None of the local bloggers have bothered to draw attention to the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors' effort to preserve the Bowery with its historical exhibit On the Bowery. Instead, they focus on the easy, appealing, fun irony of the exhibit's venue. Irony and complaining or action, which is the value? The former are the easy choice. Isn't irony the yuppie generation's favorite mode and complaining their favorite voice? I grew up in the crude 60's, when activism had no irony.
Having complained about and ridiculed in writing the Chrystie-Avalon complex in which Whole Foods is housed, I am sensitive to the irony of curating an exhibit promoting Bowery preservation in the very place where Bowery gentrification began. The venue was not my choice. I consented to design it because it was a benefit for the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors, the only group that was active in preserving the Bowery, as distinct from the many who complain about gentrification and do nothing. (Recently other community organizations have joined BAN actively, notably Two Bridges.)
I've been working with BAN since its inception, surveying the Bowery, researching, schmoozing political office-holders, writing documentation, and now, creating an exhibit. A show at Whole Foods, with it high volume of local patrons, makes it an ideal venue for exposure. And it's in a public space that is frequented by Bowery locals -- not just shoppers (though the complainers won't know that because they are too caught in their own political correctness to recognize the urban nature of public space that real, ordinary, truly local people use). The irony of the venue seems so much less significant to me than the fact that so many people will see this exhibit and will learn not just the forgotten history of the Bowery, but also the preservation struggle, which is the thrust of the exhibit.
So while I am conscious of irony in the choice of venue, I am amused and disappointed in the unanimous blog response to the exhibit, focusing on that irony while completely ignoring that the exhibit is an important step in raising awareness of the Bowery to protect it. I appreciate that local news media concern themselves with maintaining their profile before their audience, and the hook of an irony has a much higher profile than the dull fare of asking the audience to get active -- it's so much easier to complain about gentrification than actually do something about it.
If any one of the EV bloggers had bothered to investigate the Bowery exhibit at Whole Foods, that blogger would have found that the direction and point of the exhibit is preservation. Sure, there's a grand historical narrative, and lots of intriguing characters and surprising stories, but the preservation point is doubly reinforced, clearly explained in text and graphic image.
This SaveTheLowerEastSide blog has always been focused on action and policy information, to give people the information needed to act. There have been digressions on history and occasional complaints, mostly about obstructive local politics, and occasional complaints about losses to the neighborhood. But it's mostly been about getting active -- going to a CB3 meeting, signing on to an open letter or legislative testimony -- or information explaining the technicalities of zoning or the liquor license laws. (It has been quiet on this blog lately, not because I have been inactive, but because I've been working closely on the Chinatown process, and I don't feel it appropriate to kiss-and-tell, on the one hand, and on the other, I don't want to jeopardize such an important community process.)
To me, the bloggery 'irony' response to the Bowery exhibit seems cheap -- superficial and irrelevant, self-serving and masturbatory. If the designer of the exhibit has to be the only blogger out there to tell people that BAN IS STRUGGLING TO PRESERVE THE BOWERY with, among other events, an exhibit at Whole Foods for the preservation of the Bowery as part of BAN's work to preserve the oldest and most richly historic street in New York -- then I'll be that only blogger.
The lament has a distinguished literary precedent. I admire it and appreciate it as a record. But I'm an activist. Maybe that makes me blunt, even crude. My repertory of tactics is limited to vocal criticism. It always gets me in trouble. So here it is: our LES bloggers are full of complaints that aren't helpful.
We're trying to save the Bowery,
while you are playing with yourselves,
my dear friends.
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