I hear a lot of complaints about New York City but I don’t hear any answers. What continues to resonate with me, is that the city is not anti-Black or anti-poor. The direction the city is moving in, is pro-talent, and those without talent that cannot compete or are not willing to play the political games they get caught up in end up moving down South. But this isn’t just New York City; it is every city in America.
After years of urban decay the North, Northwest, and Northeast, and the South are getting their act together. Back in the seventies anyone could live in the city. The eighties were tough, but rents were low and most continued to remain. There was a shift in the nineties that people used cheap money to use their property as an ATM. By the new millennium the party was over and people found themselves out on the streets after being thrown out due to foreclosures.
Yet American cities continue to exploit the American way, against American people that get caught off guard and become complacent. Create centers of commerce to bring people into the city away from rural areas, talented individuals will rise to the top, while the rest end up working in the industrial sectors, ship those jobs away to other countries, and finally, bring in talent from around the world for a fraction of what good talent costs in America. This, in a little under eighty years, is how someone from a rural area that probably should have stayed where they were at ends up in the ghetto of an American city and then finds themselves in a poor rural area again, because they cannot afford to live in the metropolitan area.
Why would New York City rest on its laurels when cities like Atlanta, Charlotte, Miami, Virginia Beach, Washington DC, and others are attracting their top talent and seducing them with warmer climates, moderate temperatures, and a slower, less stressful way of life? The quality of life for the impoverished in New York City is not just low, but on par with some third world countries; poor infrastructure, overcrowding, filthy conditions, no amenities, and an hour trip back to the main island.
No one is saying that racism does not exist within the city and that negative attitudes towards the poor and homeless are not pervasive. But I don’t see where it will get any better because if New York City does not transform itself now, it will end up taking second place to a smaller city. You can be the greatest city on Earth, but if you merely accept the status quo , you won’t be the greatest city on Earth for long.
One also has to look at why New York City was considered to be the greatest city on Earth to begin with, and wonder if the city is not making a grave mistake in pricing out working class people while pushing them out of the metro area. Can the creative class continue to be productive, efficient, and world renowned when the struggle is taken out of the equation? New York City was known as a place where the poor could wax poetic about the daily struggle and pull themselves out of their own situation. The arts bridged the wealthy, who wouldn’t create anything because they were never in the situation of the starving artist, with the impoverished that either had a lot of time on their hands, or knew how to slow down time and create something beautiful out of the idiosyncrasies of city life. If those with that struggle are removed from the equation what will artists discuss in the future?
New York continues to be one of the few cities in the North where the population has actually grown. Everyone speaks of diversification, but the urban tapestry of other Northern and Midwestern cities, while interesting, does not inspire and move individuals quite like the dream of New York does. Is the future one of a city that is still defined by the hustle and bustle of city life, just one where the players in the game are all educated with multiple degrees; refugees from the Midwest and the South with old money living as hipsters while those with new money are seeking a jet set lifestyle you cannot find anywhere else in America? No hip-hop, no jazz, no soul, no folk, none of those working poor lifestyles romanticizing urban life.
What about the yin and yang, the positive and negative, what balances out penthouses and exorbitant living with how the rest of us live? It is not any fun when service workers and knowledge workers end up out in the exurbs somewhere; I want to walk through those dangerous neighborhoods and dodge bullets, I want to see grit, grime, and dirt. If everyone is on the same level after a while everyone begins to look the same and it all becomes quite dull. Or perhaps I am just looking through rose colored glasses and not taking into consideration the idea that they city could become even more diversified and offer an even greater commentary about urban life if the problems that plagued the city in the twentieth century were erased and a distant memory. It doesn’t matter about New York City, because I don’t live there and I rarely visit. The transformation of that city is coming to a city near you, as no city wants to be left behind. I could easily get left behind in my own city. I can still hear the ghetto speaking to me, and I see it walking through my community on the way to the next neighborhood. Surrounded by the ghetto on all sides, but this is better than actually being in the ghetto. Silence the ghetto within me lest I become part of that ghetto.