Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Dirty "G" Word

We at BoogieDowner were shocked to find out that not everybody loves us (gasp)! I know, I know, what’s not to love? Well, apparently according to one Bronx dissenter named Syd, we’re basically the anti-Christ out to ruin all that is good in the BoogieDown.

Here are some excerpts of Syd’s passionate, although arguably not quite so eloquent, thoughts:

My basic point to this site...you are ruining the bronx with this "oh look look at the poor people, look they can't afford half of the stuff on this site we are highlighting but her WE CAN. Look what we found, cheap rent and CULTURE. Yay since we washed it alllll out of Brooklyn" please do nyc a favor, leave the bronx ALONE to US people who call it HOME…

It is wonderful that you spend your time cleaning the river and tutoring kids, really, it is. However, once you and the middle/upper class make your way back into the neighborhood and thus raise the cost of living, property value, you won't have to worry about tutoring anyone and your river will be nice, hey maybe the city will even spring for pier. Now THAT would be nice.


For your information, people are still proud to say they are form the Bronx beyond the "middle class" that once was. You are clearly not realizing your privilege in this situation, assuming you are helping people when you are part of the problem. And for the record, I am a white Latina, educated, and finishing a masters degree so do not talk to me as if I am some disgruntled person who is one upset over something that is "inevitable" and who can not possibly see the good in your after work/weekend hobbies. Trust most people born in nyc are used to change. I know that changes are cyclical and people move in and out of neighborhoods. My point is that this time around there is really nowhere else for people who can't afford high price rents to go. A lot of families I have known for years, and by the way, families that were never considered poor, hard working people are struggling not to lose their homes. I don't really expect you to understand.

You see, I have had this conversation before with people such as yourself, you really see the good in what you are doing. Historically, residents in most places that have be considered ghettos, slums, "poor" are of COURSE glad to see new business, half of the people in these neighborhoods immigrated or ended up here seeking an American dream so when they get an artificial slice of it, it feels good. But do you think they know about housing laws and how they are changing, and how rent control is being de-stablized or how landlords are gaining more and more control over how much they can raise rents....when you move in and can pay even just a bit more than the people in the neighborhood, then it affects that landlords ability to charge more in general. I'm sure you know that since this is your job right? Buy places in poor places and wait for the neighborhood to get better.


So on this day of the Vice Presidential debate when we’ll all be fired up as hell and in the fighting spirit, we decided to take this opportunity to talk about the dirty “G” word: gentrification.

Let’s put this right out there in the open: Yes, we are white. We moved to the Bronx from Brooklyn a year and a half ago mostly due to the affordability of the residential real estate, as well as our familiarity with the borough from attending Fordham. We own a co-op in Bedford Park, and have therefore made an investment in the community. Like any sane person, we would like to see a reasonable return on that investment.

This is where people seem to be getting confused about our motives. While the majority of feedback we’ve been getting from readers about the site is overwhelmingly positive, there also seem to be those who are harboring feelings such as Syd that we are evil yuppies who are hell bent on gentrifying the Bronx and essentially turning it into Brooklyn.

We think it’s a little unfair that because we are white and because we are trying to change the public relations perception of the Bronx, we are seen as a detriment to the borough. We're cheerleaders, not economic and cultural imperialists. We’re focused on good PR for the Bronx, which we see as a win-win for everyone in the borough. We just don't think the Bronx should get a bad rap in the media just because back in the 70s and 80s Howard Cosell declared “The Bronx is Burning.”

Guess what? The rest of NYC was not in such great shape either. In fact, during that woeful period for NYC in the late 70s, and in particular during the violence and insanity of the blackout of 1977 which became a symbol for the era, the worst problems were in other boroughs. Hello – Bushwick looting and riots? But for some reason the stigma of danger, crime, and urban blight has managed to stick with the BoogieDown, while the images of other boroughs have fully bounced back.

We are not trying to emulate Brooklyn hipster barbarism. After all, once we outgrow our current apartment, we want to still be able afford to land another home in the Bronx. We really just want to show people that there are affordable housing options for people who do not make a quarter million dollars a year, have the benefit of a trust fund, or live a life heavily subsidized by a Mom and Dad back in Minnesota. New York shouldn’t be a city accessible only to millionaires or NYCHA residents.

