Sunday, September 13, 2015

We were the gentrifiers

The story is almost cliched at this point: rents are getting too high in a neighborhood, and so the people who have lived there forever are starting to get pushed out by landlords who are cashing in. For me, this happened about three years ago, when Jamaica Plain became impossible to afford. So my wife and I moved to Roslindale, which is starting to see its rents go through the roof. A number of friends are making the same complaints. One claimed that an apartment on her street was being emptied out so the investors that bought it could turn it into a full-time Airbnb.

Walking through Fort Point yesterday, a neighborhood that has transformed from industrial wasteland/bohemia to something akin to a Miami tourist strip in just fifteen years, got my blood up on the same issue. As I strolled toward the Boston Design Center past the lofts, cafes, bars, and internet start-ups, against a steady stream of affluent, beautiful joggers and graphic designers, I seethed at these people and their wealth. I loathed that they turned a wasteland into a liveable, interesting place, like the coolest Mormons ever. “Why do these people deserve to stay, while I’m getting pushed out,” I thought. This is a common refrain in my head. I think it’s getting more and more common in a lot of people’s heads. With a household income of $100,000 necessary to pay the median rents in Boston, average folks are going to feel the pinch and look to blame someone.
Yesterday was different, though. I had a moment of self-reflection, and I’m not sure what brought it on. After my incredulous question, “why do these people get to stay,” I answered my question with another question. “Why do I get to stay?”

The truth is, this has never been my city. I’ve thought of it as mine for almost 14 years, but in truth, I’m not from here. I’m from a medium-sized town outside of Boston. It has a small common that I used to meet my friends at and a football stadium I’ve never been to. It’s very white and very middle-class, and growing up, I very much wanted to leave it. In total, I lived there for eight years. I was born in another town nearby, and moved there when I was five. I bounced around other suburbs through high school, and when I showed up in Boston with nothing but a milk crate and a duffle bag full of stuff I don’t have anymore in late September of 2001, I decided that this place was my destiny, and that I could make myself of it - from it. I paid $300 a month to share an 8x8 room, and had five housemates. I have no idea what the rent was in total, but it was around $2000 for an apartment in a neighborhood that had not yet shaken its old nickname of “Mission Kill.” Before the year was up, the building was condemned.

I moved to Allston. I don’t remember what I paid there, but I remember I didn’t like it much, and a year later, 2003, I moved to Jamaica Plain, where I’d stay pretty much continuously for the next nine years. I lived in a few places in JP, including a three-bedroom (really a two-bedroom with an office) that I paid $1300 for, which was in terrible shape, but that we thought was a steal. The landlords jacked the rent up after 3 years, and so we moved to a small one-bedroom basement apartment for $1000. After that, we rented out the attic of a decrepit mansion near Forest Hills Cemetery and paid $900. That was quite a grab, though a bit unconventional.

After a few years that house got a bit too crazy. It was known as a party house, and I was married and wanted to not share a house with five or six other people anymore. My wife and I, along with a friend who was in grad school and needed housemates, went looking for a two-bedroom apartment in Jamaica Plain. We couldn’t find one for less than $1800, and at the apartment tours, the realtors always had a dozen or so other people looking at the apartments. The other couples seemed a lot more “together” than us. They didn’t live in Jamaica Plain yet, but they wanted to. They’d heard about it. They’d read about it. Their friends lived there. Some of them had strollers.

We ended up getting a good deal on an apartment just outside JP, in Roslindale. Our landlords are great and keep the rent reasonable, but I’m hearing about rents around the neighborhood, and the is speculating that costs here might get unreasonable sooner than later. We’re a house sale away from getting pushed out of here, too.

But here’s the thing: I already did this to someone else. In 2001, I came here and paid way too much money to live in an undercode building in a neighborhood that just a few years prior was so dangerous that the universities in the area made sure classes got out before dark so the students could get home safe. Some slumlord pushed people out of Mission Hill to let the kids take over, and eventually, enough of us didn’t get killed that it became a feasible place to invest. So then they pushed us out and now that condemned apartment on Mission Hill is a half-million dollar condo. I was an early gentrifier. Not the first, but part of what turned Boston from the stuff of way too many movies into a place you’d want to raise your kids. I did that at the expense of other people who were already here, and I didn’t really ever think about it too seriously.

So now I’m the person being pushed out. Part of a middle-class that has found himself in the midst of an unstoppable combination of wealthy people who want the city life and college kids who are willing to pile into places so they don’t have to live in dorms or with their parents. Boston seems reluctant to build enough to accommodate the demand for city living, and so I’m getting screwed.
This is at least partially my fault, and I feel like I should take responsibility for it. Over the past fifteen years, I have been part of a nationwide effort to live where I want and do what I want for less money. This has given rise to companies like, which has put so much brick-and-mortar business out of business that all but the cities are essentially hibernating dens between work days. I helped put out the record stores with iTunes. So the two places where you’d see human beings in the world, and talk to likeminded people in a consumer setting, are gone from pretty much everywhere, except the cities. 

