be celebrated, not to be respected at times.

We do this because to do nothing leaves others with no options.

Thank you, all, for being committed to being a voice for the voiceless.

Fight the Power!

Valery J

Hey white folks – it’s time to get really mad at me again!

So, white people seem to get really, really angry when I write about gentrification, as evidenced through the many irate comments I’ve gotten, in which I’m called ignorant, racist, and “mean bitch,” amongst other things. I’ve left lots of those comments lingering in moderation for a while, because I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to give these people a space for their inane and often offensive rants, especially when I don’t have the time, energy, or desire to engage with them. But in the end, I’ve decided, what the hell, I’ll approve them. Especially because I have more readers nowadays who will maybe, hopefully help me respond to the bullshit every once in a while? (If interested, you can find the most recent mindblowingly-asinine rant on the “postmodern hipster colonists suck” post, courtesy of Lilly.)

However, sometimes these posts still generate really good comments. I wanted to highlight a recent one here, not just because I appreciate the insight, but also because I think it’s important to foreground the experiences of people who are more directly impacted by gentrification (I’m a NYC transplant from Jersey, and, I’ll be honest, am more of a contributor to gentrification than a victim of it.) Here’s part of what Ebony wrote:

I am from New York City. My mother was born and raised in Harlem in Drew Hamliton Projects. If you are from New York you know where Drew Hamilton is. I am disgusted with the invasion of white people in Harlem. I am not racist but I am proud of Harlem. I like the idea of segregation in Harlem. It’s not Harlem without black people, the same goes for New Orleans. White people have every neighborhood from A street to 96th street as well as Inwood. Why do they need Spanish Harlem, Harlem, and Washington Heights. These people can live anywhere in the 5 boroughs but choose to move to Harlem. They treat this area as if it was nothing before they got there, as if people didn’t reside in this area prior to them moving in. They don’t understand the value of this area.

Read the rest of the comment here.

The part that I’ve emphasized is an excellent description of what seems to be a very prevalent attitude amongst gentrification’s beneficiaries: the notion that these neighborhoods were relatively worthless, uninhabited wastelands until the gentrifying classes moved in.

I was treated to some great examples of this attitude a couple of weeks ago on The Leonard Lopate Show, a radio program on WNYC (a local NPR station.) The segment, “How To Be a Good Tourist,” was a conversation between Lopate, two NYC journalists, and callers about NYC neighborhoods, cultural institutions, restaurants and other locations that are often missed or overlooked by tourists and residents alike. They got to talking about certain neighborhoods that have historically been overlooked and have “changed” (what a euphemism!) in recent years, as well as neighborhoods that are about to “change.” Here’s some of the conversation, with emphasis and commentary added:

Rosemary Black: I think [the city] is constantly changing… Just a few years ago, the Meatpacking District was quite desolate and nobody would ever go over there unless they were trying to get to the West Side Highway or something…

Leonard Lopate: And it smelled bad, because of all of the blood that was on the street, the sidewalk…

RB: Exactly. And now it’s just filled with trendy restaurants and clubs and bars and you walk over there at night and it’s just teeming with people, and these places are hard to get into, there’s some really nice places over there… it’s completely different from what it used to be. And the same really with the Lower East Side; if you think about what the Lower East Side was like fifteen years ago and you walk over there now, it’s like being in a whole different city.

A whole different city, indeed. A much whiter, richer, less-immigrant-populated city, as the East Village continues to encroach on Loisaida (see the linked Wikipedia entry for a good description of the changes she’s referencing.)

LL: Now, why do you think a neighborhood suddenly takes off like that?

Melena Ryzik: Well, it starts with the low rents. That’s the key thing –

LL: Big spaces and low rents.

MR: Exactly, exactly. And of course I think there’s also the idea for New Yorkers that you want to be the first person to discover something, so there’s a certain cache in having been maybe the first person or the first set of people living over on the Meatpacking district side of things.

Again with this colonialist, pioneer mentality. Because it’s not as if people haven’t been living in these areas for decades now; maybe just not the people that count for much of anything except a novelty and a provider of “exotic” foods to these folks.

LL: Do you think that the South Bronx is likely to change when the new Yankee Stadium opens in a few years?

RB: I think there’s a good chance, everything changes! Places that we wouldn’t have thought a few years ago would be completely different are totally changed around, and safe, and getting to be desirable places to live, so I think there’s a good chance of it.

Who’s the “we” in this entire conversation? Can we assume that it’s white folks with money? Because there’s been a whole lot of folks living in the South Bronx for a long time now – and some of them have thought it a “desirable” place to live all along, despite obvious problems like economic depression and neglect.

Of course, they eventually get to talking about Williamsburg and Bushwick:

LL: And Melena, you say it’s all about rent, because rents are so high in certain areas that people have to constantly go and make new areas popular?

MR: That’s right. You mentioned Williamsburg; you know, that was one of the areas that artists first started moving into when they started moving out of Manhattan, and now that place is full, that neighborhood is full of, you know, million dollar condos, so those kind of people are getting pushed further and further out into Bushwick, which means that there are now great restaurants and bars and places to go to in Bushwick, although not as easy to get to.

