Priorities

From today’s NYT story about a once-gentrifying LA neighborhood now stagnating under the weight of the poor economy:

When Emily Cook, a screenwriter, bought a house four years ago in Eagle Rock, a neighborhood on the Northeast side of Los Angeles, she fantasized what the area might look like in a year or two, with cafes and boutiques replacing tattered old businesses… A sad flower shop on the corner, she thought, could become a miniature Whole Foods. An upholstery store could be a gastropub where she and friends would grab a beer, and a neglected 1940s diner could become a retro spot for a quick meal.

Whereas, many of our local neighborhoods around here would be quite happy and relieved to have even a flower shop on the corner and an upholstery store…

9 Replies to “Priorities”

  1. Great article. It’s gotten me to think about how the decession is going to put a crimp into the plans of all the Richard Florida–creative class theorists. At base, that whole school of thought is based on increased consumer consumption. The new era is going to be one of increased savings and entrenchment, because we can’t borrow enough to maintain the inflated prices that our yuppie lifestyle once demanded.

    My favorite part of the article was how the neighborhood may not become a new hip urban enclave, but “Indeed, Eagle Rock will probably return to being a neighborhood whose best qualities are well-preserved homes, old-school pizza and a really good hardware store.” or as another person stated–“I’ve got enough handmade soap. I don’t need anymore.”

    And you’re right NYCO–many CNY neighborhoods would love to be what Eagle Rock considers depressed.

  2. My understanding is that Richard Florida has now retreated into a kind of “urban Darwinist” stance wherein he says the trick is now to identify which cities will live and which will die. I suspect Syracuse has made his “dead” list, so he won’t be pushing the Creative Class theory here, which is a blessing indeed.

    I loved how the NYT story ended with one of the bohemians thinking about taking a martial arts class (after decrying the number of martial arts studios the boring old ‘hood used to have). She thought she would refashion the place as she saw fit, now she desires to let it refashion HER. This article is also useful in thinking about the meaning of “an indigenous person.” Can people other than Native Americans be indigenous to a place in our land? How do you become that? What does that mean? What does it mean when you’re not indigenous — as this wave of “young creatives” in Eagle Rock don’t seem to be?

    It often seems to me that America is potentially divided not between races, or ethnicities, or even classes, but between indigenous people and non-indigenous people. People who belong to a place and people who don’t belong to any place. We seem to have reached a lull in a great game of musical chairs, the music has stopped, and now people are more anxious than ever to truly belong to a place, because they no longer have the economic power to push indigenous people out of their chairs.

  3. This is another good post about Eagle Rock.

    http://ledeberg.wordpress.com/2009/02/27/why-myths-fail-the-fairy-tale-of-eagle-rock/

    I think this writer hits it on the head:

    “Day after day more people started to realize that what they needed from Eagle Rock was not really Eagle Rock but what the myth of Eagle Rock stood for. It weren’t the stores with the wooden toys from Sweden, nor the imported Australian products. They didn’t need another handmade soap.
    What they needed was authenticity. And day by day it became clearer that all these so called authentic products and services hadn’t made them happy after all…

    What they were looking for wasn’t to be found in a town like Eagle Rock. It was to be found in their hearts, in their minds and in their day to day actions. It was to be found in their daily lives. All these products, all these surroundings were merely mirrors trying to reflect the things of life which they couldn’t see anymore.”

    When people start really seeing life as it is, then old cities like Syracuse will become more beautiful to them.

  4. Richard Florida has been doing the radio show circuit A LOT recently…. pontificating on the economic downturn and all. How everybody is going to have to give up the idea of even trying to live in places that aren’t “megaregions” unless there is somehow “connection” made between these all-thrive places and all the unlucky ones…. Lots of drivel about how we should become more a nation of renters, the better to city-hop with, I guess.

    This is good stuff: “It often seems to me that America is potentially divided not between races, or ethnicities, or even classes, but between indigenous people and non-indigenous people. People who belong to a place and people who don’t belong to any place.”

    Can you imagine the aloneness a “young creative” might feel, after years of hopping from one chic apartment to the next, running through several relationships that ended as the partners went separate ways, following the next job to the next city, finally old, and wondering where on earth to be buried?

