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February 18, 2004

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"Should they be able to fight the onslaught of progressive-minded barbarians at the gate, or is that Un-American?"

Ooooh, good question. And a little pointless. This is not a reversible trend. Ask Jeremiah. Ask Cicero. Ask Tom Friedman.

And to be really offensive :), from the perspective of this gay-loving, secular, pot-smoking, porn-watching Anarcho-Libertarian, in a sense John Ashcroft and Osama bin Laden are on the same side in the culture war.

Thanks for the trackback Bob.

Reaching all the way back to Jeremiah for a "trend" is an interesting view of the "march of history," but I see your point.

While visting my brother at Christmas, who lives and works in an Amish community, I realized the barbarians at that gate are also slipping through. Inevitable or not (hell, desirable or not), I do see this trend as a loss, and don't blame the Hasidic community for seeing it that way too...although their "tradition" in this neighborhood only stems back as far as the end of WWII, so it's really a question of whether they'll ever find the isolation they need to protect their more lasting traditions...not whether they have some God-given right to protect it that particular neighborhood.

Thanks for the trackback Bob

oops. that was me. This dual identity thing is confusing. not sure what I should do about it.

But where does that leave groups that need exclusivity to live their lives they way they want to?

That, to my mind, is what America is all about. Freedom to do as you like without fear of persecution from the state so long as your actions aren't impinging upon somebody else's equally protected pursuits.

Reminds me of the whole Boy Scouts thing. It's their club, and they should get to decide who's allowed in. I don't necessarily agree with the BSA's stance, but it is their institution, and there's nothing that says anybody has a right to join a private institution. I'm very glad for my past involvement in the Scouts, and I feel sorry for anybody refused that particular opportunity to get involved, but in the end, party crashing is impolite and impolitic. I'm an Eagle Scout, but I doubt the BSA would welcome my current involvement due to my particularly secular views (though no troop I was ever in really seemed to worry about that at the time I was in).

Having said that, though, I question at what point a group offering opportunities to the community becomes such an institution that lack of equal access becomes objectionable. I mean, you could get access to and learn everything the Scouts has to offer on your own, or join or start another group that does similar things, but would the quality be as good?

Now, with what the BSA offers, maybe this doesn't matter, but when we're talking (for example) educational institutions, the community has a stake in the availability of these services, and has a right to question exclusion policies.

Every group defines itself by some bounding criteria: you agree to abide by the Scout Oath; your grades are good enough; you ascribe to the tenets of the faith; whatever. These defining characteristics are the purview of the concerned group, and they should get to decide who is inside or outside the group. If it's a private group.

Maybe more to the point of the original post, I should have concentrated less on who gets to be in the group, and more on where the group gets to be. That was what caused the big problem for the BSA, in that they were using public facilities (schools in some cases) to congregate while practicing exclusion. Make that bed. Lie in it.

Now, what's a neighborhood to do when elements outside the group impinge (legally) upon their community? Eh, sorry, things change. People move in or out, jobs move overseas, money seeks its own. Deal or die, I guess. Sympathy is one thing, but guilt at being realistic, pragmatic, or even self-interested is a waste of time.

What, exactly, are working-class values, and, in particular, which are being violated that cause the guilt? I ask because it seems to me that the "American dream" of a better life is unfolding around you (you = Edward). Is what bothers you the fact that not everyone is coming along for the ride, and that somehow you assume some blame?

I should have concentrated less on who gets to be in the group, and more on where the group gets to be.

That was the comment I was going to make before these inconsiderate colleagues of mine made me do some work around here. Yes, that's more parallel to the problem I think.

Is what bothers you the fact that not everyone is coming along for the ride, and that somehow you assume some blame?

You're asking a very insightful question...and I think you're right. It's the timing. I'm now realizing the American Dream and I see those around me who are still struggling. (Don't get me wrong, I work my ass off, but good fortune is smiling on me ---knock on wood---). The guilt comes from knowing that my good fortune is inadvertently tied to my neighbors' pending misfortune.

They have cheap rent now, and although I don't suspect they're content with their living conditions, they are in the midst of raising children, throwing weddings, sending sons and daughters off to war or college, and other things that are easier when your neighborhood is supportive and not being chipped away around you.

Do I owe them that? is the real question you're asking. That security? That comfortable environment?

I don't know I do. But I don't know I have any right to my happiness at the expense of theirs or that my happiness represents the greater good in any way.

It's confusing. Especially as I come from a similar social class as my neighbors, so I know how tough it is.

"I realized the barbarians at that gate are also slipping through"

The problem here, if it's anything you can really call a 'problem', is that there never was any gate. . meaning anything consciously constructed. The gate is an artifact of past realities of speed of information exchange and cross-polination. Now that technology is eliminating those realities at an ever-greater pace, the only way to retain those kinds of imbalances is to replace the phantom gates with ever-stronger real ones.