At best, our household income could be described as “middle class,” which is why we were promptly run right out of Brooklyn when we tried to buy a place. So you’ll notice we do beat up on Brooklyn quite a bit here on the BoogieDowner. We tease, deride and generally mock Brooklyn real estate insanity and media attention, but not because we’re jealous or want to turn the Bronx into Brooklyn. More accurately, we have Brooklyn in our crosshairs because making fun of Brooklyn is a great way to get positive attention for the Bronx. We’re like a peacock showing its tail feathers trying to woo some male-peacock-NYC media’s carnal attraction away from Brooklyn.

We at the BoogieDowner believe that the Bronx is so different and unique in that it is currently undergoing a healthy revitalization, not wholesale gentrification and displacement. Read more about this theory in one of our prior posts.

So we’re sorry if highlighting great real estate deals offends some people (we actually think an apartment that is snatched up quickly is much better for the Bronx economy than one that sits vacant for six months), or if highlighting the SBX Film Festival this weekend, or reminding folks that there’s a public hearing on the development plans for the Kingsbridge Armory tonight, are seen as signs of gentrification, but we firmly believe that trying to bring the Bronx community together and change our public image through highlighting all the good things that are happening here is a good thing for all concerned.

Gentrification is a dirty word, and we don’t talk dirty here at BoogieDowner. We’re talking about a change in image, a change in branding of a borough, a resurgence of a decent middle-class option and a revitalization of a proud and confident Bronx.

While we're on the topic, here's a great article by Jay McInerney on the history of gentrification in NYC from New York magazine's most recent issue.

Let the comments begin!

*Image courtesy of www.maxfactor-cosmetics.com*

~ErLu

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

If wanting affordable homes, more retails and decent neighborhoods is gentrification then I say bring it on.

Let the gentrification begin.

As a black female with a middle income household I see no problem with the improvements in the bronx and with this blog highlighting those improvements.

Anonymous said...

Keep on going BoogieDowner you are doing a great service to The Bronx. Each post you create will be found and replace the over the top negative image of The Bronx.

Anonymous said...

"Gentrification" has become as dirty a word as "liberal." Maybe what we need is a contest to come up with a word that means improving a neighborhood, not by driving out those who live there and replacing them with the more affluent, but by mobilizing the current residents to do it themselves. That would solve the problem and get rid of the blame game.

Anonymous said...

Syd calls herself, "a white Latina, educated, and finishing a masters degree." I'm not sure how much different her educated, presumably middle-income (or upper-income, I don't know what kind of master's she's getting!) effect on the Bronx is any less detrimental than the BoogieDowner's. Black, white or Latina you can all pay the same amount of rent, right? Am I missing something? Syd, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Good God, both you and your opponent are WHINING. In terms of long term success, it would be for the best if New York City became as hostile to non-productive occupiers (anyone on public assistance, pretty much) as possible, driving hopefully most of them out to the suburbs or, preferably, distant states. We need an all-out war on the poor. This will be the only way to bring the middle class back into the city. Without this, the current New York wave of 'gentrification' is nothing more than a brief party on the way to inevitable Detroitization.

Vince said...

Yes, indeed, we need to do something about all of the poor people in the bronx. Raising wages and bringing in more and better paying jobs would be a start.

I think commenter #3 has the right idea: don't try to improve a neighborhood by importing wealthier residents; it's better to try to increase the wealth and prosperity of those who already live there.

I know this isn't easy -- e.g. I'd bet its easier to find investors for new condos than for new local businesses -- but I think its a good way to approach and embrace the kinds of changes that are happening here and in other boroughs.

Anonymous said...

Comment #1 is a fake. Black people don't read "blogs"

Yojimbot said...

I have been addressing this very issue on http://harlemhybrid.blogspot.com

People love to shoot the messenger, but the fact is, Gentrification is a complicated issue that run a range from great to horrible. That's why Ive introduced the Gentrification-o-meter. See my blog for details. Keep on keepin' on!

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 10:26am on Oct 3...shut up. You sound very ignorant.

I stand by my anon# 3 comment.

Eddie said...

Syd, you need a major grip on reality. As an educated white latino from Melrose, I am deeply offended by your statements. I live in what is known as the poorest of the districts of the United States and we here are experiencing billions of dollars in real estate and development which is NOT pushing out the poor but is currently successfully integrating the existing populations with the new comers purchasing the condos. You should come here to Melrose and see what gentrification is all about in the bronx. that's why we are more successful at it than the other boroughs for we're not alienating others who already live here but are welcoming them to join in.