  5. Sounds like Florida and Kunstler are selling two sides of the same collapse coin. Florida thinks everyone’s going to go to the cities, while Kunstler thinks they’ll all be surviving in the country.

    As for the end of life… I guess you end up where you end up. I suppose at the end, those inclined to pair off will pair off and finally settle down.

    As for being or becoming indigenous, maybe there are degrees. I sometimes feel as if people from outside the Syracuse area look at the natives (the white/black/brown ones) as unsophisticated “tribals” in dire need of improvements. I feel more and more like I understand what the “onkwehonwe” felt when the Europeans came.

  6. if you don’t mind me tying some knots … doesn’t this make you think a little of butternut … and the great stuff that exists there (community bakery, lombardi’s, italian chef etc.) … and the hope represented by the new immigrants, notably the vietnamese … and the despair manifested over the ‘dry rot,’ the empty storefronts and neglected homes … and the profound wistfulness of so many who remember the neighborhood as being wonderful amid hard times … and that was definitely due, not to a gastropub or to whole foods, but to the flower shop, the upholstery shop, the tailor’s store … life, within walking distance. four words to define us.

    sean

  7. Sean, the most astonishing detail of your Butternut story (link to thread: http://www.syracuse.com/kirst/index.ssf/2009/02/post.html )that jumped out at me was the one about the dueling Rite-Aids. Absurd! But then I read the NYT story I originally referenced in my post here (the one about Eagle Rock near LA) and read that their strip had something like 79 car-related businesses. So, when a community declines, something that happens seems to be this kind of absurdity of duplicated corporate presence. Fortunately Butternut has only 2 Rite-Aids to deal with and not 79 car establishments.

    If the economy had been better here in CNY, more go-go, you can be sure that Butternut would have been flooded with “young creatives” and then you would still have gentrification’s social issues to deal with. In Syracuse, this process is only happening in fits and starts, and mostly heavily subsidized by “grants and initiatives.”

    I admit to not knowing what the difference is between a “gastropub” and just a regular “restaurant with bar” but I suspect it has something to do with the “mirrorshop” concept that the poster in the second article I referred to mentions. The village of Aurora, if you recall, went through this with Pleasant Rowland where she tried to create a fairy tale village and bulldozed over some of the favorite unglamorous haunts of the locals, as if what those places meant to them were irrelevant to her vision. She didn’t care about the indigenous people. (Which opens up new horizons of irony, since Aurora was the location of “Peachtown” which was the Cayuga village destroyed by the Sullivan campaign…)

    Personally speaking about collapse and renewal – I have inherited the care of a nice suburban house that used to be well supported by a bustling family in a bustling local economy – but now all that is gone, there isn’t quite enough money and energy or people-help to make anything but basic improvements to the house (fixing a crumbling walk, getting a new furnace or fridge, painting the outside, etc), while cosmetic and stylistic improvements constantly have to wait for more money and energy to happen. The houses and buildings and streetscapes we see, were once supported by many webs of family, community, thriving industries, etc. When those are gone, even a modest house starts to “go south” – much less a streetscape. You look at the home improvement mags and they make it seem so easy to accomplish a total makeover — when in reality, just repainting a large room or figuring out the logistics of a new bathroom floor can be overwhelming if you don’t have that web of support that existed when the house (or community) was built.

    You can’t waste energy on despair.

  8. despite all this wistfulness about the depression years, i think your point is reinforced by old photos that show peeling houses and patch-jobs … i don’t think cosmetics were much on people’s minds then, regardless of strength of neighborhood. janet besse, the great environmentalist who was a young woman during the depression, once told me she was sure litter in those days would have been just as bad if fast-food and other disposable crap existed … she didn’t think people had some higher spiritual imperative. the difference was that things were do desperate people lugged in every bottle and piece of paper and anything else that could be sold for recycling, and there just wasn’t the same kind of litter to toss around in the first place. what did seem to hold together in the depression was more of a sense of community with less chance of mortal violence, i think. in any event, your weariness at your house is absolutely understandable. i not only sympathize, i empathize.

    sean

  9. NYCO, trust me, for money, Richard Florida will be here pushing his Creative Class ideas. He’s thought Syracuse dead for awhile now, and that didn’t stop him from coming last time, and helping local leaders begin shaping the unfortunately-not-so-imaginary morass that is the Creative Core.

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