In New Orleans, where I live, poverty
live side by side
. But there are still bad neighborhoods, really really bad neighborhoods. Places most people would call ghettos
are called wards, where blocks of brown, dilapidated government housing looms in the dim street lights at night. 9th Ward
is among the worst. A friend of mine once worked as a member of the maintenance crew and said that on the average, one person on the grounds died per night (not necessarily residents). I have fixed cars whose owners live in these wards that have been riddled with bullet holes from getting caught in the crossfire
. Once my boss lent me his car and when I forgot the street where I parked it, I reported it stolen (only to find it nights later on a different block, duh), he went looking for it in the 9th Ward. It's where people often find their stolen cars that were taken for a joy ride rather than stripped for parts or sold. The 9th Ward is not very far from where I live, but far enough to seem like it doesn't even exist. Once, I was riding my bike
during the day and accidentally happened upon a street which bisected the 9th Ward. A group of black kids younger than me screamed, "HEY, WHITE GIRL!!!
" I had my Walkman
on, so I pretended not to hear them.
When looking for apartments in the Garden District or Uptown, the advice I was given was to stay between Magazine and Carondelet, two parallel streets with St. Charles in between them where the neighborhoods were relatively safe. Anywhere past Magazine and you get too close to the River, in less palatable neighborhoods where one of the items in the real estate section of the paper is "unfurnished kitchen," which means there's no stove or fridge; you have to buy those yourself. Once I lived in what I called a crack shack, one block past Magazine near the river that had an unfurnished kitchen. I paid $350 a month for a 2 bedroom shotgun apartment with no insulation, no heat or air conditioning, no stove or fridge. It was a rough ride. Once while living there, I was walking home from the grocery store on Magazine, which is such a nice, normal street that it's hard to believe one block over can be so different. I passed two black men sitting on their front stoop who began hissing at me, that pssst pssst noise, like a catcall of sorts. I ignored it, and they yelled after me, "That's right, go ahead and ignore us. Then you wonder why we black people don't talk to you fucking people." If I wasn't alone on a dark street, I would have liked to have said something.
Maybe they saw me as a threat because I lived in their neighborhood. But I was paying the same low rent for the same shitty conditions as they were. If they saw my apartment and the dorm fridge and hot plate I used to prepare food, if they saw my breath in the cold bathroom as I saw it every morning when I tried to take a bath to get ready for one of the two jobs I held in an effort to pay the bills, they might have thought differently. Maybe not.
Other neighborhoods are becoming far more gentrified than any place I've ever lived, I'm sure, but I have no clue where they are or what their borders are. While I am currently looking for an apartment, I'm not increasing what I am willing to pay enough that it will change much the quality of the neighborhood I likely end up in. There will still be nice buildings next to hovels, pristine gated lawns next to vacant lots. I am the minority here, and this is the South. Those white young people who happen here either do it for college or for a change of scenery, both of which allow for a population that doesn't really increase or decrease but undulates. I am not part of the gentrification process. I am just as broke or stubborn as anyone else, and for that I pay the price of mockery, or rudeness due to the color of my skin.
As far as I can see it, the places moving up in value are the suburban areas outside the city, where white people go to raise families and to leave the city to its own demise. Which is where younger, unmarried people like me take advantage. Cheap rents are no secret here, and people put up with a lot to live cheaply. You want your run down neighborhoods, your high death rate, your poor education and miserable living conditions, you can fucking have them. You can trust that this white person doesn't have the money to take over your street, though sometimes I wish I did so that you could see what living better was like. Shit, I would like to live better too, you know. What it would mean to your kids and their kids. And how no advancement is bought without a price.
In New Orleans, not many places outside the Quarter are hiking their rents where they haven't always been high, like the Warehouse District or Uptown. Some people try, buying run down homes and sprucing them up, but they're often not backed by any corporations. They just love this city and want to improve it in their small way. The real problem, I think, are those tenacious landlords who will not spend the money needed to make their rentals the least bit more appealing. They expect everyone to be slovenly, irresponsible losers, so they often get what they expect and deserve in my opinion. If they get a renter like me, who takes care of what she has, they chalk it up as coincidence, luck, and wait for me to get tired of it and leave.
Everything needs a balance, but humans seldom understand that. They overdo it, sending out skyrocketing rents and sales to usher in corporations instead of working with the community, instead of realizing that there is one and that it may need a little organization, since why should the community care now when the people who have charged them cheap rent for the last 20 years don't care about them? White people and corporations just amaze me most of the time how clueless we can be.