I used Foodler and GrubHub, who take a piece from the food I ordered, which lead the take-out places to raise their prices, but also made it so I didn’t have to talk to a person. I used Airbnb, because it was cheaper than hotels. Never mind that this perfectly nice apartment I stayed in clearly didn’t have a resident in it anymore, and was being turned over for visitors like me. I used Uber, because they are cheaper than cabs. Never mind that they are ruining a working class industry with their part-time “sharing economy.” I did these things because they took the Walmart model of “so cheap it hurts people” and made it feel hip and valuable. And it screwed us. It made some people rich, it made some other people a little extra pocket money, and it made Greater Boston unlivable.

I don’t “deserve” to live here any more than anyone else. Certainly, I deserve to live here less than the people I often scoff at, who have lived here their whole lives. I didn’t want to live in a dump. I wanted to live in a beautiful city, with fancy restaurants, and good coffee, and subways, and bike lanes, and farmers markets. I got those things, and it turns out everyone else wanted them, too. That I’m so indignant that I’m getting bumped for richer or more financially responsible people might be a bit unfair, but it’s also an important life lesson: you reap what you sow. I did this. We did this. We were the gentrifiers. Now we are being gentrified.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Final Predictions for Boston Preliminaries: Mayor, At-Large, and District 5

I voted at my polling station in Roslindale Square, which was virtually empty, at 4pm. Based on conversations I've had with people in the past few days, here are my predictions. These predictions in no way reflect how I voted.

Prelim winners: John Connolly & Dan Conley
Overperformer: John Barros
Underperformer: Charlotte Golar Richie

I know common wisdom says Walsh beats Conley, but I'm just not hearing that from people who aren't in unions. Almost everyone I've spoken to or overheard who is voting for a contender is voting Conley. I'm very surprised and am not ashamed to say I hope I'm wrong.

I think Barros will overperform, which is to say he'll do better than 5-6%, and may even outpoll Arroyo. 

Golar Richie spiked in the polls, but then the media and her own campaign did a number on her. I don't see her doing better than 4th, and wouldn't be surprised to see her go 6th.

City Council At-Large
Prelim winners: Alyssa Pressley, Stephen Murphy, Jeff Ross, Marty Keogh

Pressley and Murphy are no-brainers, as they're the only incumbents. Jeff Ross, whose middle name is Michael, is going to benefit from some confusion, and he's a likable candidate to boot. Marty Keogh has been an animal on the trail. The guy is just everywhere. Michael Flaherty felt a little stale and pissed a lot of people off when he ran for mayor, but he might surprise. Michelle Wu might also be a dark horse. If either of them win, expect it to be at the expense of Ross.

City Council District 5
Prelim winners: Tim McCarthy & Mimi Turchinetz

District 5 as a sea of candidates, but honestly, nobody but these two and Andrew Cousino ran a particularly visible campaign. Add to it that Cousino looked like he failed debate class in the public forum, and you have a race in the general between two very qualified candidates with different backgrounds and different outlooks as to what city council should do, and you get a pretty good race come November. 

What do you think? Like my picks? Have your own? Think I'm an idiot? Comment below.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Why I want Republicans to make good on their threats to boycott CNN and NBC

Who is the "liberal media?" Anyone that isn't Fox News!
If you follow the Republican National Committee on facebook or Twitter, you've likely seen their campaign trying to guilt CNN and NBC, which they characterize as "the liberal media" into dropping documentaries about Hillary Clinton. Their mechanism of enforcement? They're threatening refuse to let those networks host 2016 presidential debates. 

Here's why I think CNN and NBC should air the documentaries and make the Republican Party boycott them: There's no way the RNC can do it. If the RNC prohibits their candidates from appearing on CNN, a station that Democrats trust more than most, and NBC, they'll be stuck with PBS, a station the party wants to defund, ABC, or CBS. Since neither of the latter stations have a cable news presence comparable to Fox, NBC, or CNN, what the RNC is essentially saying is the only major cable news station that can host a debate is Fox News. This presumes that a Democratic candidate will appear in a debate on that station while stations more sympathetic to him or her are blacked out. Ultimately, it makes it very easy for Democrats to not deal with Fox News, while Republican candidates would have to boycott all stations except Fox News to protect themselves from a similar kind of criticism. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

We can't talk about the reality of American politics on TV because David Gregory's kids might have dick-pic nightmares

Not worried about his kids hearing questions about
whether the president is legitimate, but super concerned
about dick picks
The August 4, 2013 episode of Meet the Press was pretty uneventful all things considered. To me, the most interesting thing said was a question by mediocre host David Gregory, who asked former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani - himself a sex scandal survivor - "is there something disqualifying at a point when I can't even turn on the news, that that's going to create a bigger conversation than I want to have with my eight year old?"

Giuliani, in typical MTP form, dodged the question. For once though, I agree that a politician should dodge the question. It's a stupid question. David Gregory, host of the longest running news show on television, just asked if a politician should be disqualified from office for private indiscretions because he was afraid his kid would see David Gregory, who chooses to give coverage to this local non-story coverage, talking about it. 

