CITY REPORT: BEACON, NEW YORK HAS BECOME A TERRAFORMING PROJECT BY RICH ASSHOLES FROM BROOKLYN
I grew up in New York City. I had no idea what a small town was until I met a friend from one in college. He was from a place very close to where my grandmothers house in upstate New York was.
This place was called Beacon.
This friend explained to me that, growing up, it was an economically depressed and violent city. That the quaint Main Street affluent Brooklynites now walk in search of vintage bicycles, artisanal teas and bespoke cocktail accessories was once riddled with prostitution, gang violence and drugs.
But about a decade ago something changed. The DIA Art Museum arrived and suddenly outsiders started trickling in. Myself included. This formed an odd nexus of “townies”, wanderers, pseudo philosophers, artists and politicians that fostered an idea. An idea that said, amidst the doom of gloom of the world at large, we could design and erect a prototype for a better world. That this secret gem of a town that no one had heard of (yet) could stave off the onslaught of terrorism, economic uncertainty and environmental catastrophe. That there might of been a New Town Model. A new way for Twenty-Somethings College Graduates, Old Townies, The Ignored Hood Element and the Perpetual Hippy to live–together–sustainably. To live without the pretense, affectation and wanton hedonism of The Big City. To live without, as Charles Mackay wrote of Paris in 1841’s Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, “The idle, the debauched, the pleasure-hunting, [and] the novelty loving."
There was an idea.
But, for better or worse, the gentrification machine has once again lurched to life. Sending out its search probes in the form of bored kids from the midwest who relocated to Brooklyn and are running out of art shows to go to. They shuffle North like cultural scavengers in search of a new place to make their own and again disregard it’s original inhabitants. But how did they find this place? I thought it was protected. It was just "towny” enough to tip the balance in the favor of people who wanted something real–not hip. Unfortunately, these Epicurans have had help. Blogger Alden Wicker, founder of EcoCult, (curious name…didn’t The A-Team fight an EcoCult once?) wrote an article that touts Beacon as a, “Eco-Friendly and Romantic Getaway.” Respectfully, Ms. Alden, replication of the trendy shops and eateries of the wildly overpriced New York City is not sustainability.
The article basically makes Beacon sound like a colony of Brooklyn—which it’s obviously become. But it didn’t have to be. The cycle of gentrification—new money entering into a previously economically depressed environment—does not always have to end with the place being terraformed by people of means. I’m not arguing gentrification in and of itself is bad. I’m arguing there is a way to revitalize a region that includes a broader cross-section of it’s residents. The tragedy is that there was a sweet spot to create something where the 16,000 people referenced in Ms. Wicker’s article actually interacted with each other. A time where we could of created a Beacon Culture that embraced much more than beards, flannel and fixed gear bikes.
Even though 15.4% of Beacon residents are below the poverty line, this isn’t solely an economic issue. Though we’d be foolish to ignore that reality. The issue is how do we create a culture that takes care of the environment and includes people of all socio-economic backgrounds? There are just as many NRA supporting Obama hating individuals as there are ghetto fabulous thugs who have not and will not ever set foot in the Citadels of Wealth referenced in Ms. Wicker’s article. Why? Because these Enclaves of Cool don't want those people in their gastropubs and farm to table restaurants.
It’s also important to establish that this isn’t so much a racial question as a cultural one. According to the City of Beacon website, “Beacon has approximately 2,400 African-Americans and 2,300 Latinos, compared with approximately 8,500 non-Latino Whites.” Over half of Beacon’s population are minorities. Now, I’m going to go out on a limb here, but as I sit in Ella Bella’s writing this, something tells me I’m a rarer site here than the guy with the Parker Warby glasses beside me. I don’t demand diversity (which by the way does not mean just having a few shades of brown and a lesbian.) Nor am I raging liberal or a militant black man outraged by The Establishment. (Between the white women from the midwest I date and my Billy Joel collection, my black card is always pending review.) That said, I hate bullshit and Ms. Alden’s article doles it out by the cask aged barrel load.
I love Beacon. I fell in love, ran a coffee shop (into bankruptcy) with my best friends and engaged in some of the most spirited philosophical debates I’ve ever had here. However, when self-entitled demagogues rise to the challenge of laying out a framework for what “these people need” we become arrogant assholes, not stewards of positive cultural change. In this establishment I’m writing at, I overheard a conversation where some people referenced in Ms. Alden’s article were talking to a Rabbi who explained, “We need to go to churches and get black people to ride bikes.”
I can ride a fucking bike, but I prefer my 189 horsepower 2.5 liter in-line Six-Cylinder 1995 BMW 525i. Go fuck yourself.
Elitism. Liberal fascism. Call it what you will, but patting each other on the back because we go to farmers markets on Sundays and drink beer three times more expensive than the place across the street does not make us better people. It makes us corrupters that perpetuate the economic and cultural disparity that exists in this country–and the world.
So before you rally the troops of your EcoCult, recognize that sustainability isn’t just about prohibitively expensive “Artisanal Fare” shops. It’s about creating a society where everyone can contribute to environmental issues—not just bored trust fund kids looking for somewhere to take their artist girlfriends.
This brings me to my most important question: Hey are you single?