Gentrifuckation (part 1)

Jose Vilson

Every morning, this is what my walk to the train station looks like:

Skyline

That thing I circled is The Ludlow. At first, it doesn’t look too obstructive …

The Ludlow Blocks Sunlight

Then, as I start to walk down Houston St., I realize how much it blocks my damn sunlight, the energy I feed off of every morning. It casts this huge and ominous shadow over the street; if the sun even came out that day, people might not know. Whenever I inquire about a price from my fellow LESers, they give me the big eyeroll and a deep breathe. And it’s only getting worse.

As if you didn’t know my stance on the deterioration of the Lower East Side, my neighborhood for more than a quarter-century now, I’m absolutely infuriated with the amount of gentrification that’s swept our neighborhood. When Emperor Guiliani presided over NYC and rid the city of much of NYC’s charm and character in favor of condominiums and Walt Disney, many of us wondered what the hell would happen to us. I first noticed the change when this building came up.

Red Square

I was too young to understand that, as modest as this structure and its accompanying stores were, it would be the precursor for the raising of the rent and the razing of too many structures I’m familiar with. The clocks on top of the Red Square tell the right time if you strictly look at the hands, but the numbers are all switched around, meaning that the LES was now on their time and not ours.

A decade later, 1/2 of the shops, buildings, and people I used to know in this area have either evaporated or gone elsewhere, replaced with boutiques, wine shops, art and architecture showcases, and bars. An overabundance really. There’s nothing wrong with a little renovation. I’m all for getting a little more money into a neighborhood and a little less crime, but let’s look at a case study:

Two Buildings

Building A is a brand new building. Building B’s probably been around since this was a primary Jewish neighborhood. Now, because of Building A, building B can raise its rent. And because of building B, residents of building A can say they live in better conditions, even though they live right next to each other, have to shop at the same groceries, and have the same inglorious view of the changes happening in this neighborhood.

Now, some of these shops changed completely, but others found it cute to basically keep the name of the old establishment just to look semi-authentic. (Click for larger image)

Arlene’s GroceryAlias Restaurant

And whenever gentrification wants to leave its signature, it turns to the boys from Seattle:

Starbucks

Some of my critics who believe that life shouldn’t be fair and blame the victim whenever they get the chance, would probably now say, “But Jose, can’t a community grow? Why does everything have to be negative? Gentrification brings jobs, it cleans up neighborhoods, brings in people, and strengthens the community.” In some ways, they might be right. I don’t have to go very far to have fun. There’s a nice diner here that I can take my friends to, and people look at me in awe whenever I tell them I was born and raised here, a confidence booster for sure.

Yet my response stays the same: what happens to the people who’ve been working here for decades now? Why is it always appropriate for the more affluent to invade a poor person’s space and push out the inhabitants for their own gain while the poor are always ostracized when we make inroads in their communities? Why does redlining and HUD exist if this is a free society and all men are created equal? Will they have us live like on the East River when it’s all said and done?

Chinese Junk

I’m not sure, but the following structure is a hint. Look at it. It’s ugly. Really.

Blue Condo of Death NYC

Need another angle?

Blue Condo of Death NYC 2

Wait, if I look at it clearly, I think I see something …

Blue Condo of Death NYC Fist

A FIST! And there you have it. Symbolic of the struggles of the people, the fist now represents the urban developers’ forceful raping of the delicate culture Loisaida has cultivated over the last few decades. Before Time Out New York had the nerve to advertise “The Lower East Side Is Back” on their covers, people lived here. Before the NYPost and other newspapers had the nerve to mistake where Chico painted the Nixzmary Brown and 2Pac murals, the Lower East Side was here. Before the Nuyorican Poets Cafe had lines full of people trying to act like they understand the art of Pedro Pietri and mimicking each other just to look deep / cute, Pedro Pietri himself gave the people anthems to get by on those open mic nights. Before these yuppies, hipsters, posers, and wannabes giggled and vomited their way through all our neighborhoods, the Lower East Side was cool.

Nixzmary Brown Mural by Chico

2Pac Mural by Chico

Odyssey, the disco band, once sang of native New Yorkers, but those come sparse like the American bald eagle and Babe Ruth rookie cards, and just as valuable. Because we still preserve the secrets, the ups and downs, the grit, and the soul that once made the Lower East Side, and hence NYC, what it was, and what people come here for. I’m not sure, but my LES is officially on its death bed, and we are the eulogizers and pallbearers of that tradition.

jose, l.e.s. for life …

p.s. – I know I linked this a couple of posts ago, but I’ll get into it a little bit later on.