Mr. Gregory, let me give you a quick rundown on American politics, the media, and children, since a life in Washington and being a father has apparently taught you nothing about them. 

Exhibit A. 
1. American politicians frequently do things with their penises that their wives would not approve of. Joy-Ann Reed had JUST EXPLAINED THAT to you. The only difference between the sex scandals of Anthony Weiner and Bill Clinton and those of John F. Kennedy and Franklin Roosevelt is that in the past the press had the common decency to leave public figures' personal lives alone, and now people like you circle it like carrion birds. 

2. Your eight year old knows about sex. He's probably heard you having it. He's seen it on TV and read more detailed explanations of it in issues of Spider-man. At the very least, he goes to school with someone whose parents aren't as afraid of talking to them as you are and he now knows a way more vulgar and detailed version of sex than any news show has presented. 

3. Your concern with how these scandals might lead you to have an uncomfortable conversation with your kid leads me to a statement made my comedian Louis CK about gay marriage: "'How am I supposed to explain to my children that two men are getting married?' I don't know. It's your shitty kid, you fucking tell'm... Two guys are in love and they can't get married because you don't want to talk to your ugly child for five fucking minutes?" 

I understand this isn't an exact parallel and that being gay is not the same as deviating from your marriage on company time, but the point remains valid. If we have decided that the sex lives of politicians are news (which David Gregory has), why can't we talk about it just because somebody doesn't want to have to explain a real world situation to his kids? If David Gregory is so concerned with the moral fortitude of political candidates, he should not vote for those candidates. If he is concerned about how their sex lives might scar children, he should make an effort to stop talking about it so much on his very frequently watched show.

4. I've been eight years old. No eight year old is intently watching Meet the Press. It's what my parents used to put on when I was being bitchy about nap time. I conked right out. Further, if they are watching the news, there is way worse stuff on it than discussions about Mr. Weiner's self-titled selfie. I don't know if you've heard, but Northern Africa and the Middle East have been in a perpetual state of war for a while and maimed children have been making pretty regular appearances on TV. Football players have murdered people. Baseball players are being suspended for drug use. A huge child prostitution ring was just broken up in America. Boy Meets World is getting a spin-off. All of these things are more important and will have a bigger impact on your children than the sex scandals of municipal politicians.

It is astounding to me how much the media talks about how terrible all these non-stories are while putting past political figures who did the same things but who weren't persecuted by the same media. Anthony Weiner might not be a particularly good or effective politician. He may not have a very good platform in is run for mayor. If he's not the right guy for the job, it will be easy enough to prove that without talking about his phone sex habits. If you find yourself forced to bring it up though, you might have to explain to your kids that when a man and a woman love each other very much, they send each other digital representations of their affections in the form of lecherous sexy-texties that sometimes give birth to a scandal. If you have to have that conversation because you talked about it yourself on a show you let your kids watch, it's your own damn fault.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Geez. Leave Colin Powell alone.

He's denying it, but it appears from emails released by a hacker that Colin Powell had a pretty personal relationship and possibly an affair with a Romanian politician. I won't bore you with the "why do we care about public figures' sex-lives" diatribe, as that's been well-tread. What I want to know is why this should be considered a strike against citizen Powell, who is not currently employed by the American people.
How do you not have an affair with this guy?

Colin Powell has made a name for himself for being a moderate and generally trustworthy (except that one time) military and political figure. He most recently raised the ire of conservatives over his endorsement of Barack Obama over Mitt Romney, which was, according to some douchebag on the radio, obviously because they're both black. Before that, Powell had served in the Reagan and Bushes 41 & 43 administrations, not to mention that whole 4-star general thing. While in those capacities, if it had been exposed that he was having or had had an affair with a foreign politician of an allied nation, it would have been nobody's business unless national secret swapping was part of some weird pillow-talk ritual. Maybe his wife would have been rightly pissed, but it wouldn't have been anyone else's business unless government money or national security was involved.

That would have been the case when he was in the employ of the United States. He's not now. Now, Colin Powell is a pretty smart guy whose sex life, like the rest of his life, is entirely private. The way this information came to public attention was itself illegal and, unlike the Bradley Manning or Edward Snowden leaks, which one could argue at least had some semblance of public interest, it has nothing to do with government policy, national security, or even have to do with how government works. They're private emails on an American citizen's private account.

While the whole nation is losing their goddamn minds over whether the NSA is spying on us, there seems to be no outrage toward the personal information of private citizens being made public. What this hacker did to Colin Powell was worse than anything the NSA has done to anyone reading this. If you're concerned with your own privacy, you should be shaming the media for running these stories and calling for serious consequences for hackers of this type.

If this kind of thing continues, it will further discourage good people from running for office in fear that the things they do privately will lead to their names being dragged through the mud. Then all we'll have left are the Anthony Weiners and Mark Sanfords of the world - public figures who don't have any dignity, and so don't care when it is sullied.