Fans of Burke should know that Andrew Vachss has two new series- the hardboiled Cross and Crew books (Blackjack, Urban Renewal) and the newer Aftershock series, in which Dell and Dolly–a Legionnaire and a nurse with Medecins Sans Frontieres--make a new life in a bucolic Pacific northwest town with a seamy underbelly and a feckless D.A. In Aftershock, Dell and Dolly had to do the DA’s work for…
When Jay Desmarteaux walked out the gates of Rahway Prison, the sun hit his face like air on a fresh wound. The breeze smelled different, charged somehow. He had spent twenty-five years as a monk locked inside a dank Shaolin temple dedicated to violence and human predation, while the men who put him there lived free from fear.
Men who needed killing.
For the rest, you’ll have to wait until I find…
My god this is a FACT. I lived in a weird neighborhood once where I had a houseful of white frat boys on one corner, and a lot of young black men (that my friend called “neighborhood toughs”). Were they gang bangers? No freaking idea. One of them was always shouting for some girl named Rosalin to “Come down and just talk to me”. That’s it.
THEY weren’t the ones hassling me. THEY didn’t throw rocks, shoot beebee guns or harass me as I left my car at night.
I’m a white cis woman, and I am WAY more afraid of white dudes in groups than I am of anybody else.
There is no “Sweet Spot” for displacement:
A response to “Is Gentrification all Bad?” (NYMag 2/2/14)
Recently my film El Barrio Tours: Gentrification in East Harlem was featured in NYMag by reporter Justin Davidson, as part of a larger piece entitled: “Is Gentrification all Bad?”
The article, after a tour of some of NYC’s most rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods (including my own) concluded:
“Gentrification can nudge a neighborhood up the slope; decline can roll it off a cliff. Somewhere along that trajectory of change is a sweet spot, a mixed and humming street that is not quite settled or sanitized, where Old Guard and new arrivals coexist in equilibrium. The game is to make it last.”
It made me think… where in East Harlem is that sweet spot? Was it the Jorge Botanica owner being pushed from the storefront he’d occupied for 58 years along with 5 other small businesses? Claudio the barber moved after 60 years at his storefront?
Or maybe its the 1,400 tenants at risk after their affordable housing complex was put on the market for 500 million dollars just last week?
Gentrification = Development = Progress > Decline
Throughout the piece, “gentrification,” “development,” “progress” and ‘change” are used interchangeably. The opposite of these are viewed as decline.
Davidson’s argument: Sure, sometimes progress can happen too fast, but its better than the blight our city saw in the 70’s & 80’s. No one wants to go back to the Dark Days right? We should find some happy medium….
The “Dark Days”
For decades, politics in NYC have fed into the ever constant fear of returning to the “Dark Days.” Given the dope epidemic, crime, union manufacturing jobs headed south, redlining ending private investment in communities with more than 5% people of color, public disinvestment in the form of planned shrinkage, incentives like the GI Bill to move to the suburbs, highways to get you there there, and millions of black and Puerto Rican immigrants moving to NYC, those who could leave the city did. This process known as “White Flight,” took much of the cities tax base with it.
No Me Dejes!
City Hall has done much over the years to bring back the wealthy and ensure they never again flee NYC.
Through the 421A Tax abatement alone, NYC subsidizes luxury development to the tune of over 1 billion dollars a year.
Davidson presents an egalitarian view of the cities tax break for developers:
“all over the city, developers reap tax benefits by erecting luxury buildings and earmarking 20 percent of the apartments for renters who pay far less than their neighbors. A group of visiting developers from Mumbai was thunderstruck by that custom: They couldn’t imagine why well-off New Yorkers would voluntarily share their enclaves with the poor.”
However, the 80/20 policy was never intended to be a progressive affordable housing plan. It was a tax break given to luxury developers without precondition until 2007. When such a break was no longer politically tenable, the 20% of affordable units became a compromise to maintain the tax break.
Developers don’t even have to build the affordable units on site. The wealthiest luxury condo in NYC recently purchased credits to move their affordable 20% to the outskirts of the city. Do these breaks continue because white flight is still occurring? Do these breaks continue because developers and city government value income diversity? Or is it because the real estate industry is one of the biggest donors to NYC political campaigns?
Oddly enough, “income diversity” has been one of the most common arguments for gentrification from academia and the media.
Davidson extols Chelsea and the Upper West Side (UWS) as “sweet spots:”
“Chelsea and the Upper West Side—two of the wealthiest districts in the nation—still make room for low-income residents in NYCHA projects. “Those are neighborhoods where gentrification has been meaningfully tempered,” says Brooklyn city councilman Brad Lander, a staunchly progressive ally of Bill de Blasio’s.”
But this is revisionist history. The Upper West Side and Chelsea didn’t build projects because it fostered income diversity. Projects replaced the tenement slums of the mid 20th century and were built on some of the least desirable tracts of land the city had. You may see public housing behind Lincoln Center, but decades ago that neighborhood was Old San Juan Hill. Over 20,000 Latino families living there were displaced to build Lincoln Center (Full Video Here) Public Housing on 62nd and Amsterdam isn’t a treasured testament to income diversity, but all that remains after development went into hyperdrive.
It’s true that NYCHA is one of NYC’s last buffers against the complete gentrification. However, considering the closure of UWS community staple Big Nicks and average 1br apartments averaging over 3k a month, over 4k in Chelsea, if this gentrification is “tempered” where does that leave the 80% of New Yorkers making less than 70k a year? Or the 40% making less than 21k a year? What “Sweet Spot” is this even remotely close to?
