Monday, May 19, 2008


Three years ago I got the idea that it might be possible to stave off the loss of community by distributing information, including full and detailed analysis of policies governing what's happening here. That was LES Residents for Responsible Development, dedicated to anti-displacement in Loisaida.

I had hoped to measure the success of lesrrd by the participation of the community, but that hasn't happened. Instead, I succeeded in antagonizing a handful of community board members.

I have no idea whether those CB policy-makers mean well or ill -- I cannot see into their hearts. I know only that they mistook criticism for subversion to such an extent that one of them wrote that I "had to be neutralized" merely for raising just the kinds of questions that everyone should ask of their policy-makers. Talk about overreacting.

Aside from the unpleasantness of being a lone independent voice, being lied to and being lied about, there's just nothing left of the marginal, alternative, burnt-out, sparsely populated, multi-ethnic community I was drawn to thirty years ago. The block I live on, and the blocks around it, are solidly, comfortably, prosperously middle-class now. I guess that's great for the middle-class, but it's not what I moved here for thirty years ago -- it's what I moved here to get away from.

I'm not whining. Don't get me wrong. There are lots of fine, intelligent, charming middle-class people. And even though the transient NYU population has raised real estate values and rents and rent ceilings and undermined most of the affordable and regulated housing here, the students themselves are bright, lively, serious and decent on the whole. And the neighborhood continues to attract an interesting couple here and there. I am not so pleased with those whom Jeremiah Moss (of Jeremiah's Vanishing New York blog, see the blogroll) calls "yunnies" -- young urban narcissists. If they are interesting, they've cleverly succeeded in hiding it.

But Loisaida is gone. A few years ago a Latino friend from the old days reappeared in Tompkins Square Park having just finished a jail sentence for drug possession -- a strong, smart, optimistic, independent, genuine stand-up kind of guy whose most serious crime was not being white and being something of a street person. Years ago, street life was far more communal than it is now and homelessness was a more fluid state -- there were many abandoned apartments, people often floated from space to space, lived among friends, moved from situation to situation untroubled by absentee slumlords who didn't know to care or care to know.

My friend, now, was visibly ill with hepatitis C. The state had given him a fully subsidized apartment somewhere in Brooklyn. He'd left it to be homeless here in the park, despite his illness.

I asked why. He explained that this is a mixed neighborhood; it always was a mixed neighborhood. He didn't want to live in a ghetto. He jonesed for the mix.

Well, some folks like the mix, others like the ghetto, white, black, yellow or brown. There's value in each. A city can have them all. A city should have them all.

Loisaida had the mix, but it's being snowed under and there's no stopping the storm.

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