Even if Narcissus hadn’t fallen in love with his own reflection, it would have been a problem that he could not stop gazing at his reflection, even if it had been in some kind of obsessive platonic or even aggressive way, without necessarily like liking himself. The latest mostly young, mostly white, always affluent, often without knowing it American variant of narcissism, in the manner of patron saints like Woody Allen, doesn’t necessarily always involve liking oneself, but it does always involve always thinking that what’s going on with oneself is always the most important thing going on. Love and life itself may not be always things, but narcissism involves a whole lotta always.
The farthest the big “n” ever gets from obsessively gazing at its own navel and it’s own reflection is gazing at the reflections and pierced navels of those most similar, and mostly ignoring everyone else. It flatters itself–always the point–that it is doing someone somewhere some good when it cultivates and indulges it’s guilt and derision of the Non-Other and of the Self.
I mention this because of the latest outbreak of gentrifier guilt complex, and the closely related gentrifier martyr disorder–not clinical diagnoses, but social ones. The first involves enthusiastically stomping through a Sherman’s march of hipsterfying, boutiquing, and displacement, but feeling just awful about it. The second involves blaming said awful feeling on whoever’s accusing snark exceeds one’s own, and on whoever points out the consequences of one’s choices, choices and more choices..
Both complexes spring from deep-seated narcissism. In fact, gentrification is pretty much the eighth deadly sin of narcissism, what would have happened, had Narcissus looked up from the pool just long enough to make a down payment on a smart little fixer-upper, or dabble in a little urban planning. In fact, if Nemesis had gotten Narcissus to look at cathedral ceilings, parquet floors, high-end retail, and walkability, instead of a pond in an area where property values had already pretty much maxed out, the whole rebirth of Williamsburg thing could have happened much, much sooner.
Gentrifier Narcissism seldom thinks about things like how to make a neighborhood work both for those who were there before (also known as “other people”–Google it.) and for new arrivals. It seldom tries to imagine a neighborhood that could work for people at a variety of income levels, from a variety of walks. It seldom thinks about how those who’ve been around the longest might find opportunity in the “rebirth” of neighborhoods that were never truly dead, whose pulses hadn’t even slowed–or about how veteran residents can have true say in whether they stay or not, and have at least as much voice and at least as much role in determining the shape of the landscape and cityscape as do the newcomers, the developers, and the “visionary” city planners (many of whom really should consider soft contacts).
The New Old Narcissists just run their fashionable steamrollers over whoever is in the way (betcha ya didn’t even know Aprica makes heavy-duty construction equipment!, didja?), feel real guilty about it, and fashionably fret about whether they’re “those” people. When subject to suburban-high-school-style snark in the suburban high school into which they turn their entire world, they proclaim themselves to be oppressed oppressors, get their feelings hurt, write whiny blog posts about it, and wonder how anyone could consider them, of all humbly awesome people, to be the most or second most offensive “n” word they know.
Seriously, though–My intent isn’t just to get my own snarky jabs in (fun though it’s been), but to suggest something more productive to do with all this angst.
We need to first think about where we’re moving and why. That is, those of us truly at option to think that way do. And yes–many, many of us are truly at option.
No matter where we go, we’ll be at odds with someone, though (people get so touchy about that ruining their whole lives thing)–so I just suggest we do some listening and speaking up and asking:
Are truly affordable housing units, services, retail; etc. being left in reach of those who need them? Are businesses that are more likely to be used by people with limited incomes being eliminated? One city I know began “improvements” of one neighborhood by closing down all the laundromats and inexpensive grocery stores. Allegedly “affordable” housing left in the neighborhood was actually market-rate housing in a place where “improvements” and replacement of low-rent units with luxury condos was sending market rates through the roof.
Is effort being made to see that everyone is welcome, that everyone benefits from “improvements”, and that “improvement” isn’t just a euphemism for economic segregation? Is the neighborhood working for a variety of backgrounds and income levels? Are transportation options working for everyone, or just a well-heeled few? Are people in need of helping/or opportunity being swept away to hidden parts of the city, or not considered at all?
Are we being part of our neighborhoods and helping others do the same? Or are our neighborhoods just something we consume or get consumed by?
It might be nice to try to find answers that allow all of us to be able to stand looking at ourselves, and maybe even looking at each other, once in a while.