Consumerism, Development and Gentrification. by Lou Cespedes
The relationship of consumerism to development and development to gentrification can best be described as footprints in the sand as one comes out of the ocean. They remain momentarily and are erased by the waves, and as one moves further to dry sand, the footprint becomes indistinguishable. If development is the ocean wave crashing against the shore, the footprint is our individual act of perseverance against the forces of the market. Dry land is the haven of the masses. The ocean’s goal is to consume the land, the land’s goal is to detain the ocean. We must choose as individuals where we are safest in this tug of war between land and tide. That is the nature of human enterprise. We must either be consumers or providers in that enterprise.
In G-d’s matchless word He talks to us about this relationship through the prophet’s inquiry in Jeremiah Chapter 12 v.4:
How long will the land lie parched and the grass in every field be withered? Because those who live in it are wicked, the animals and birds have perished. Moreover, the people are saying, “He will not see what happens to us.”
The Lord responds to Jeremiah in verse 5:
“If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in a safe country, how will you manage in the swelling of the Jordan?
In our current discourse many on the left decry development as an assault on the poor. Many on the right claim development is the only way to bring progress and opportunity to otherwise “blighted” communities. But there is a deeper conflict to be articulated here, because it is unmistakable that the gentrification/racism paradigm is buttressed by the affluence/poverty narrative. What do I mean? Let’s provide an example:
If taxpayer subsidies are the modus operandi for development in NYC, should that subsidy, which comes at the expense of less public funding for communities and services, obligate developers to invest their “profit” in direct benefits to those communities. This is the central question; Is the public taxpayer a stakeholder? If your answer is NO, you are the ocean. If your answer is YES, you are sands of dry land. Resolution is never permanent, it is an act of exchange and compromise, of give and take, the work of millions of men and women in this city that invest, employ, sell their wares, study, and work. They are small businesses and the middle class; the forgotten footprints washed away on the seashore of this city. It is the middle class that is the gentry, “one step removed from nobility”. They are the disappearing class of New York City.
In Chapter 12 Jeremiah complains to G-d because he questions why evil-doers prevail and prosper, and why G-d’s justice does not allow for their punishment. G-d’s answer is odd but certainly familiar. In Matthew 25 v.14-29 Jesus, admonishes the “wicked and slothful”. Similarly, near the end of Chapter 12 in verses 10-13, G-d tells us who is responsible for this wickedness – he says: “Many shepherds” – in other words “many leaders”. Who are these leaders? I would argue they are the Pastors of your churches. They are your Assembly Members, your Senators, your Councilmembers, your Borough President, your Public Advocate, your Mayor, and your business leaders, who have decided that it is easier to allow the wave of development to consume you, rather than to prepare you for the “swelling of the Jordan”.
I am not a preacher, but I am preaching to you what they won’t preach at church! Consider, that on the other side of our district, the Chasidic community knows this Word. Consider that in their community, a covenant among themselves ensures economic, political and financial certainty and security. Development is not evil; unpreparedness is evil! The Jewish Orthodox and white communities are prepared, and our black and West Indian community is not. But why does this matter? Why am I talking about this? When we talk about gentrification in E. Flatbush or Caribbean and African American communities, that IS who we are talking about. We are referring to them, right? Perhaps not spoken out loud, but in the confines of your “safe spaces”, you hate them. Aren’t you directing your anger, anxiety and fear at the wrong people? It is our leaders, those “who have trampled my pleasant fields”, that should feel our wrath. You should not reward them with your vote or tithes!
Conversely, preparedness requires that stakeholders of all kinds invest, profit, and redeem our community. To do that, we must consume in our own community, we must employ in our own community, we must demand policy that benefits our community, we must educate our own community, we must secure and police our own community, and as a community we must develop together toward mutually sustainable goals. We must OWN in our community, and we must be prepared to gentrify our own community, lest we succumb to the ocean of development, racism and hate.
Jeremiah 12: v.4-5 Twitter: @loufor45 Instagram: Loucespedes