In communities like the Amish and Taliban (and no, I am in no way asserting moral equivalence between the two), this is maintained by rejection of technology (maintain the phantom gates) and strict social controls (make the people resistant to influence if the gates are penetrated). I think history will show, and has shown, this to be a losing cause.

This is why defense-of-marriage types recognize, probably mostly instinctively rather than consciously, that their gate needs to be constitutional, and now, because otherwise the barbarians are in, eating at their Sizzler.

"But I don't know I have any right to my happiness at the expense of theirs"

I believe you're confusing social and economic issues. If you want to do right by your neighbors and help them out, think concretely, not abstractly. I guarantee that if you smile a lot, wave, keep your curb clean, give community discounts, volunteer around the holidays, and represent their interests in local small-business organizations, you will do more for your community than any anonymous anti-gentrification program.

I guarantee that if you smile a lot, wave, keep your curb clean, give community discounts, volunteer around the holidays, and represent their interests in local small-business organizations, you will do more for your community than any anonymous anti-gentrification program.

I agree, sidereal, and I do most of those things.

My real moral dilemma pivots on those two developers who came around asking questions. In that exchange I played a direct active role in the future of my neighbors. Granted, if I had scared them off, there would have been another developer right behind them (and maybe this one wouldn't drop in for my advice), but it's an uncomfortable position for me to be in.

I know they want to kick those people out if they buy the building. They admitted as much.

You can't stop the tide of gentrification, but you can hope it's as humane as possible and work to keep the most ferocious of barbarians at bay.

When I read Edward Winkleman at the bottom, I was asking in my mind, 'who the hell is that?' Now that I know you are the Edward, welcome aboard, and good to see you opining.

Thanks Bird Dog.

I wish I knew how to turn off the display of my last name...not that I'm hiding, just that it's so long.

You can't stop the tide of gentrification, but you can hope it's as humane as possible and work to keep the most ferocious of barbarians at bay.

Great post, Edward.

I'm reminded of the feeling I had when I moved into Wicker Park (a neighborhood in Chicago) back in 1996. Wicker Park had just started to gentrify, and it was still had a bit of grit to it. It was the first time that I remember actually feeling happy about seeing a cop (to whom I wasn't related).

All that was charming to me, though -- though I do realize that only the comfortably well-off find poverty at all charming. I appreciated having a kick-ass loft for nothing, and easy access to cheap booze and chorizo at 3 a.m. (Not always best when combined, though.)

I left Wicker Park after a year, and law school got in the way. I didn't really return to the neighborhood until 1999. By then, gentrification had reached full force, and the change was stunning. No more families; no more kids. All hipster twentysomethings. A half-dozen new restaurants had opened, and more than a few old standbyes had closed. The next year, MTV decided to have its Chicago installment of "The Real World" film in Wicker -- which generated the predictable protests from the predictable people.

Today, it's just another trendy, upscale neighbood -- as safe as houses, as they they. Very expensive houses. Is it better? For those with money, absolutely. For those without, well, it's tough to say.

Today, it's just another trendy, upscale neighbood -- as safe as houses, as they they. Very expensive houses. Is it better? For those with money, absolutely. For those without, well, it's tough to say.

Yes, and Williamsburg is well on its way to being the same.

The thing is, gentrification doesn't respresent "a better life" in the sense that it's represents an equal distribution of benefits. It represents speculation, and all the collateral damage that implies.

The first folks who move in pride themseleves on their daring and feel justified selling their property for a 700% profit because they had the guts to take that risk...Think Gordon Gecko in oversized college sweatshirts and Volvos. And they're just as ruthless about weeding out the unwanted elements of the neighborhood (no matter how long they've been there), once they're embedded.

That's the underlying tragedy here, what happens to the souls of the property owners, the speculators, the displacers.

But I'm full of shit too: I wish I could just write

There's a joy to the block my gallery is on. Summer nights families still gather on their stoops, the fire hydrant is cracked open into a sprinkler, music blares from the open trunks of cars, and people literally dance on the sidewalks. It's a ridiculous cliche, but it's a cliche that's being squeezed out of existence.

And all of that is actually true, but also true is the fact that I hate it when they blast their music during gallery hours, because I can't hear a collector in my gallery over it. When I close up at night, I enjoy the livliness of the street, but then I get to go home to my quiet street in Soho. Drugs are dealt on the street. About twice a year a gun is fired and once every two years or so someone is shot.

Paradise it ain't.

But Paradise doesn't come in the form of trite boutiques with snooty sales staff or fusion restaurants either. Paradise is that golden period when a neighborhood has a distinct flavor all its own, when families know each other, when crime happens blocks away...in other words, I guess, only in one's memories.

Maybe you should start signing your posts as "the Edward"

Would I have to get a big, ugly hairstyle like "the Donald"?

"Paradise is that golden period when a neighborhood has a distinct flavor all its own"

If that's what enough people want, the market will adjust in its own slow-witted way. There are only so many hipsters. In Seattle, they've all abandoned Queen Anne for Belltown, or stayed and had kids, and now QA is kind of a quirky post-hipster family neighborhood.

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