Anonymous said...

as a young, white, teacher living in the bronx, i have struggled with these issues. on one hand, i love living in the bronx, not only for its incredible affordability,but because all of the different cultures i am exposed to on a daily basis. things here are so vibrant and unpretentious. i like challenging and crossing racial barriers by living here, but on the other hand... i sometimes wonder if my presence as a white person in an overwhelmingly non-white neighborhood is somehow perceived as a threat? am i supposed to just move to williamsburg to live with trust fund hipsters just because im a young white college grad?

as the perception of the bronx improves, and dare i say, if the bronx actually reaches the point where it is considered a desirable place to live... is it inevitable that it will become "white washed" or yuppified?

can eddie explain more about this integrating sort of gentrification he has mentioned?

Eddie from the Bronx said...

To the Young White Teacher,
Well very briefly (or as brief as i can be!) it all started with a project developed by local activists called Nos Quedamos/We Stay which fought the city about 15 yrs ago on a masterplan to reorganize Melrose/The Hub into a predominantly middle and upper middle class enclave. Nos Quedams/We Stay advocated on behalf of the majority of the people who stayed here during the worst of the years where we suffered through violent crimes and drug use openly on the streets as well as drug dealings...
Now what the group has done along with the bloomberg administration is to incorporate lower class people right next to middle class people under one roof as well as buidings side by side. On East 156th Street and Melrose you have a relatively new building which is mostly lower income to middle income working families, on the same block on elton and 156th st a new building is going up again for lower income and middle income and one block down on 3rd ave on 156th you have the Orion Condominium with a partime doorman which is now occupied and i believe fully sold and it's sister rental building right across the street which is about 75% complete called the Dorado.
I have friends from the city who visit me and they are mostly white who visit me and I live in the heart of Melrose and they never have a problem or feel out of place in a big way while walking from the subway towards my place, in fact they say they are surprised at the friendliness...but if you want to feel a little less out of place and more welcomed to the neighborhood, just try smiling and and nodding your head and say hello...you'll be surprised at how polite and kind the people are...if they see you closed up and staring at the ground, well human nature being what it is will have people maybe react a little more negatively because you are excluding yourself from the "conversation" of the neighborhood...

Guywithacause said...

I am very late to this thread but it would not be complete without my 2 cents (of course). Where to start!

1-I presume this "white Latina finishing a Masters degree" will be staying in the Bronx? And since she will no doubt have a higher income than the vast majority of residents, she will clearly have the same "detrimental" effect on the poor in the area as these "evil gentrifiers" correct? Seems hypocritical..unless of course only whites are "evil gentrifiers"..but wait..she is a "white" latina..so theoretically she qualifies as the same thing she abhors. Unless of course she is planning to take her masters degree and rent a room for $400 a month in Morrisania, she too will be the supposed "gentrifier."

2-The fact remains that there are only a VERY few people who are genuinely afraid of being priced out of the Bronx, and the vast majority are overwhelmingly happy to see the new investment and faces. The poor are very well insulated in section 8 housing and housing projects,with ridiculously strong Tenant protections..they are not going anywhere any time soon, and neither is their rent rising anytime soon (to any significance that is). So they get the benefits of an improved, safer neighborhood with more amenities, without the cost. Yeah...they hate that!

3-Since everyone else on here is presumably an "educated white Latino/a", I will say I am too, and a 3rd generation Woodstock resident as well. The old timers in the community, those that came in the 50s and 60s when the neighborhoods were full of Jews/Italians/Irish, are in fact HAPPY to see the new white faces and all the improvements in the community. The reaction they have is "what took you so long to come back" and "Oh I remember when this neighborhood was all white"..not "why are you here." The ONLY ones asserting the "why are you here" are the younger kids who have never known whites in the neighborhood, and typically have no interaction with any at all. They are simply ignorant and young, nothing more, nor representative of anything or any group other than kids.

Guywithacause said...

