Travel and Home: A Little Class Warfare

December 26, 2009 Columns, Cosmopolitan in Brooklyn

Patricia Spears Jones

Patricia Spears Jones, Columnist

Travel and solitude.  I think that is what the editor mentioned when she sent out the topics for the next Calabar.  Or was she asking about travel as opposed to solitude?  All I know is that lately I’ve been traveling around the east, middle and south of these United States—part book tour; part pleasure.  It’s been interesting.  There are differences between Hiltons and Hyatts.  Milwaukee has actual charm and Chicago is gloriously chic.  Boston is much more prosperous and possibly much more corrupt.  Both the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in Boston are special and beautiful new buildings.  And it was great to visit the Clinton Presidential Library, which looks kind of like a double-wide trailer, in Little Rock

The past several years, New York and many other cities have been sprucing themselves up—making way for new businesses, livelier downtowns, tourism, etc.  And since I am someone who returns to cities — San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, Washington, DC –  I can see where the money has been spent.  New parks, posher shops, giant flower pots as protection—so much better than electrified fences.  America remains a very open place, despite the threat of terrorism or the inexplicable violence that erupts every few years as happened recently in Virginia.  There really are too many guns in too many hands and every once in a while a madman does his horrible deed.

So visiting these posher, prettier, more cosmopolitan cities  makes you wonder, how special is New York?  One of the reasons I enjoy living in Brooklyn is that it is not so posh.  Unlike Manhattan, it is not so all about wealthy people.  Brooklyn residents have a sense of work and family and getting on with stuff and making up and making do, a sense that is playful and just a tad vulgar.  But with all the BIG MONEY coming, Brooklyn is losing its tough core, as middle and working people find themselves foreclosed out or rent-priced out of the borough.  Like where are these folks going to go?  The Poconos?

And frankly, how is a city as large as New York going to continue to thrive?  Are rich people going to take out their garbage and police the streets and drive ambulances?—of course not!  But money not only talks too much, it shuts out all other conversation.  We have to really struggle to be heard.  That’s why I admire the Develop Don’t Destroy people, even though Atlantic Yards is going to be built.  It will be too large and a huge proportion of the potential tenants will not really live there, just as the very wealthy don’t really live in Manhattan.  They are always traveling between their three or four or more “homes” around the globe.

So how does this tie in to travel?  Well, when you’re away, you see both what is different and what is very familiar.  In these United States right now, downtowns are being remade into livelier places for commerce, but not necessarily for community.  New homes are too big and right now are not selling . . .  except in New York, as the myth of the city endures.  But New York City is pricing itself out of its uniqueness as a place for driven, creative people, even as the population swells.  And many of these well-to-do people are coming to Brooklyn.  What I wish is that they actually get out of their cars and limos and walk the side streets in neighborhoods as different as Bed-Stuy and Bay Ridge; Flatbush and Sheepshead Bay.  The sights, sounds and smells should be as exotic to newcomers as walking the 5th or the 18th arrondissements of Paris.  Who knows?–  maybe they will then understand why building huge high-rises in the middle of a borough as expansive as Brooklyn is a really bad idea.  But, by then, it will be too late.

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