Friday, December 6

What is the Value of Visibility?

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By Shellyne Rodriguez

This is the question we pose to New Museum as they set up shop in the Bronx today for the Ideas City Project.

But first, let me paint a picture for you of the proposed southern boulevard rezoning and the area where it will take place.

It begins on Rev. James Polite & 163rd st and moves east, crossing the Bruckner via hunts point … forming a parameter along the Bronx river greenway going up and crossing 176th st. heading back west swallowing up Crotona Park and veering south again on Rev. James Polite to form a perfect circle. The area this covers includes the place where my grandparents raised my mother & her siblings, the place I lived as a small child, where I attended elementary school…. Later, where the Bronx social center was headquartered, and the community garden which we operate a stones throw away from where you are sitting and standing now…concrete plant park.

I begin this way because I want to ground us, so that we feel where we are. First and foremost, we are on the indigenous land of the Wappinger & Lenape tribes. Let us all recognize that their blood and their spirit is still in the soil of the Bronx.

Second, because it is important for us all to know that for over two years we have been fighting the city to cancel the southern boulevard rezoning because the ULURP process is fraudulent. The Uniform Land Use Review Procedure or (ULURP) is the process the city uses to legitimize it’s opening up the use of the lands where we live for development. How this land is used is not up to us, and we are not given the right to refuse the city’s recommendations, and the people have no right of refusal.

And yet, the city is set to release their recommendations for this rezoning very soon and the details of this information means everything to us. For many, it will be the blueprint of their displacement, or the closing of their businesses as the use of the land is opened up for speculation by the city for powerful real estate interests to the detriment of the poor and working class people who live within these parameters.

The department of City Planning, along with the Department of Health who administered the rezoning study of course glaze over this fact by obscuring it with language that purports to address very real concerns. People need affordable housing, people need work, people need better infrastructure, better food, etc.

By compartmentalizing these issues in a highly controlled environment, the city then interprets the desires of alleged community input, which may grant some cosmetic concessions, spoon-fed to the community via crony sellout local non profits on the city council payroll… like Banana Kelly, while opening the floodgates to the kind of displacement and gentrification making its way up from 138th st through the Bruckner.

By now, it is clear the role the arts have played in assisting the real estate market in gentrification. As the city steps up its effort in facilitating that process via strategic rezonings across this city. it is no surprise then that we would see art institutions lending themselves to “place-based projects,” particularly in poor and working class enclaves on the cusp of being up and coming. Projects that “activate spaces for civic engagement” and “addresses challenges and opportunities arising in urban reconstruction.” This is, after all, how ideas city describes itself.

Ideas City comes to the Bronx today via the New Museum. But two weeks ago, it was the MoMA, the Museum of Modern Art that was in the Bronx in a neighborhood that has suffered a rezoning will add 2,000 new residential units to an area of which the cheapest apartments are about $30,000 dollars over the REAL average median income of the people in that area. MoMA’s event took place at the Andrew Freedman house which faces the Bronx Housing court, where the line of people with eviction notices grows everyday. I am unsure how many people that event drew to the area, but what I do know, is that a party thrown by MoMA in the Bronx places a spotlight in the neighborhood where it is held. Not in the way it is sold by

This is the question we pose to New Museum as they set up shop in the Bronx today for the Ideas City Project.

But first, let me paint a picture for you of the proposed southern boulevard rezoning and the area where it will take place.

It begins on Rev. James Polite and 163rd Street and moves east, crossing the Bruckner via Hunts Point … forming a parameter along the Bronx river greenway going up and crossing 176th Street heading back west swallowing up Crotona Park and veering south again on Rev. James Polite to form a perfect circle. The area this covers includes the place where my grandparents raised my mother and her siblings, the place I lived as a small child, where I attended elementary school…. Later, where the Bronx social center was headquartered, and the community garden which we operate a stone’s throw away from where you are sitting and standing now…concrete plant park.

I begin this way because I want to ground us, so that we feel where we are. First and foremost, we are on the indigenous land of the Wappinger and Lenape tribes. Let us all recognize that their blood and their spirit is still in the soil of the Bronx.

Second, because it is important for us all to know that for over two years, we have been fighting the city to cancel the southern boulevard rezoning because the ULURP process is fraudulent. The Uniform Land Use Review Procedure or (ULURP) is the process the city uses to legitimize it’s opening up the use of the lands where we live for development. How this land is used is not up to us, and we are not given the right to refuse the city’s recommendations, and the people have no right of refusal.

And yet, the city is set to release their recommendations for this rezoning very soon and the details of this information means everything to us. For many, it will be the blueprint of their displacement, or the closing of their businesses as the use of the land is opened up for speculation by the city for powerful real estate interests to the detriment of the poor and working class people who live within these parameters.

