Death of a Neighborhood

In 1985, I saw the movie “Beat Street” that’s about break dancing and grafitti artists living in the South Bronx and I thought “Wow!”  I wanna be like them.  So I packed my bags and moved to New York City.  I didn’t know anyone there and I remember this guy saying “Are you crazy?  You don’t come to a place like New York City with no place to stay.”  I lived in a city shelter for about six months and I became aware of politics.  God bless America became God F… Amerikka” and red white and blue became red and black.  I started going to all these housing meetings to over thwart the government in some sort of way.  I camped out in City Hall Park and froze in the middle of winter.  I met squatters who let me move into an East 13th Street squat on the Lower East Side where I did my art and lived there until the City evicted us military style with riot cops, helicopters, tanks and the whole nine yards.

Well that was then and this is now.  These days the building on East 13th Street where I used to live has been renovated.  Young Urban Professionals or yuppies now live there.  Some people say with death comes rebirth and transformation.  The revolution still lives and the only thing constant for me is change and survival.  I now walk down the streets a war torn survivor witnessing the drastic changes of the neighborhood that has taken place over the past few years.  Every neighborhood seems to be undergoing the process of what I would call Gentrification or Genocide, the extermination of a whole race of people, something similiar to Nazi Germany.

I have all these revelations of what gentrification could mean.  Every city has its own gentrified neighborhood or its own Soho, the pioneer of gentrified neighborhoods, and for me it is The Lower East Side and the East Village where I currently live which has now become like Soho, which has become like Beverly Hils and the one big strip mall effect.  This appears to be the racially ethknic cleansing and spatial deconcentration of a neighborhood, the pushing of poor people out of the inner cities to make way for a more kinder gentile upper class citizens.

The class war against the poor and moving in the army of the rich.  The criminals of the Government have used the police to keep abandoned buildings empty for fifteen to twenty years in order to drive out the poor.  The Lower East Side along with Harlem and South Bronx was a community of resistance during the inner city risings of the 1960’s and was targeted for an urban renewal scheme to clear the ghettos and make way for upscale housing and luxury developments.

I tend to blame the military for this, their solution being to push poor people out of inner city neighborhoods into military concentration camps and offering the people bribes to leave, renovating the area for a better class of people, rents soaring to outrageous prices, people being displaced from their homes and forced out of the neighborhoods and into the streets.

The Government infiltrates these inner cities with crack and other drugs creating poverty and riots and then blame the people targeting them as the criminally mentally ill homeless etc.  Housing is a basic human right.

Manhattan island was the site of the most famous real estate rip off in history.  Some New Yorkers still make jokes about having tricked the Indians out of their land for $24 worth of beads in 1626.  Native beliefs recognized human beings as part of mother nature and had no concept of owning the land, water and air.  Ultimately European colonist relied on their superior fire power to inpose their property laws through genocide coast to coast.  Now in the year 2001 a nation is built through stolen labor.  Whose land is it anyway?

So now in Lower East Side in Alphabet City with your gentrified, glorified tenements and your artists coffee house coffee lounges and your shi shi boutiques, I walk down your streets conformed to your capitalist society and riddled with the blood of the long lost past, I am thinking long live the revolution of the pseudo anarchist hippy bohemian squatter revolutionary movement with the Tompkins Square Park riots and that band shell that stood as a symbol of freedom for all long torn down lost and forgotten and the cries of “No Police State, No Housing No Peace!” that vaguely remain.

As an African American, I sometimes feel intimifated walking down the streets of the East Village and The Lower East Side.  It is no longer ethnically integrated as it was just a few years ago.  The ethnic people seem to hve been pushed to the outer edges, living mostly in the projects and do not frequent the local restaurants and bars hardly at all.  I love frequenting those cafe bars and lounges but it’s like the twilight zone to me and I find it difficult to blend in with European crowds while sticking out like a sore thumb.

Each day I walk outside my apartment there is a new building being constructed that wasn’t there the day before and the change is all happening so fast.  Long live the Lower East Side.  I have a low income apartment, an ‘affordable’ market rate apartment is out of my range and if I lose this apartment I will have to find ten roomates or leave town in order to continue to survive.  I do not want to be run into the river like I have witnessed so many of my friends who have become victims of the housing crisis of New York that has made way for students, trust fund babies, hipsters and gorgeous people in general.  I believe that for the long time residents that still remain it’s fight or flight, sink or swim, can you swim or will you die and the struggle still remains.

I feel as I am sure many other people can attest, as if I have seen an era come and go and that I have survived to tell the tale of how in the eighties the cry was “Rehabilitate the abandoned buildings.”  and now the cry is “Save the gardens, save the dirt, save the sidewalk…”  a city overdeveloped, overpopulated.  Maybe the stock market has to crash and the depression era to reappear.  I am not sure of the answer.

I still do my art and I am forever trying to reinvent myself everyday.  Life can be difficult sometimes.  I just looked at the clock on my computer and it is 12:22 am.  I am 34 as of midnight, 22 minutes ago.  I reflect on my life and I see that I am still single with no children.  I sometimes have bad relationship karma, for guys end relationships with me over and over.  Heartbreak is hell and the midlife crisis is hovering over my head.

Trying to find work related to the arts can be discouraging in this competitive town because it sometimes seems as if I receive one big reject letter from job applications saying “Go away, your time is up.”  I don’t know if I came to New York to be a revolutionary and I don’t know if my life is going the way that I planned.  I sometimes fear to answer my phone for the only people that seem to call are “friends” with their crisis of the day wanting some sort of help, be it sex, housing, or money.

Answering machines and Caller ID can be great for this purpose.  I could go on and on talking about aspects of life, but that is not what all of this writing is for.  So I persevere, making it up as I go along.  I realize I could go back to Kansas City where I come from, but my identity is here and I love the arts in all its mediums, theater, music and dance.  I only know I came to New York to do art, some kind of art.  It is one of the only things I have to live for and if you give up your dreams you die.  Besides, from what my mother tells me, The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), has built all these new homes for low income people on every other block in Missouri the last few years.  The City has built a highway running through the middle of town.  You wouldn’t recognize the place if you saw it.

By: Carla Cubit

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