Wednesday, July 25, 2007

DEBATE AT LOLITA BAR: "Is Gentrification Good?" (plus music of the 80s and Seaveys of 1631 A.D.)

tibbie-x.jpg VS. faragher-pic.jpg

Punk singer Tibbie X argues that gentrification is a blessing, while acrophobic tall-building-hater Aliza Faragher tells her to get out of town.
Wednesday, August 1, at 8pm (free admission, cash bar, beloved a.c.).
Basement level of Lolita Bar at 266 Broome St. at the corner of Allen St. on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, one block south and three west of the Delancey St. F, J, M, Z subway stop.
I, Todd Seavey, shall host (AND THIS TIME WE DRINK IN HONOR OF MY BIRTHDAY) and Michel Evanchik will moderate.
The Case Against Jersey City
One town, by the way, that could perhaps use an influx of more “elite” residents is Jersey City, where dwells my girlfriend, Koli (you can read her recent comments about feminism below my “Brief Statement of Principles”). I’m not saying Koli isn’t part of the elite, but her mayor, Jerramiah Healy, by contrast, was arrested for drunkenly brawling with cops outside a bar. Healy says he was merely intervening in a fight between other patrons, but the fact that cops felt obliged to mace him — something one does to the mayor only on rare occasions — makes me wonder.
As if that weren’t enough, Jersey City is also sometimes said to have been part of the inspiration for crime-filled Gotham City from Batman comic books (though Gotham City’s name comes from a nickname for nearby — and way cooler — New York City).
And just days ago, an abandoned rocket launcher was found on a lawn in JC, causing some alarm. The big fear, of course, is Middle Eastern terrorists, but I can think of at least one Canadian worth questioning — Bruce Cockburn. I think Cockburn looks a little like a cross between Reason editor Brian Doherty and World Party lead singer Karl Wallinger, which makes a certain amount of political sense.
The Case for More 80s Music Videos
But if all that seems too political (and I notice a link to a Ron Paul video on the World Party page, coincidentally), try watching this decidedly fluffier 80s video instead — the only duet, to my knowledge, by Falco and Brigitte Nielsen. Maybe it is possible for something to be too 80s, absurd as that may sound.
Then again, I miss having Road Warrior-type goons in every other video — and on that front, let me note that I am probably the only person on the planet whose favorite Tina Turner song is the other song — not “We Don’t Need Another Hero” — that she did for the third Mad Max movie: “One of the Living” — and clearly I’m being objective (not just picking it because it was in a timeless, fantastic sci-fi movie) or else I would have picked the one song she did with the Fixx. Having recently concluded I can do a decent Geddy Lee in karaoke, it may next be time to add Tina’s “One of the Living” to the repertoire — and I mean without becoming a drag queen. As for the Fixx, repeated attempts have convinced me they don’t work well for karaoke purposes, but then, do bar crowds really want to see me acting like this onstage? And I may not have the thumbs for it anyway.
Speaking of Music and the Gentry
It is fitting perhaps, though an astonishing surprise, that a member of my favorite eighteenth-century-themed novelty rock band, the Upper Crust (you must hear “Highfalutin’” — not that I’m saying I don’t love such numbers as “Let Them Eat Rock” and “Rabble Rouser”) — whose whereabouts I was investigating online — has become the head of the history library at my college, Brown. You wouldn’t think mild-looking history Ph.D. and librarian Edward L. Widmer was also “Lord Rockingham” of the Upper Crust, but so it is (I have rarely been so pleased by rock band onstage banter as I was hearing one of his bandmates saying, “I must second Lord Rockingham’s diatribe”).
(I will have to explain more fully in October why invoking history in order to mock it for pop purposes is quintessentially Brown — that’s when I plan to begin my forty-week-long overview of the past twenty years of my politico-philosophical development, and that means entering Brown at the beginning and writing a book manuscript at the end, one that will resolve all outstanding political conflicts, including the ones mentioned in those Koli comments linked above. Stay tuned.)
Would that Brown always attracted people (like me) with a great fondness for the eighteenth century, with its combination of pomp and rationalism — and would that more rock bands would mix elements of punk and the Enlightenment (at least Adam Ant gets the idea, as in this, my favorite rock video of all time — would, finally, that I could live in this video).
Brown, Red, and Green
Instead, Brown often produces progressives and revolutionaries, including (from my era) organizing secretary of the Communist Party USA, Libero Della Piana — who was quoted recently in the New York Post, ironically enough, talking about how the West 23rd St. New York City hq of the Communist Party of New York State has become a highly valuable rental property (“Reds Earn Green,” as the Post puts it). Maybe the economy is unjust.
An ex-girlfriend of mine mentioned that she once played Monopoly with Libero back when he was at Brown (her best friend was Libero’s girlfriend at the time, as it happens), so maybe that was a portent of real estate deals to come (for other odd real estate stories, check out Diary of a Real Estate Rookie by Alison Rogers, who just happens to be married to DC Comics’ Ivan Cohen).
Seavey: Since 1631
My own (very extended) family’s claim to land in America, by the way, apparently dates back to 1631 — which, coincidentally, I have just learned was the date when William Seavey arrived in New England (where my parents, energetic ninetysomething paternal grandmother, and other relatives live today), a mere eleven years after the Pilgrims (though on this, the 400th anniversary of the founding of the explicitly capitalist settlement of Jamestown, it may be time to end once and for all this fawning devotion to those Johnny-come-latelies of 1620, the Pilgrims). William was charged with building the first church in Plymouth (prayer meetings before that having taken place in homes), apparently, and if he’d known he’d have an atheist descendant four hundred years later, he probably would have wanted that descendant put in the stocks.
But the upshot of this bit of historical trivia is that if gentrification is determined to be bad at our debate next week, and thus longtime residents have a moral right to keep out newcomers, I’m going to have to politely ask that you all get the hell out of my family’s neighborhood (except for the few of you reading this who are Native Americans, Mayflower family members, or descendants of Sasquatch).


