Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Gentrification, Neighborhoods and Holiday Spirit

Ah, the holidays…a time for family, love and kind words. And where else would one expect to find such sentimentalities but on “Ellen?” Hey, Queen Latifah was on and she can do no wrong in my book (we’ll ignore the film with Mr. Martin). She is a true inspiration and this I knew when I nearly spit up my eggnog upon hearing her spectacular suggestion for New Jersey’s new motto: “New Jersey – We don’t like you either!” Oh, please, please, don’t be offended. New Jersey has had to defend itself against a tirade of abuses for decades and it was a much-welcomed stance from one of New Jersey’s most regal members. Currently, that stance may be to no avail, however, because it seems that the “you” in the suggested motto is quickly becoming “us.”

What do I mean? I’ll tell you. I have never seen so many people rushing towards me and mine since I was the most unfortunate customer in K-Mart to grab the last Tickle-Me-Elmo in ’92. The same frantic get-whatcha-can-while-you-can energy has engulfed Jersey City for the past year and it is making me twitch with nervousness. I keep looking over my shoulder, out of fear that an actual physical wave of business suits and $100 haircuts will tsunami my ass. I had always heard of gentrification. I always knew about the neighborhoods that gentrification happened in – hell, I partied in ‘em! But, I never lived in an area under the process. It stinks! Construction is going on 24-7, you see new people in the area who look nicer than you do, and you are always afraid of when your lease is up. Will the landlord change it? Will he raise it if we ask him to fix the missing floorboard that our feet keep falling into? Will he get angry if we ask him to fix the rotting pipes and then keep our deposit?

I suppose it’s not all bad. For two years we lived with an X-TREME Sports obstacle course for a road in front of our apartment, but this year it was paved and it is a smooth as Pilate’s-trained yuppie’s bottom. Our supermarket changed, too. When we first moved in, we had a choice between orange drink and some neon blue stuff that they serve in public schools. Now, we have all kinds of organic fruits and veggies, cage-free eggs, and other overpriced foods for people who believe in animal rights. Ain’t I an animal?

Oh, and the most important thing. We got Christmas spirit. Yes, believe it or not, gentrification has brought Christmas spirit to Jersey City. See, before all the upper middle class people started moving here, Journal Square (my area of Jersey City) had a few lighted branches and lampposts, and maybe a wreath or two here and there, to represent the few Christians in the area. Journal Square, while I have lived here, has A LOT of cultures represented, so maybe Christmas is cool and all, but not everyone here celebrates it.

Now, however, a really cool developer called Metrovest Equities is making what used to be a hospital that served the poorest of Jersey City into condos. Hey, it’s a gorgeous art deco building and sick people can’t appreciate that! Anyway, as a token of its love for the residents of Jersey City, Metrovest Equities also dedicated a big, big tree to us. I’m not joking; the holiday tree stands one foot taller than the tree that is going to be lit at Rockefeller. Yes, a big tree for us, the residents of Jersey City, to enjoy. Although, I guess we’ll have to enjoy it from outside the gate of the condo complex because that’s where the tree was erected. No, it wasn’t erected in a public place where families can gather. The big, big tree was erected in front of the condos that Metrovest Equities wants to sell…to people who buy condos…who are moving here…and who may leave us New Jersey peons with no place to live. Someone with a more business-oriented mind might think that the big, big tree is actually a way to advertise the condos, a sort of beacon for the incoming masses, but I know nothing of business. Funny, though, that the complex is, indeed, called The Beacon. Hmmm. It’s right around the corner from my apartment, so I get to look at it and get filled with…inspiration every day.

It seems to me that this type of thing wouldn’t happen if we had policies that kept people in the same neighborhood for years. My friend Rachel said I should post an idea I had and I guess I will, but the idea cannot work unless we ensure a variety of rents in any given neighborhood. I read once that the most successful and active neighborhoods have people who represent a range of incomes – and when I write successful, I mean ECONOMICALLY, for all you bottom-line people.

That said, my idea is somewhat simple. Why not get a group of people from, say, three neighborhoods in a city/town? Each neighborhood group has to have two kinds of people in it: stationary folks and travelers. The neighborhood group of leaders should be small, like maybe six people. Anyway, the stationary people STAY in the neighborhood for a minimum of 20 years and vow to be active in its development. The travelers agree to regularly travel to other towns, in the United States or in other countries, and study what successful neighborhoods are doing. They bring their ideas back and share ‘em with the stationary folks. Then, maybe once a year, the three neighborhoods get together and have a festival, sharing neighborhood accomplishments, etc. The participants shouldn’t be politically motivated or have corporate interests. In practice, it might be as simple as getting neighborhood residents to know each other at block parties or as complex as bringing someone from another country to teach residents how to repair each other’s cars (the way people do in Cuba). Ultimately, the goal is to create a place that belongs to the people who live there, as opposed to people who don’t. Okay, Rachel – it’s your fault if I have to sift through countless emails about how this can’t ever be done!

