Friday, July 24, 2009

Urban Pioneering

"I have a farm on a dead-end street in the ghetto."

Novella Carpenter,Farm City:The Education of an Urban Farmer

I know I'll like this book overall, scrappy urban farming tales, but this opening line bothers me. It's not that I'm a fanatic about using politically correct language at all times. That can get artifical and boring. I'm more concerned with what words say about you, the world around you, and your relationship to this world.

Unfortunately, this line is basically saying that here I am, a young,daring white person, who has a farm of all things in a really bad neighborhood that I call a ghetto, a word normally referring to the restricted residence of people of color or other minorities. Restricted living is more than informal market preferences; institutional mechanisms produce and reinforce these racialized patterns of residence, laws, norms, prices, and violence. Look what I can do, the line suggests, even move into a ghetto of my own free will and do something really cool.

Read a bit further and this dead-end street feels more like one of those interstitial spots in the bombed out transition zones that surround many downtowns.

Radicals, subgroups, and immigrants have traditionally been the shock troops or urban pioneers who have moved into tough neighborhoods, readying the 'hood for the next cohort of upscale homebuyers. Urban pioneers are willing to put up with risky environments and strange living conditions in exchange for cheap rents, space, colorful characters, and the opportunity to build something.

So, isn't this a good thing for cities? Yeah, probably, overall. I just think we need a more self reflective language, a little less bravado,more awareness about who we are as we make choices, and an understanding of neighborhood histories.

Now, on to the rest of the book.

1 comment:

Amy said...

Hey, Bob--Check out today's (AUg. 12) neighborhood Gazette for Montgomery about a successful, tiny "pocket" Lesotho-style garden in Takoma Park, MD.

Amy Beckett