Yup. It doesn’t mean that the entire face of the neighborhood is changing; it doesn’t mean that low-income Latinos are getting priced-out, evicted and displaced. No, the important thing here is one of the most economically-depressed and neglected areas of the city is getting some nice restaurants and bars and places to go, not for the long-time residents, but for the sake of the moneyed newcomers who are being “pushed out” of Williamsburg, the last area that they “discovered” and made their own. What about the people who those artists helped to push out of Williamsburg, and who they’ll now help push out of Bushwick, too? Apparently, those displaced people aren’t even worth a mention.

The Onion: spot on.

Sometimes I Feel Like I’m The Only One Trying To Gentrify This Neighborhood

When I moved into this neighborhood, I fell in love right away. Not with the actual neighborhood, but with its potential: It’s affordable, there are nice row houses all around just waiting to be filled up by my friends, there’s lot of open space to be exploited, and plenty of parking. Plus, this area has got a great authentic feel and, with a little work, it could be even more authentic. Perfect, right?

So why am I the only one doing anything about it?

(re)defining racism: who gets to?

I’ve been neglecting this blog for the past few days, mostly because I’ve been caught up in debate over on this thread at Alas, A Blog. The part of the conversation that I got involved in began with someone comparing my saying that white gentrification can seem like an invasion to anti-immigration rhetoric, but the whole thread travels down a long and winding road about immigration and gentrification in general and winds up (yet another) debate on the correct definition of racism. I ascribe to the definition of racism as racial power and privilege plus racial prejudice, and the notion that, while all of us are prejudiced as a result of living in a racist society, only white folks have the racial power that enables them to be racist. As usual, some (actually, only two) white folks disagreed, vehemently, and many other folks, people of color and white people alike, disagreed with them in turn.

In the course of this discussion, I discovered one of the best breakdowns of this definition of racism that I’ve ever read, an Understanding Racism workshop outline from the Prison Activist Resource Center that is inspired by the Undoing Racism workshops of the People’s Institute. I highly recommend that folks read it.

Coming soon (hopefully tomorrow): what happened at the Dyke March, and a whole lot of replying to comments, old and new.

Since apparently my many previous clarifications weren’t enough

I’ve seen a lot of responses to my posts on gentrification, both in comments here and on other blogs, that question why I don’t want white people moving into poor neighborhoods of color. Some people wonder if I’m endorsing a kind of self-imposed segregation; some ask whether it’s not good that white people move in, since then a neighborhood finally gets paid attention by politicians and the distributors of public services, and isn’t it good that the neighborhoods are getting “better?” Some people wonder why I’d be against the diversification of a neighborhood (because, of course, the whole point of diversity is that white people are around, too…er…) Some folks wonder why I’m generalizing white folks, since some of those white people moving in might be good white folks who are anti-racist and anti-gentrification. Some people even go so far as to call me racist, since clearly, this is because I’m anti-white.

I felt like I clarified this before in “more thoughts on gentrification,”, but I’ll try again:

If white people were moving into poor neighborhoods of color and had no negative effect on the low-income people of color living there, it would not be a problem. The problem with gentrification is that the white folks who are moving in most often bring real negative effects to the low-income people of color. The primary negative effects are forced displacement – people having to move out of their homes or the neighborhood against their will – due to drastically rising rents and immoral (and often illegal) landlord methods like forced evictions and cut-off services; and the gradual erosion of the neighborhoods’ ethnic culture – businesses, restaurants, social organizations, etc – that the community has built up over time, to be replaced by more mainstream, white, middle-class culture.

Can I make it any more clear, people? I’m not just arbitrarily anti-white. I’m not just trying to preserve neighborhoods that are POC-only for the hell of it, because I don’t like the look of those white people or because their music annoys me or something. It’s because, so often in gentrifying neighborhoods, an influx of white folks is a harbinger of real, concrete, negative impacts on low-income people of color.

Something else that has come up, that is far less annoying than the questions above, is the question about low-income white folks and their involvement, culpability, and experience of gentrification. As a general response: I know less about the effect of gentrification on poor white neighborhoods, but I’m sure it happens, as gentrification is equally about class as it is about race. However, race and class are so entwined in this country, and people of color are disproportionately poor, so it’s something of an impossibility (for me at least) to talk about gentrification and not talk about race, especially since in NYC I most often see gentrification occuring in POC neighborhoods, not by any coincidence. However, I am familiar with the gentrification that has gone on in parts of Williamsburg that used to be largely working-class Polish, and that’s quickly sweeping into Greenpoint as well. There, some of the same things have happened – an immigrant, working-class community’s culture is being eroded, bit by bit, to make room for more mainstream (meaning middle-class) white culture; people are forced out of their neighborhood; the whole feel and face of the neighborhood changes. However, I’d venture to say that the effects and methods of gentrification are different in Greenpoint than they are in, say, Bushwick, or even south Williamsburg (which might still be predominantly Latino, at least for now.) For one, white people in the area can’t be seen as a sign that the neighborhood is “up and coming;” there, I think it would be the presence of certain kinds of white folks (younger, richer, not immigrants, etc).

