The State of New York owns a large strip of waterfront property in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. What should be put on this property: a garbage-processing facility or a park? Well, which one does Williamsburg really need and want?
The Governor of New York, the bureaucrats in Albany and the capitalists at USA Waste all believe that the construction of a garbage-processing facility on Kent Avenue will provide jobs and stimulate the local economy. No doubt they are correct. However, though everyone agrees that creating jobs and helping the local economy are good things, opponents of the plan believe that it is short-sighted.
With the long-term in mind, they believe that what Williamsburg really needs is green space. The children of Williamsburg need parks to play and grow up in, precisely because there are already so many garbage dumps and so few parks in the area. Even the parents, many of whom need jobs far more than they need parks, see the urgent need for green space.
Besides, garbage dumps are unpleasant and parks are nice . . . . So this one is, like, ya know, a no-brainer: dump the dump and put in a park!
NOT SO FAST.
Just as a garbage dump would only be good for the politicians, bureaucrats and capitalists who would make money from it, a park would only be good for (the children of) those people who could continue to afford to live in Williamsburg after the opening of the park. Make no mistake about it, you "green" do-gooders: if they put a park on Kent Avenue, the rents in this area will start skyrocketing (just as they are skyrocketing all over Manhattan, but especially in such traditionally working-class areas as SoHo, TriBeCa and the Lower East Side). Poor and working-class people will be forced out of their homes to make way for new buildings and parking lots. Older buildings -- some, but not all of them abandoned -- will be hastily demolished and new ones constructed in their places for the sole reason that their owners want to get around New York State's already weakened rent stabilization and control laws. The only people who will be able to live in "trendy" Williamsburg will be members of the middle- and upper-classes, most of which are racially "white" and in favor of using the police and the prisons to punish the poor.
Williamsburg has traditionally been an industrial area of the City, a literal dumping ground for the heavy industries and commercial operations that the bourgeoisie and its government did not want in Manhattan. And so Williamsburg has long been a place in which poor and working-class people have been able to find affordable housing, precisely because the members of the bourgeoisie have traditionally been loathe to live among "their" factories and the pollution "their" factories produce. Because immigrants are often poor, and because racism and religious intolerance are among the most effective tools by which class society maintains itself, isolated Williamsburg has also been an ethnically diverse area. There are large and vibrant communities of Poles, Hassids, Puerto Ricans, African-Americans and Dominicans living in this area. Despite being politically powerless and economically poor, Williamsburg has long been rich socially.
It is only been recently, since the gentrification of the working-class districts in Manhattan, that Williamsburg has become a haven for disaffected members of the bourgeoisie, for "creative" types, for musicians, painters, and photographers, for young members of the bourgeoisie who are so confident that the economy works for them that they, unlike the truly poor and disadvantaged, can tattoo, dye and pierce themselves to their hearts' content, but without fear of rendering themselves unemployable or of permanently consigning themselves to the ranks of the working-class -- in short, for people in search of cheap rent who are willing and able to live among factories and industrial pollution. (Worry not, dear bourgeois of Williamsburg, about the health risks of this particular garbage-processing plant: you are already poisoned.)
Everybody wants cheap rent, but for some people "cheap rent" is $800 a month, while for others it is $400 a month. If you are middle-class -- in plain English, if you make more than $30,000 a year -- the difference between $800 and $400 is not critical: you can afford the former, but you'd rather pay the latter. But if you are a worker, a senior citizen or a person collecting government benefits (someone who makes less than $15,000 a year), the difference between $800 and $400 is make-or-break. You can just barely pay the latter, while the former is completely out of the question; if confronted with the disappearance of truly cheap rent, you will have no choice but to move somewhere else.
And so we -- the members of the New York Psychogeographical Association -- say BETTER POOR AND INCLUSIVE THAN RICH AND EXCLUSIVE.
MORE GARBAGE, FEWER YUPPIES!
FEWER YUPPIES, CHEAPER RENT!
25-27 July 1998
[Editor's notes: We have received the following responses to this flyer, approximately 1,000 of which have been posted in the "Northside" neighborhood of Williamsburg. This flyer has been translated into Polish and Spanish distributed to Williamsburg's Polish and Latino communities. Please see YUPPIE GO HOME?! for more on the subject of gentrification in Wlliamsburg.]
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