And quite honestly, given the Upper West Side’s recent uproar over proposed homeless shelter on 95th street it does not sound like residents are jockeying for any more income “diversity.”
And that’s the shit that makes me mad.
Income “diversity” is a virtue in poor communities, not in wealthy ones. It was a virtue to bring in more diversity of income to my El Barrio when Bloomberg wanted to demolish community centers for luxury skyscrapers. But it’s never considered a virtue to bring in lower income residents into wealthy neighborhoods.
Why? Because in our city:
↑ Property Values = Progress
People sometimes ask why I’m still working on the issue of gentrification. When are you going to move on to doing something else? Each time I tell them this: to care about gentrification is to care about almost each socioeconomic and political problem that faces our city today.
Because whether it’s stop and frisk, education, sanitation, jobs etc: they all affect property value.
Better schools, police presence, cleaner streets= raises property values.
Public Housing, Section 8 housing= lowers property values.
Gentrification’s displacement comes from the rising value of land.
Of course, our communities want nice things, but we want them. The problem is, nice things raise land value. When land values rises, the only ones that benefit are the ones that own the land.
70% of New Yorkers Rent
93.6% of East Harlem residents Rent
So during gentrification, while the district “develops” so does the rent. Unless our paychecks also “progress,” 70% of NYC, or 93.6% of East Harlem, is eventually on its way out. In a city like NYC where there is no such thing as commercial rent regulation, small businesses are just as if not more susceptible to this “progress” in rent.
“Is development all bad?”
Of course, development isn’t all bad. Our communities have fought tooth and nail for nice things. Our communities rebuilt the South Bronx, East Harlem & Brooklyn after the city let them burn to the ground in the 70’s. Our communities are still littered with shuttered firehouses, closed, while our communities burned to the ground.
So do we want to return to the “Dark Days?” Of course not. But just as there was nothing natural about planned shrinkage, there is nothing natural about warehoused walkups that still litter miles of city blocks as we live through the worst homeless crisis in our city since the Great Depression. There is nothing natural about the city sponsored gentrification we are seeing today.
Make it Plain
Development doesn’t have to cause displacement. But gentrification, by definition does. Using “gentrification” & “development” interchangeably frames opposition to gentrification as opposition to progress.
Opponents of gentrification are not against progress: we’re against “progress” defined by the removal of the poor and working class. There is no “sweet spot” for displacement.
Solving the Problem
Solving gentrification isn’t seeing what can we get from someone else’s plan, and how many tax breaks we have to give away to keep it from disappearing. Solving gentrification requires taking control of our resources, of our land, making a plan and then, developing.
As Maria Poblet says, “Gentrification is not natural. Displacement is not inevitable. Everyday people, when we come together, can change the course of history.”
There are many alternatives to gentrification, here are just a few:
Community Land Trusts
Subsidies for Neighborhood Small Business instead of outside multinational developers
Increasing our Supply of Public Housing
Keeping the Public in Public Housing
For more on what you can do:
5 things you can do to stop gentrification in NYC
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This Be The VerseThey fuck you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do. They fill you with the faults they had And add some extra, just for you. But they were fucked up in their turn By fools in old-style hats and coats, Who half the time were soppy-stern And half at one another’s throats. Man hands on misery to man. It deepens like a…
I say “so-called” because I do not believe that the Koran in any way supports the subhuman conduct some bizarrely call “honor rape" any more than I believe that the Bible supports the brutalizing of women. (Of course, a collection of so-called ”Christians" would have us believe it demands all manner of perversions, including this creature’s claim that the Bible supports the death penalty for children.)
Most underpinnings of rape culture are not so overt. How many juries have decided an accused rapist’s guilt or innocence based on the attire or occupation of the victim? Why is virtually all “rape porn” designed to show that “she really wanted it all along?” How many people insist that “a handsome man would never stoop to raping an ugly woman”? How many secretly believe that any underage male student victimized by a female teacher is someone who “got lucky?”
Even attempts to measure the infusion of rape myths into our culture can have the effect of creating those myths. Consider this:
Race and prior victimization did not appear to affect the general acceptance or rejection of rape myths among this sample of college women. It is interesting to note that although most women in the sample rejected the rape myths, one rape myth received an unusual degree of support. This myth is the following:
"One reason that women falsely report a rape is that they frequently have a need to call attention to themselves.”
-Carmody and Washington, “Rape Myth Acceptance among College Women,” 16 Journal of Interpersonal Violence 424, 432 (2001).
Other rape myths examined in this study were accurately isolated and clearly presented, (for example: "Women who dress provocatively are asking to be raped.") But, in the excerpt above, which part of the convoluted statement is the “one rape myth?” Is it that women falsely report rapes? Or that women do so “frequently?” Or, perhaps, that women who "falsely" and "frequently" report a non-existent rape do so out of a "need to call attention to themselves?” The plain reading of that statement is that women falsely report rapes, and that they do so “frequently.” The only question presented is whether they do so because they “have a need to call attention to themselves.” Unable to ask for clarification, the respondents had only their own interpretation of the statement to react to, making their responses to the statement useless. Worse, the myth that “women falsely report rape frequently” may have been unwittingly propagated to some respondents.
It’s time to acknowledge that a rape culture exists, not just in "other places," but here in our own country. We don’t have “honor rape,” but plenty of American judges believe rape victims “ask for it.”
© 2013 Andrew Vachss. All rights reserved.