4-What is occurring in the Bronx, especially the Southern Bronx, is NOT gentrification, it is in fact a revitalization. It was local Bronx activists and community organizations that saved the Bronx and laid the groundwork for the improvements we see today, NOT outside interests. Furthermore, almost ALL of the housing, rental and sales, are targeted towards the working/middle income groups, those that are too rich to live in the rest of the city, and too poor to qualify for assistance...the most neediest group and the ones that are leaving in droves. The Bronx has historically been the middle/working class enclave for the city, and the city and community are working towards being that enclave again, with housing and amenities to serve that population. And because so much of the housing is already full of the poor in the form of section 8 housing and housing projects, they are not going anywhere and in fact part of the renaissance, which cannot be said for most other areas of the city enjoying a similar renaissance.

The reality of Syds comment is simple, she is ignorant and a racist. If one wants to make an argument for gentrification in the Bronx..look in the mirror "white educated Latina", because THOSE are the people who are moving enmasse and raising rents for everyone else in the borough, NOT whites. Middle class people of color are moving into the Bronx in droves, as are substantial immigrants of color that are working 2 jobs to pay rent and raise their families, putting pressure on the rest of the poorer Bronx residents, NOT whites. So if there is any group to blame, it is your own, and you as an "educated white Latina" are exactly the "problem" in the Bronx...at least according to you.

Please disregard her comments, as they are just nonsense spread by a misguided individual with no knowledge of what is ACTUALLY happening in the Bronx, and what groups are ACTUALLY making the changes and improvements in the borough.

I, along with the vast majority of people, are happy to see all the changes, new faces, amenities, and improvements in the quality of life. And in fact, many of us are jumping on board and becoming a part of making this borough even better. Too bad this "educated white Latina" chooses to blame whites for the plight of her friends/family/community...you can choose to be a part of the solution, or play the blame game. I know which side I am on...do you?

former new yorker said...

It's funny how white people always feel entitled to do whatever they want to, and feel that their presence is a special gift for the people who aren't benefiting from the system of privilege that they so enjoy. Growing up without the "other" status tacked onto your back has allowed you to roam freely with not a hint of how your cultural baggage is knocking about in other people's space.

In the earlier to mid 20th century, "integrated neighborhoods" are what happened in the time period between the first black person moving in and the last white person moving out. Today it is reversed but not really different, other than the fact that people of lower incomes sometimes don't have anywhere else to go and end up two or three families to an apartment. If you think that your cultural and economic privileges will not run people in that borough down you are SORELY mistaken. Only when your neighborhood begins to resemble a middle american suburb without lawns (which it will in a few years) will you realize that you are not entitled to having your lust for a culturally dynamic living space fulfilled.

You want to really help the Bronx? Start a movement to help change the way that taxes are distributed in this country so that the low income people who live there (or in other less HIP ghettos) wont be SCREWED when they are once again isolated into impoverished areas.

You want to do the world a favor? Go back to the suburbs and tutor kids of YOUR OWN cultural and economic background. Speak from your privilege about your privilege, to people who will be growing into the same challenges that you have been through. Incorporate anti-racist principles and teach them about how having an impoverished expendable labor force (i.e. people who are the descendants of slaves or people who moved here from countries experiencing neo-colonialism) is a necessary component of the system they will be rising into, neo-liberal capitalism. Challenge them to stay where they are, honor where they came from, and find empowerment through solving the problems of their community THEMSELVES, as those who fled The Bronx for greener pastures mistakenly did not do years ago, and as those who are fleeing middle America for the glamorous urban life are mistakenly not doing now.

Gentrification is not that complicated: it is colonization. Once YOU are priced out of your neighborhood, or evicted in the name of a corporate eminent domain scheme a la Atlantic Yards, you will understand that. It is the same thing that caucasians did to Native Americans - pushed them off of their land. This time around it might be happening through a broker instead of the barrel of a gun, and residents might be being thrown into prison instead of being straight up shot, but the fact that you don't have to do the dirty work doesn't mean that it is any less wrong. Sitting down with a group of neighborhood kids and teaching them the great white way just doesn't make you a hero.

You know what is really awesome in about the Bronx? It has been an amazing cultural epicenter a few times over, and all in the face of being one of the most economically neglected places in America. Mambo, Salsa, Graffiti, Hip Hop.. all amazing things that went global after being nurtured in the boogie down. I challenge you to go back to your hometown and create YOUR OWN culture, with whatever it is that you already have. That's what people have done in The Bronx, because most of them didn't have the mobility resources to conveniently move to wherever they wanted to and leach off of the culture that was there before them. Do you really take pride in the fact that you have had to pay for your new culture and identity with cash instead of simply letting it manifest through your existence? I wouldn't.