Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Drop Of Water. Wave

"The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

It is hard to face oneself in the mirror. It is hard to strip off each layer until your Self reveals yourself. In many ways, London has been this for me. A challenge to come face to face with my Self. And it has been a challenge. Recently my friend Christiane D. sent me a link to a video by another friend of ours, Chris Ivey.

Here it is, please watch it.

He’s making a documentary about my old neighbourhood. After watching the trailer for “East Of Liberty,” I thought back to my visit in April. I remember noticing how so much had stayed the same within the changes.

I remember the reasons we bought 602 Mellon Street. We wanted to be in a diverse community. We wanted to be close to the places we needed to be - work, school and recreation. We wanted to come back to a community which had long ignored by the dominant culture of Pittsburgh. And most of all, we wanted to be part of rebuilding.

Before we left, a Whole Foods had opened. (For my British friends, Whole Foods is the same company which bought Fresh & Wild.) Those of us who had chosen to buy and make a home - in a community which was “borderline” at best and “in desperate straits” at worst - rejoiced. On the other end of that corridor a “Shop & Save” was going to be built. Finally, steps towards improving our community were being taken. And personally, we were glad that we hadn’t made the wrong investment.

However, as I look at myself then and now. I find myself previous self tattooed by the subtitle of Chris’s video. “A Story Of Good Intentions.”

In April, I learned that the prosperous section of my old neighbourhood was being marketed under a new name for it. Instead of East Liberty - it is now EastSide.

And I think about EastSide. The adjoining wealthy neighbourhood is called Shadyside. In essence, my diverse, struggling, beautiful community does not deserve to be part of all this prosperous growth. It has to be subsumed by the wealthy as a lesser but valuable entity. It is like an indispensable servant or personal secretary. Or perhaps like a slave. In spite of all of its “improvements” it will never be equal to its betters. It will always be East Side. It can not be one with the wealthy. Its express purpose is to stand in support and service to its betters. A bit to the side - never in the centre. Kind of like the Africans-Americans throughout history.

“A Story Of Good Intentions.” Isn’t that the story of slavery? How the kind Europeans delivered us from paganism and primitivism. And wasn’t it kind for them to give us something productive to do with our time - like build a nation, innovate agriculture and bring massive profits to Europeans and American slave owners. And then later, wasn’t it kind of them to “free us” because economics and a Republic were at stake? And then how about the three extra amendments and the nearly 100 years it took for them to say...”No really, this is what the Constitution meant...they are human beings and worthy of a say in their governance. Especially - look at these few extremely bright ones who have “improved themselves” to resemble something which almost looks like our standards?

Like me. Educated. Middle Class. Generous in contributing to the community. Culturally and politically active. Somewhat delusional . (I thought I was striving towards a life of Voluntary Simplicity living in my 6 bedroom, 3 bath Victorian house filled with used furniture and recycled toys.) Never compromising my quality of life. “A Story Of Good Intentions.”

I live in the exact same place in London as I did in Pittsburgh. Hackney is on the border of Islington. It is experiencing rapid gentrification. And in some small way - here I am contributing to the cycle again. This time, however, I believe I must find a way to bring my vision of a thriving diverse community to life. Rather than, stand back and say, “oh dear, they’ve put us in chains again.”

Perhaps tonight, I’ll take dinner up to the squatters who are occupying the old theatre which is scheduled for demolition. It’s not even 1/2 a block away from me. Why hadn’t I done this 2 months ago? Ah, yes, Chris Ivey reminded me. I don’t think I want a highrise filled with chain stores 4 minutes walk from my home. (Okay, I do want a Starbucks...see how far I have left to go? ) I have to keep chanting...

if I am a drop of water, I am responsibile for the whole wave.

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