Suburbanity

As I wrote in Why This? Why Now?, a big reason for me starting this blog was the sort of things I was reading in the Comments section of EV Grieve’s blog. I was struck by the provincialism displayed in many of the comments, directed at people who may have at one time lived in the suburbs, or visit from the suburbs, or at stores that are associated with the suburbs. At first I thought the commenters were just supercilious, and I’m sure that’s true of some of them, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that what people were referring to as “suburban” was only incidentally suburban, or rather tautologically suburban.

When the International House of Pancakes opened on 14th Street, commenters railed against it as “suburban”. When it was announced that 7-Eleven would open on Avenue A and 11th Street, it was vilified as “suburban”, and the people who would shop there as suburban, living out their suburban childhoods, turning the dirty Lower East Side into a suburb. Here are some examples:

Commenter:
evg-suburb-120403-comment

Commenter:
evg-suburb-130306-comment

No 7-Eleven NYC meeting announcement:
evg-suburb-130108-n7e-announcement

So what are they opposed to? It has more to do with standardization than with geography. What is referred to as “suburban” is nothing less than the direction that retail-capital took after World War 2. This was the time that franchising grew significantly. Cities were too prohibitive to build in — ground rent was high, zoning and existing structures restricted what was possible — but the interstate highway system allowed for expansion outside of the city. The land they moved into was not only cheap but plentiful. If there had been enough cheap land in the cities in the 1950s, franchises would have developed here, because capital would not have moved to rural areas to seek higher returns.

There’s nothing wrong with critiquing franchising, but to confuse it as “suburban” masks the real driving force.

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Response to The Villager

For some reason, the moderator of the comments section of thevillager.com saw fit to exclude my response to Clayton Patterson’s most recent article, Let’s get back to our roots: We need new leaders. It wasn’t long, or offensive, so I don’t know why they censored it, unless they just can’t brook any disagreement with Mr. Patterson.

This is what I wrote (as best as I can recall):

Mr. Patterson puts the cart before the horse. Leaders come out of the people. It used to be that the people of this neighborhood were communists, socialists, even anarchists. Today they are mostly liberals. Liberals don’t care about the poor.* They care more about which stores open in the neighborhood than they do about the condition of the people who work in those stores.

And if artists need to live in slums to be creative, there’s no shortage of those in the world. “The breeding places of disease, the infamous holes and cellars in which the capitalist mode of production confines our workers night after night, are not abolished; they are merely shifted elsewhere! The same economic necessity which produced them in the first place, produces them in the next place also.” (F. Engels, The Housing Question.)

*I bet this is where they balked!

So that’s what I wrote, but since I’m posting this on Quilas, I will expand it a bit.

I don’t know why it is that people isolate the experiences of artists when talking about this neighborhood. (Well, yes I do, but they shouldn’t do it.) The movement of artists into this area occurred during a specific period of time — post-WW2. Artists were not immigrants; they played a significant role in gentrifying this neighborhood. I wrote briefly about this in my post Artists Made This Neighborhood?

I’m not hostile to artists, but their plight was the plight of thousands more who had no other options, the way the artists did, to live elsewhere. Today, artists are seen as the victims of gentrification when, in the main, they were the tools of gentrification.