My neighborhood is changing. Cheap and ugly condo barns are sprouting in spots that used to harbor brick buildings and cheap restaurants. New apartment buildings that have replaced SRO hotels for the elderly, the down-and-out, and the new arrivals to our shores boast "market-value" rents--and the market they are referring to is quite clearly Manhattan. Pretty little boutiques are sprouting up on unlikely corners, selling imported jeans for $200 and fancy soap in a neighborhood where some residents have no access to a shower. Chinatown is on its way up and out.
I've always wanted to live in the neighborhood that I call home now. It was a place where you could have dinner, go to a play, have a drink after the curtain fell, and then go home--all on the same block--which is my idea of true urban living. It's edgy enough that I was cautioned against moving there, and I have to admit I rarely take advantage of the fact that I can go out to many nearby restaurants until 2 a.m. In fact, if I'm not home before 11 p.m., I make sure I'll get there in a taxi.
At night my neighborhood isn't mine, nor is it anyone's who isn't looking for drugs. It gets rough after 11 p.m.
By the time I leave in the morning, the streets belong to old ladies going to buy groceries, people waiting for the bus to take them to work, a few small children being taken to school. But the signs of the night before are there for all to see, the debris left by people who have little to lose and carelessly drop what they no longer need wherever they're standing when they've used it up. And the alleys are even worse--that's where the human waste is deposited.
And yet if anyone is going to keep our neighborhood an affordable place to live, it's the people of the night who are going to do it. So when I walked out of my building this morning to put my garbage in the alley dumpster, and narrowly avoided stepping into a pile of garbage from a broken garbage bag near my doorstep, I felt a certain elation.
They're here, in one of the few remaining spots downtown where they are still able to live--like me, like the very old men in my building, like the people who shop in the little Chinese grocery across the street where English is a minority language, like the deaf poet who lives in the apartment that adjoins mine who battles with schizophrenia. We, along with the crackheads and the derelicts, are clinging to our little piece of Seattle. We are all equally desperate to remain where we are. But it's the people who make our neighborhood a dirty and sometimes dangerous place to be who are the frontline fighters in this battle. If any group can keep our neighborhood from gentrification, it's them.
Support your neighborhood crackheads! As hard as it may be to admit, we're all in this together.