I don’t deal well with change.
I never have.
I’ve lived in the same city since I was forcibly transplanted here thirty some odd years ago and have lived within about a three-mile radius ever since. Four radically different neighborhoods for different stages of life but a very small geographical range.
There were various reasons to abandon this city for another after college but I came to the realization that leaving here would be leaving too much of myself behind. It sounded as cheesy then as it does now but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. Of course there have been moments where I wondered about the paths not taken, but I’ve never been truly regretful.
This fall will mark the twentieth year that I’ve lived either in the house I’m in now or the one next door. We moved in when Cassie was two weeks old. For the past twenty years I’ve been on the crappy end of a good neighborhood and it’s been a somewhat affordable option. We don’t tend to have much property crime because the thieves are only moving through to the places where the people with the really good stuff are. The house taxes were more than I made in 2013 but that was also a bad year for me working. We wouldn’t be able to rent a place big enough for all of us, not anywhere in the city or even the suburbs. For that we’d need to move to the really ratty, outer ring burbs. Or maybe one of the still depressed industrial towns that New England was once littered with but are now being bulldozed in the name of progress and gentrification.
For all these years, there has been a three acre property in sight. The buildings grew organically since the first one was built around 1882 to be the Elm City Dye Works and Laundry. It’s a huge piece of land, for the middle of a city, and highly contaminated from the wide range of business that have been there over the years.
In my time of observation there’s been a plumbing supply business there and a liquidator for second-hand goods from hotels and motels. Most of the buildings were empty and crumbling. Neither of the aforementioned concerns ever used even half of the space available let alone all of it.
Over the years, one developer after another eyed the site with dollar signs in their eyes and seen what it might be. There was a proposal to clear the site and build a chain drug store in an ocean of parking lot. Another wanted to wipe away all the history and construct an extended stay hotel that would have been as tall as the I91 overpass. Yet another developer wanted to build a mixture of retail and 139 rental units, some of them affordable in order to secure the funding.
I remember sitting down with the developer after a zoning meeting concerning the project and over a beer she mentioned that she had been part of the team that redeveloped Broadway and turned it from a shopping district with a wide variety of local businesses into a generic outdoor mall . When I responded with “And how is that a good thing?” she was completely bemused and befuddled. She just couldn’t understand why I didn’t see it her way. What they were planning became irrelevant as the deal fell apart due to internal conflicts that were never really specified.
So the site sat. The buildings continued to degrade. It was a home to rats, which the neighbors complained about on a regular basis. I’m sure there was all other sorts of fauna in there as well but they kept to themselves. It was an eyesore to many but urban decay doesn’t really bother me. I find it intriguing in a way that a shiny new building never will be. They fall apart too quickly.
Enter into the picture yet another developer. His early plans of 250 rental units with a seven story building were shot down pretty quickly due to neighborhood opposition but they came back with a new/old partner who had been part of round two and a revised plan and now there will be up to 225 rental units inside what is effectively a walled off, gated community. Someone, certainly no one I know, is going to be paying for a 400 sq ft studio more than what I pay for mortgage, taxes and insurance for 1700 sq ft of freestanding house. Talk about shifting the neighborhood in one fell swoop.
During the neighborhood meetings to drum up support, the developers kept talking about “the neighborhood” and “the community” and how there would be amenities like off-street parking and a gym and other things that make life a bit nicer for those with a bit of paper in their pocket. The people around me were all nodding their heads and getting excited. I kept trying to explain that the developer isn’t talking about making their lives nicer with off-street parking and a gym but the lives of their future tenants. That was the neighborhood and the community the developer were concerned about and building this wonderful space for. The ones inside the wall and paying exorbitant rents are the only ones that matter. We certainly won’t be allowed to enjoy a bit of sun on the landscaped grounds or sweat on the same machines. Us hoi polli aren’t even going to be allowed past the gates.
The contribution of an estimated $500,000 annually to the city tax rolls will be nice but what about the fact that suddenly all of our houses are going to be worth much more and that our taxes will be going up accordingly? Everyone I’ve mentioned this to sees it as a good thing. Yeah it is, if I want to sell my house and move but I don’t want to be forced to do that. I want to leave here because we’ve finally been able to get that place in the country with plenty of land around us and room for goats, dogs and bunnies. I don’t want to have to leave because I’ve been priced out of my home, and the ensuing increase in taxes, by a shift in demographics. It’s happened before with these sorts of developments and I’m self-interested enough to not want to have it happen to me and mine. And don’t tell me to get out and vote and advocate for change. Trust me, I’ve done that. Because this will negatively affect just one small area of the neighborhood there just isn’t the political will to do anything about it. I’m surrounded by people who purchased here because it was cheap, not because it was the best they could afford.
Let me be clear here: I’m not against change in theory or expecting the world around me to never shift. But I do feel that we all have a right to be here, in this neighborhood that we’ve been a part of for two decades, a neighborhood that we helped build and make better which is entirely the reason that this behemoth of a development is now being bestowed upon us. Those of us who made this city a good place to live will soon find no shelter in it. We’re being pushed out as fast as the granite counter-tops and hardwood floors can be installed.
We already hardly ever eat in the restaurants or shop in the lovely and interesting stores surrounding us unless it’s the very occasional treat. I believe in shopping and living locally as much as possible but if it’s the difference between living on imported organic beans and rice because that’s all the dollars will buy and getting in my car and going to Costco for a wider variety of fare, you can bet your buttons I’ll be doing the latter.
So, I already can’t shop or eat here.
I have to drive to the suburbs for work.
Will I soon not be able to afford to live here either?
Exactly whose lives are being made better by all of these changes?
At what point do the rats turn around and swarm those that are evicting them from the ship in the name of progress?