Folks have also asked about the culpability of low-income white folks. They, too, can’t afford high rents. If they live in NYC, the only way they might be able to afford to do so is to live in neighborhoods of color.

If people are truly low-income – meaning, not just “barely out of college, damn my bills suck on my non-profit salary” like me, but really, truly, struggling – then they need to live where they need to live and do what they need to do in order to make it. I’m not going to try to assign blame to folks when they’re doing as well as they can; I’m also not about to pass judgement on any low-income folks because, frankly, that would be seriously fucked up of me. However, I do think that low-income white folks can still have a negative involvement with gentrification, because of the whole thing where having some white folks in a neighborhood makes it “safer” and more appealing to other, richer white folks, who then move in and displace the low-income white folks right along with the low-income people of color. I don’t that one’s lack of class privilege erases one’s racial privilege and the negative effects thereof.

Sigh. Why I am up at 8:30am on a Saturday writing this, I do not know. All I got up to do was check the weather to see if I’d wind up going to the Dyke March after all! (And by the way, this weekend’s weather SUCKS, especially for Pride weekend! Hmm, maybe god does hate fags. Kidding folks, kidding.) And then I wound up here, writing this! I am obsessed with this blog. Help!

doozies

Wow, I woke up to some doozies this morning. Check out the most recent comments by LOLA and Jack Alouet who are, of course, all up in a tizzy about my posts about gentrification. LOLA’s are especially enlightening, especially when LOLA says that Puerto Ricans are the most racist people in NYC.

LOLA also took the time to write to me this morning, grilling me about whether I endorse violence because I approved Tenda’s comment in “innate charm, my ass,” – newsflash, I don’t endorse that sort of violence, as you might have gathered if you read the comment directly below Tenda’s. LOLA also writes that my blog is bordering on racist against white people – yeah, um, no, sorry!

And, the icing on the cake – LOLA is apparently a freelance reporter who was going to write a story about Puerto Ricans are misrepresented in NYC, but after reading my blog, is reconsidering. LOLA even seems to threaten me, writing: “do you think that comment will represent your community in a positive light if it were publicized or made publicly evident for that matter? ” LOLA, I sincerely hope that you reconsider so much that you don’t write that article at all, because I think it would pretty much be guaranteed to suck.

more thoughts on gentrification

Yesterday, I visited a friend who lives uptown. Walking from her apartment back to the 125th street stop on the A, I was struck by the fact that almost every single person I passed was white. I thought this was Harlem. Turns out, according to Wikipedia, Harlem proper doesn’t really start on the west side until 125th street itself, and I was a bit south of there; but, as the Wikipedia article also states, “Harlem’s boundaries are elastic and have changed over the years, as Ralph Ellison observed: ‘Wherever Negroes live uptown is considered Harlem.’”

As I walked, I got to thinking about the stuff I’ve been writing about gentrification and all the thoughts I hadn’t written out yet. Lots of my thoughts have arisen in response to questions and statements like these, gleaned from the comments on this blog:

  • “You and I are both concerned about being “priced out” of our homes, being unable to afford to live where we want. But you want to tell me where I’m allowed to live? How would you feel if all the boricuas were forced to live in a certain neighborhood? “They are” will be your inevitable reply, but that’s the point.”
  • “It’s not the presence of individual white people that hurts communities like the one you are describing–it’s institutional racism, including the examples you have described of landlords charging higher rent to white renters and real estate agents considering white people as evidence of a safe neighborhood. Why is it his fault if other people react to his presence that way despite his good intentions?”
  • “Isn’t saying white people shouldn’t move into minority neghborhoods just another way of advocating segregation? The danger of gentrification is very real, but that doesn’t mean that everyone should live only among people of their own race, or that a white person who moves into a minority community is automatically a negative presence–especially if he respects the culture and the people, and wants to get to know them rather than surrounding himself with other white people.”

So, with these and other responses to what I’ve written and said thusfar in mind, I wrote this on my long subway ride back to Brooklyn.
Continue reading ‘more thoughts on gentrification’

on gentrification in Bushwick

Today I was directed to some good (and not so good) words written on gentrification in Bushwick. For the good (at least, as of the last time I got to look), check out Penpusher’s comment. Some of the good stuff:

But I think deep down, everyone knows that “Gentrification” might as well be called “Manifest Destiny,” as people with the power come in and take what they want from an area, leaving the natives to scramble to get whatever they can before they are completely forced out. What techniques are used to get people to leave? Whatever is available. A person is late with the rent for whatever reason. Maybe they didn’t get paid on time. Maybe they had to choose between feeding their kids and paying a week later. I don’t want to overdramatize this, but this sort of thing does happen. The landlord has an excuse to evict…

… I suppose there will be people who say, ah well, that’s just business and people are permitted to do what they want in our “free society.” But until you are in the position of those forced to move, for no other reason than the metaphorical 100 year storm came and forced you out, because you were doing ok but couldn’t afford to protect your home from the surge that came in and ruined everything, you don’t really know or understand what the other side of “gentrification” is all about.