Christopher said...

Very odd connections here. William L. Widmer is the son of Eric Widmer, who was dean of admissions and financial aid in the late-80’s and early 90’s at Brown. Before that, Eric W. worked on late imperial Chinese history. I know his former wife, Ellen Widmer, who works on late imperial Chinese fiction. Eric W. also happened to get his BA at Williams College, where I currently teach.

After he left Brown he became headmaster at Deerfield prep school for many years, before leaving to become headmaster at King’s Academy in Jordan (aka Deerfield in the desert) started by King Abdullah, who went to Deerfield as a boy.

Todd Seavey said...

And do you know whether “your” Widmers are related to Upper Crust/John Carter Brown Library’s Edward (“Ted”/”Lord Rockingham”) Widmer? It would be most distressing for Lord Rockingham’s lineage to be in doubt.

Christopher said...

Sorry, I wrote “William L. Widmer” when I indeed meant “Edward L. Widmer” (aka Lord Rockingham).

Jason Bontrager said...

Well if gentrification is bad, then what about the poor peoples who were invaded by the people that our ancestors invaded over? You’d have to go back through several waves of invasion to find the first wave of human settlers in the Americas, and I suspect that they don’t have a lot of descendents wandering around anymore.

Amelia Bedelia said...

My understanding of gentrification is that it doesn’t involve the use of force. It’s not a coup; just owners fixing things up and marketing properties to higher-income renters and buyers.

If poor people owned their own homes, they’d love gentrification and the rising property values it brings. (But then they wouldn’t be poor, would they? Erk.)

Cory Neale said...