Gentrification does stink, but the ideas and dreams in my mind cannot be appropriated with such ease. I can still imagine. Sometimes, I even create. Can you? Sure you can.

Happy Holidays!


Painful definition (Jersey City is in it!): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gentrification

Jersey Journal article, “Tree is holiday beacon at old Med Center site,” Nov. 29, 2005.
http://www.nj.com (pick "Jersey Journal" and type "beacon tree" in the keyword bar; the article will be posted for a week, maybe two)


Anonymous said...

"But, I never lived in an area under the process. It stinks!"

My neighborhood "Alphabet City" within the Lower East Side of Manhattan, is rapidly being gentrified. Gosh i wish i could still lived there even with the current transition because it is the only home i've ever known since birth.

Living in a neighborhood as it gentrifies does stink, already being forced out smells even worse. Sigh sigh.

--ben valentin, Poet, Social Worker

NYsunbaby said...

While I've lived through "up and coming" (also on LES, I won't raise my kids there. Up-and-coming ain't there yet, and the things they would live through aren't childhood memory material.

And, I knew NJ hates us too --- why else would they camouflage their turnpike signs?

Anonymous said...

I'm responding when I should be workin' for the man (erstwhile capitalist that I am) I personally think gentrification is a mixed bag and am deeply ambivalent about it... Grisel, as I read this, I thought about how you might be an unwitting agent of the big G. From afar you look alot like the bohemian vanguard that often helps make an area appear "hip" enough (but, "safe" enough of course) for real estate investment. Here in Chicago, would I rather have the old Maxwell Street Market (aka Jew Town), or the thorough gentrification wrought by UIC... I see pros and cons to both. Say, what are those condos selling for anyway? :-) -cliff m.

Grisel said...

To Cliff M.:
Oh, Vincent and I are definitely the "hipsters," as Wikipedia so grossly puts it, who move in for the cheap rent. I have the same mixed feelings. I like the new roads, the better food, but I don't like that the diversity that I LOVE in my neighborhood will soon change. I don't just want cheap rent; I want to live in a community that is cosmopolitan, and that is usually one of the things to go with gentrification. They always gotta follow the artists, damn 'em! Don't they notice we keep leaving after they come in??

UnKnownDiva said...

Those condos are going from $300,000 to 500,000. I read it in a newspaper yesterday.

Anonymous said...

As much as I am sick and tired of businessparasites coming into an area and destroying the neighborhoods and families, I have to laugh at the irony that for years my New York friends and family have avoided Jersey like it was the 9th tier of hell, they have snickered and made sarcastic comments about New Yorks superiority, and now these same people are flocking to the other side of the Hudson as their rents and cost of living goes up.
The irony is that these are the people who helped make New York so expensive they can't live there anymore, buying into the hype so much that they have been willing to do anything to buy into the "product" that is New York.
Unfortunately that is still where the jobs are. I guess we'll all be making the commute over the Hudson.
It could be worse, the same division and gentrification has happened in Istanbul, Turkey so that the working class live in the affordable housing on the Asia side of the Bosphorus river, but they work on the Europe side where the offices, shops, and restaurants are. Imagine having to cross to another CONTINENT every day to get to work.


belledame222 said...

Ah, but they're still calling it a *holiday* tree, which is apparently bad bad bad. It's a CHRISTMAS tree, you bunch of ungrateful non-heartland heathens. CHRISTMAS CHRISTMAS CHRISTMAS. We're going to play Mariah Carey at you all month until it sinks in: this is a HOLY DAY, not a generic "holiday." Now: go buy something.

--Anyway, I get the whole ambivalence about gentrification. I live in Queens, and you still get the "oh, wow. Queens. I've never even been to Queens. I'd visit you, but I'm afraid I'd get lost or be eaten by unhip wolverines or something. Ha, ha!" Which, well, no map for you; but then, I think, gosh it'd be nice if we had some decent restaurants around here. , or a bookstore, or...

Oh, well.

belledame222 said...

--Per anon's comment one above my last: oh, yeah, I've always been fascinated by Istanbul and the whole idea of continent-commuting.

I was there once about ten years ago. I'm sure a lot's changed since then; back then I remember thinking it was the most "foreign"-feeling place I'd ever been in, including Bangkok and other places in that general vicinity. I liked it, but was intimidated.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, what you seek is a utopia of living that has been sort after for centuries. The fact of the matter is all we little people damn well know who has the strings in their hands. the only way to get what is right would be to grab our proverbial pitchforks and storm the government. They must be taken down like the military/media so much enjoyed tearing down Saddam Hussein's statue. We must start over, rebuild, reform, and reconsider what is right for the masses not the controllers. Too many actions go unchecked by people, all kinds of people, from the big to the small. The problem with our society is everyone's lack of interest, lack of trust, and lack of counteraction. everyone is entirely too complaisant with their lifestyles. Many feel that they have their heads somewhat above water and that is, for them, acceptable. Well I say we deserve better, and not only better but more. More for us and less for the hot shots. they have stolen and manipulated just about all facets of control and operations of daily life from us that it is time that it was taken back. Anytime anyone is ready to join me, Drew, "The Urban Lumberjack", strike back at these bastards you can reach me through Grisel. I'd love to start a revolution in this country. Let them rewrite the history books and have to add a new chapter, a new intercontinental war, a new American lifestyle. DOWN WITH THE GOVERNMENT!!!!!! The sad thing is the history books wouldn't even get the damn story correct anyway. However, what we need are enough fed up people who are tired of being pissed on to become so pissed off that the only action left is to take back what belongs to the real people, namely, the majority of us who are not rich. Poorly built housing, poorly managed neighborhoods, etc., etc. where is our pride people. Stand up and stop taking it in the ass from the MAN! We should just burn the damn condos down, but then we'd be losing the beauty of the architecture. Feast or Famine ladies and germs, feast or famine. Where is the middle ground? Furthermore, this holiday spirit humbug nonsense pisses me off, too. Why does it have to be this silly capitalistic holiday in order for people to be nice to one another for about one month out of the year? What's up with the other 11 months? Besides, increasingly, all you shopping pig bastards are becoming les and less friendly anyway. Do yourselves a big favor and stay the fuck home. You want a present? Ring my doorbell ,and I'll be glad to give you one.

Grisel said...

Wow, my Urban Lumberjack friend, I didn't know you had it in you! You got some fire in that belly, ol' boy! Just you wait 'til my next story; safe to say that I will, at some point in my lifetime, learn to farm and grow what I eat. I don't necessarily want to destroy what my stolen tax dollars have built, but I do want to get to place where most of what I consume can be easily traced to my own work or the work of people who I trust. Perhaps at that moment in time, Mr. Lumberjack, your talents, along with the talents of all the other dreamers like you (who would like to "burn shit down" but mostly just want a quiet place in the woods), will be most useful. There is a lot to be said for someone who can make a gourmet meal in the woods. Ya' think gentrification takes place in the Garden of Eden? Hmmm.

Bohdan the Mad Ukrainian said...

Okay, yeah...My family is from the Ukraine and we occupied Chicago since the late 50's.

I hear a lot of things about the 'G-word' all them time and I wonder about it. The biggest one was when I lived near Wicker Park and Bucktown in Chicago. People were upset and the art community was bent out of shape yelling 'racist.' When it seems that people were trying to improve the neighborhood and make a buck or two in the process.

On the other hand, in the 60's my grandmother bought her first home. She had my father and my uncle to raise and was working in the rail yards cleaning passenger trains while my grandfather was in Germany recovering from TB. The house was on 95th and Ellis. It used to be a neighborhood of jews, ukrainians, czechs, and other nationalities most of which were running from Europe and the Nazi's. It was a nice area.

In the late 60's and early 70's a lot of people moved up from the South to improve their living. Anything was better than dealing with the Jim Crow laws right? They bought into the middle class neighborhood because it was affordable.

During this time of transition my family was robbed 4 times and the neighborhood was going down. She hated to do it, but she sold the house and moved further out. This was during the time we call in Chicago 'the white flight.'

No one yelled 'racist' or 'genrification' then...wait a minute, that was our neighborhood too. Today, it is one of the hardest neighborhoods in Chicago. We used to call it terror town when I lived in Hyde Park. A white guy like me could not walk down the street without getting pounced on. It happened twice. (You think I would have learned the first time.)

I was part of this neighborhood at one time. Now, I can't even walk through it. So, do I care about gentrification...not really. It could be that some of the people buying property and improving the neighborhood were displaced from there in the first place.

So, I understand things about life and the irony. When we were displaced (inspite of being immigrants too)it is called 'white flight' and when other are displaced we have to find a better word in the dictionary and write dissertations on it.

Just consider the other sides for a minute.