Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Gentrification aka 'yuppiescumification'


You take an ordinary, run-down historic part of any city in the civilized world. It contains a mix of all types of people of all colors and creeds. Often there are crackhouses in the more ragged of the neighborhoods. Students, artists and punks hang out in cafes, clubs and tatoo parlors.

Next, you plunk down a couple of Starbuck's coffee houses, a few juice bars, and a mall. You add a couple of trendy upscale bars, the type with cigar smoking rooms and wine cellars. You build a few parking garages to shield the Beamers and Lexii from the crackheads and punks.

Yuppies start moving in to what they think is a 'cute' and 'charming' neighborhood. The crackhouses get fixed up. The cafes start serving $4.00 coffees with 8 ingredients. The clubs start playing annoying 80s music. The tatoo parlors start offering 'tribal' and 'mystical' theme tatoos for tons of money. Then the mother of all insults: instant religion for the soulless: former hip bars in dingy warehouses are replaced by yoga and shiatsu courses, aromatherapy workshops, inner scream therapy and all that other new age bullshit.

Rents soar. The artists, students and punks move to a poorer area of town. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I've had to watch this happen to neighborhoods in Sacramento, San Francisco, London, Dublin, Berlin and Prague (click Prague and scroll down to see pix of what the bastards are doing to my beloved Praha. I was going to link to Dublin as well but I don't wanna start cryin like a wee babe at the yuppiescumification of me dear, dirty Dublin). In most cases I had to move to a poorer area because of the Yuppie Scourge. Die yuppie scum, die.

Last weekend I was strolling around the Neustadt (newtown) area of Dresden. Now if any town is in need of urban renewal, Dresden would qualify. Almost completely destroyed in WWII by bombs, most of the ragged city center was deserted on my several visits. The altstadt (old town) has been under reconstruction for years. The result? Not a memorial or an cultural center. Not an attempt to rebuild some of what was lost. Instead, a massive, modern shopping center about 6 blocks long. As I weaved through the steel and glass blight, I finally made my way to Neustadt. I was pleasantly surprised. It reminded me of some of the bits and pieces of my favorite city neighborhoods before they were eclipsed by the Yuppie Hordes.

Bright murals on 4 story buildings overlooked sunny courtyards with ivy-covered walls. Art galleries and music clubs and pubs and restaurants dotted the colorful streets. Punk rockers with dogs hung out in parking lots drinking and smoking. Bicycles carried colorful people up and down the narrow streets. Pedestrians outnumbered cars 10 to 1. It felt great.

But already you could see the first signs of the Yuppie Plague: a few trendy cafes with overpriced drinks were popping up here and there as I walked through the area. One had been neatly carved into a large brick building. It's huge glass windows allowed passersby to view what kind of 'hip' people might be sipping cappuccinos within. It had neon and chrome and people with designer clothes. Somebody had spraypainted 'yuppy inseid' on the outside wall. An accurate statement in spite of the spelling.

In one of the less yuppified cafes I sat and had my coffee. It afforded me a good corner view. I like to watch people and try to guess which people live in the neighborhood and which come to gawk. I saw a wide assortment of people in various modes of dress. But one man stood out: a middle-aged German man, very drunk for the time of day (noon), stood wobbling on the opposite corner. He looked perturbed. He was doing the 'drunken mumble' at the air, the walls, the cars. Then something dawned on me: he wasn't at home in this neighborhood. He shouted at the Mercedes which rolled by. He stared at the cafes with the trendy occupants and scowled. Maybe he was looking for a bierhaus or a friendly place that doesn't serve coffee with 8 ingredients. I thought he may have been a victim of the gentrification which was taking place around me. Maybe he used to live in one of those hip artist squat flats in the 70s and 80s. Maybe he got to watch as rents went up and his favorite bars got turned into trendy cafes and French restaurants (which, by the way, was odd. Not a single German restaurant for about 5 miles in any direction. Restaurants from every other country on earth, but no German food. The nice German girl at the Subway sandwich joint answered my query for German food: 'You're looking for good German food? Is that a JOKE? Another person replied 'Bavaria. Maybe Munich.')

While I was simply trying to take in a bit of another culture over a weekend out of Prague, I found no sign of anything uniquely German or Dresdener. What I did see was the last vestige of a once great city being turned into one giant strip mall with an adjacent yuppie Disneyland. They had to endure more bomb tonnage (and bombing deaths) than any other city in the war (more than 250,000 dead, double the casualties of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined). Dresden WWII survivor Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. based 'Slaughterhouse 5' on the Dresden bombing.

Dresden was called the 'Florence of the North' before it was destroyed by bombs. Next the Communists left their concrete, utilitarian mark on it. Now the Yuppie Scourge is leaving its soulless stamp on it. What was once a thriving center of culture in the heart of Europe is being slowly reduced to just another vacuous temple to consumerism and fake material values.

I suppose I rant because I have to watch myself move farther and farther away from the best parts of Prague. I've lived in some very cool neighborhoods in Prague. They are now the kind of neighborhoods you have to be a stockbroker to afford to live in (rents in Prague are now pushing $1000 a month in some areas. Gimme a friggin break already). Friends ask me what hideous Prague suburb I live in now and how far away is it from the Center of Prague. 'I'm so far away, I'm almost in Germany' I answer.

I don't have any neat way to end this story. Because the story has no end. It continues in an Urban neighborhood near you.

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