As a resident of Philadelphia, I have to fight the forces of gentrification here. Known as “The Sixth Borough” in some circles, Philadelphia properties are advertised in NY as a viable alternative to NY living costs. Having lived here all my life, and seeing the cycling of flight/reinvestment here, I feel gentrification only serves to strip neighborhoods of their identities and homogenize the populace by income, disregarding the culture. To me, some of the greatest places in Philadelphia, and New York City Metro area as well, are not great because they are “rich”. They are great because of the identity established by residents and businesses, the stronghold ones that give character. That’s what bring value to a city, not property values.

Amelia Bedelia said...

I feel gentrification only serves to strip neighborhoods of their identities and homogenize the populace by income, disregarding the culture.

Were they not homogenously *poorer* before?

Is there something cultureless about middle-class or wealthy people?

Cory said...

The gentrifying force can not judge what is better or worse if objectivity is used in evaluating the outcome. These neighborhoods are homogenously “poorer” before gentrification if one chooses to define the term “wealth” in monetary terms, rather than cultural terms. That distinction is important, and the result is unfortunate.

Gentrification’s force does not come from guns. It comes from the presumption that those with monetary wealth somehow “know” what’s better for a neighborhood, rather than the indigenous residents feeling safe and empowered to shape their own environment, no matter what their income level. Provide any of these “poor” neighborhoods with the same services that wealthy ones have: police protection, clean open space, economic opportunity and credit, good schools, Hope, and you will find vibrancy of wealth that is not dependent upon the median income of the indigenous residents, but upon their cultural values. But those services only come to those places with high tax bases, discounting the value of the cultures that lie suppressed within a “poor” neighborhood. The wealthy have chosen money as the battle weapon crafted to their own ways, leaving those without, without a voice because there is no monetary wealth behind their wants and needs. I fear our grandchildren may very well only experience these interesting and culturally diverse neighborhoods through books as some sort of novelty, rather than being able to walk the streets and see the people, feel the emotion, hear the music, and taste the food first-hand.

Amelia Bedelia said...

I fear my grandchildren may very well only experience clean, wealthy, educated and safe neighborhoods through books as some sort of novelty, rather than being able to walk through the streets without risk of getting shot or mugged, and to see the people, feel the emotion, hear the music, and taste the food first-hand.

But lucky you, Cory — you’ve got your vibrant, diverse, edgy and “real” neighborhood to come home to. Why even give a thought to anyone wealthier? You’ve got heaven on Earth right there!

Provide any of these “poor” neighborhoods with the same services that wealthy ones have: police protection,

I couldn’t agree more. But then you get (some) residents complaining about the intrusive, bullying police presence. The police are damned if they do and damned if they don’t….

clean open space,

Actually, there’s a lot of open space — okay, some would call it a wasteland — in poor areas located outside of cities. It doesn’t seem to have much transformational power.

economic opportunity and credit,

Exactly how much have you doled out in high-risk loans lately? People don’t have an inalienable right to borrow stuff, though I’m definitely pulling for those who have demonstrated a good work ethic and an eagerness to move up in the world.

good schools,

See “School Vouchers” — which will help smart and ambitious kids move out of the more, er, behaviorally diverse schools that the government is now restricting them to.

Hope, and you will find vibrancy of wealth that is not dependent upon the median income of the indigenous residents, but upon their cultural values.

I’m going to let you in on something my mother once told me: *Misfortune doesn’t always elevate people.* All this Dickensian romanticising of the poor has its roots in the twin evils of wishful thinking and middle-class guilt. Some poor people are wondeful, honest folks with cultural values that I might care about. Others are not. (Same goes for wealthy people, whom you seem to hold categorically in contempt.) So while I wish people in poor neighborhoods no ill will — and in fact I sincerely hope the law abiding citizens among them will escape to far less “interesting” neighborhoods as soon as is humanly and financially possible — I’m content to live in my uniformly safe, uniformly educated, perhaps “dull” little neck of the woods.

Eric S Gregory said...

You certainly have a lot of “girlfirends.”

Eric S Gregory said...

Apologies–trigger happy.