Jan 29, 2005

Gentrification and its Discontents

iTunes Selected:
Incubus: A Crow Past the Murder Row

Had a good time reconnecting with a dear friend last night. You don't have to go out and spend oodles of dough to have a good time with folks that you care about, no matter what temptations this city offers. It's easier to say that in the bitter cold, but no matter. We had a nice simple dinner in which the conversation took precedence over the ambiance. After this trip to India, the two of us are more focused on these kinds of interactions, both between ourselves and with our closer friends. She's been good at this over the years - I feel that I've strayed from the core values that make friendship such a dear thing to me in the five-minute dating world of NYC. The ever-changing landscape of restaurants, bars, and lounges contributes to the feeling that I've had that each encounter with friends should be an "event" that exposes me to some new spot in the city.

In some ways, I feel that even as I speak against the gentrification effect in neighborhoods like the East Village and Lower East Side, rather than focus on the few spots that I have liked over the years and the depth of interaction with my nearest and dearest, I've been caught up in the desire to "check out" the new joints. So perhaps there's some dissonance between the anti-gentrification rhetoric that I inevitably spew when I visit the old streets in the village and the act of seeking new places to try out.

But the growth and commercialization of these neighborhoods is really quite troubling. New hip bars and lounges pop up and disappear faster than hopes for a more moderate Federal government in Bush's second term. Part of the obvious problem is the displacement of local residents as rent prices skyrocket and once quiet working class neighborhoods become the weekend hotspots for the out-of-towners and privileged youth. The hidden tragedy is the deconstruction of these traditional neighborhoods, which though not the romanticized notions of ethnic enclaves that residents want to stay in forever, still provide critical support and identity for new immigrants.

The more obvious tragedy can be evidenced in the recent shooting death of 28-year old actress Nicole DuFresne in the Lower East Side this week. A Minnesotan who probably didn't realize that the streets of New York, while more inviting to white folks now than ever, are still not the set of Friends.

Witnesses told investigators that one of the men grabbed for the other woman's purse and duFresne intervened, asking, "What are you going to do, shoot us?" A man then fired one shot at her, police said
It's not fair to criticize the dead for their mistakes, but perhaps the message will carry that we are not all immortal, and that these places upon which we tread with heavy steps are not our playgrounds. They are the homes and haunts of many who do not share the live and let drink mentality of the hipster crowd.

While I don't like projecting a negative future, I anticipate more of these incidents in the months to come.

No comments: