Ol' Diz was out walking his dog a few nights ago when he noticed something odd. For the first time since moving into an apartment in Center City, Philadelphia, there were contractors out putting poison down the ratholes in the park. Chatting with the contractors and some neighbors, we thought it was great that finally the rat playground the park had become was going to be taken care of for the good of the community.
Then, the tents started going up.
And the police came to force the homeless out of the park.
Follow me past the squiggly for something that often gets cheered by city planners, but is just another way that the rich screw the rest of us.
Turns out, what was going on in the park was the preparations for the annual black tie dinner/dance held, ostensibly, to raise money for Rittenhouse Park's upkeep. Can't have the guests disturbed by rats or homeless people, now can we?
Here's a photo from last year's event:
Once upon a time in the not too distant past, the park was not in great shape, but due to Eddie Rendell using tax abatements to attract developers, it is now a tony location. It's not uncommon to see Lamborghinis (especially a really ugly orange one), Bentleys or other cars that are totally stupid for city living parked in the valet parking only areas. There's the Cadillac SUV limo that delivers patrons to the Rouge or Parc restaurants. New high-rise condos and apartments are going up, going for hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars.
And ol' Diz has to move. The rent in our apartment which we have been living in for six years has gone from ridiculous to exorbitant. We're moving to a middle and working class neighborhood in South Philly, despite this being much further from our workplaces. We're purchasing and would have loved to stay within walking distance of our places of employment, but we are priced out.
Meanwhile, walking around last night was surreal--here you had all these fat cats in tuxes, with their significant others all dolled up in gowns strolling around the park while ol' Diz is there with his jeans, sandals, Card's ballcap and t-shirt making sure he picks up his dog's prodigious poops (my pooch is 95 pounds). I would have been willing to chat with some of the folks, but they never made eye contact with me. Suppose I wasn't worth it.
But this is a story playing itself out in many cities in the US and elsewhere.
We know the story--the rich are getting richer:
And they have mostly been moving to gated communities in the exurbs:
The gatedness has been a way of keeping the riffraff like you and me out. Remember that scene from Inside Job when it was described how Asshat Extraordinaire Dick Fuld had a special elevator to whisk him to the top floor of the Lehman Bros building? It's like that--erect barriers of contact so that you don't have to interact with anyone not worth your precious time or who will sully your day with their petty presence. It's placing a physical barrier between "us" and "them", demarcating in a very real way the class differences.
Zygmunt Bauman, emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Warsaw, calls this dynamic mixophobia in his work Liquid Times: Living in a Time of Uncertainty:
‘Mixophobia’ is a highly predictable and widespread reaction to the mind-boggling, spine-chilling and nerve-breaking variety of human types and lifestyles that meet and rub elbows and shoulders in streets of contemporary cities not only in the officially proclaimed (and for that reason avoided) ‘rough districts’ or ‘mean streets’, but in their ‘ordinary’ (read: unprotected by ‘interdictory spaces’) living areas. As the polyvocality and cultural variegation of the urban environment of the globalization era sets in, likely to intensify rather than be mitigated in the course of time, the tensions from the vexing/confusing/irritating unfamiliarity of the setting will probably go on prompting segregationist urges…Mixophobia manifests itself in the drive towards islands of similarity and sameness amidst a sea of variety and difference.However, something else is going on in urban areas today. Simon Kuper of the Financial Times had a great item this past week, entitled Priced Out of Paris. He notes that the phenomenon of mixophobia is spreading to the cities--where many are becoming ghettos of the uber rich, while the middle and working class people (like ol' Diz) get forced to the perimeters:
There is a wider story here. The great global cities – notably New York, London, Singapore, Hong Kong and Paris – are unprecedentedly desirable. At last week’s fascinating New Cities Summit in São Paulo, the architect Daniel Libeskind said: “We live in a time of renaissance … cities are coming back to life, after a long neglect.” Edward Luce chronicled the urban revival in last Saturday’s FT Magazine. However, there’s an iron law of 21st-century life: when something is desirable, the “one per cent” grabs it. The great cities are becoming elite citadels. This is terrifying for everyone else...And that's a great shame, for cities are supposed to be places where people of all walks of life should be able to come together for a shared purpose. As Pope John Paul II said in 2002:
Global cities are turning into vast gated communities where the one per cent reproduces itself. Elite members don’t live there for their jobs. They work virtually anyway. Rather, global cities are where they network with each other, and put their kids through their country’s best schools. The elite talks about its cities in ostensibly innocent language, says Sassen: “a good education for my child,” “my neighbourhood and its shops”. But the truth is exclusion.
The ethos of a city should be marked by one characteristic above others: solidarity. Every one of you faces serious social and economic problems which will not be solved unless a new style of human solidarity is created. Institutions and social organizations at different levels, as well as the State, must share in promoting a general movement of solidarity between all sectors of the population, with special attention to the weak and marginalized. This is not just a matter of convenience. It is a necessity of the moral order, to which all people need to be educated, and to which those with influence of one kind or another must be committed as a matter of conscience.So, next time you are walking around the downtown areas of your city, from Philly to NYC to San Fran, think about who lives and works there and who has to commute in to provide the services (often at minimum wage) so that the rich and powerful can enjoy the urban lifestyle.
The goal of solidarity must be the advancement of a more human world for all – a world in which every individual will be able to participate in a positive and fruitful way, and in which the wealth of some will no longer be an obstacle to the development of others, but a help.
And ask where the solidarity is.
1:24 PM PT: I should add the racial dynamic: I did not observe a single party-goer last night who was a person of color. The only people who were black or Hispanic were the servers and workers. This morning, it was mostly black guys cleaning up the park. That in a city with a majority-minority population (non-Hispanic whites make up 37% of the city). 'Course, Philly is one of the most segregated cities in the country. http://www.philly.com/...