The department of City Planning, along with the Department of Health who administered the rezoning study of course glaze over this fact by obscuring it with language that purports to address very real concerns. People need affordable housing, people need work, people need better infrastructure, better food, etc.

By compartmentalizing these issues in a highly controlled environment, the city then interprets the desires of alleged community input, which may grant some cosmetic concessions, spoon-fed to the community via crony sellout local nonprofits on the city council payroll… like Banana Kelly, while opening the floodgates to the kind of displacement and gentrification making its way up from 138th Street through the Bruckner.

By now, it is clear the role the arts have played in assisting the real estate market in gentrification. As the city steps up its effort in facilitating that process via strategic rezonings across this city. it is no surprise then that we would see art institutions lending themselves to “place-based projects,” particularly in poor and working-class enclaves on the cusp of being up and coming. Projects that “activate spaces for civic engagement” and “addresses challenges and opportunities arising in urban reconstruction.” This is, after all, how ideas city describes itself.

Ideas City comes to the Bronx today via the New Museum. But two weeks ago, it was the MoMA, the Museum of Modern Art that was in the Bronx in a neighborhood that has suffered a rezoning will add 2,000 new residential units to an area of which the cheapest apartments are about $30,000 dollars over the REAL average median income of the people in that area. MoMA’s event took place at the Andrew Freedman house which faces the Bronx Housing court, where the line of people with eviction notices grows every day. I am unsure how many people that event drew to the area, but what I do know, is that a party thrown by MoMA in the Bronx places a spotlight in the neighborhood where it is held. Not in the way it is sold by sleezy politicians like Bronx borough president Ruben Díaz, Jr. or Rafael Salamanca, as “an opportunity for local business to make money” TRUST…Katie and Jeff didn’t stop to eat at El Valle or Caridad… or El Molino Rojo… they took an Uber here.

It’s the kind of spotlight that renders a neighborhood valuable where it wasn’t seen as such before. Not in the sense that one might boast their neighborhood pride, but in a speculative sense, as in “THIS AREA HAS SO MUCH POTENTIAL” “what can I buy here? flip here? rent here?” As in: potential new tenants in an area nestled between Yankee Stadium, the Bronx Museum, and a new ice rink at the old armory. As the Southern Boulevard rezoning comes down the pipeline, we are full of dread for the same reasons as those on the west side of the Bronx were before the passing of the Jerome avenue rezoning. As idea city showcases Concrete Plant Park and all of the features and infrastructures deemed palatable to a more affluent community.

The bike paths I have always desired now pave the way for newcomers who have fixed their gaze on the POTENTIAL OF THIS AREA.

IT BRINGS US BACK TO THE QUESTION… “What is the value of being seen? We have learned what visibility does to places where poor and working-class people call home once they are seen. Once they are declared valuable or full of potential.

For example, the neighborhoods of Port Morris, Mott Haven and Melrose here in the Bronx are currently undergoing a vicious transformation, triggered by its being seen thru the narrative of the Hip-Hop creation story. The area, with the assistance of some local hip hop celebrities and pioneers is marketed and sold thru cliché attempts to capitalize off the Bronx as the birthplace of Hip Hop. Sure, some Bronxites are cashing in on it… for now, declaring themselves creative and entrepreneurs, selling anything and everything they can…but they do so at the expense of the neighborhoods and the people who make them who will inevitably disappear.

“What is the value of being seen in the way that say……the declaration of a UNESCO World Heritage Site makes a place more visible? Ultimately, we have learned: That this does NOT serve the people who live there. We have seen this in Panama City, and many other places in the far East and in the Global South where the global ruling class rush in to buy off land from local governments and build luxury hotels for the global tourism industry. We have seen this in Harlem, a place that IS a World Heritage Site with or without a UNESCO declaration, and yet, the grandchildren of the people who made up the universe that shaped the Harlem Renaissance, that populated the minds and hearts of those African American writers and thinkers we adore, can no longer live there.

What is the value of being seen through your project New Museum, when what drives the Rockefeller foundation to fund something like Ideas City is the fact that global real estate is now worth $217 trillion, thirty six times the value of all the gold ever mined, making up 60 percent of the world’s assets. Given these numbers and given the realities we face… it leaves us in the Bronx with the foresight to articulate and to defend our neighbors, our family. To shoulder the responsibility of telling the New Museum and the staff of Ideas City to pack up their shit and get the fuck out.

To tell the New Museum that if they had any sense of awareness, they would cancel this project immediately. There is no value in being seen by you when your gaze carries with it surveillance and speculation. There can be no fruitful speculation when the context is what it is. There will be no speculating together. Your speculation is cannibalistic and your speculation snitches on the black social life and fugitivity that is meant to remain out of the frame. The Bronx is a speakeasy. And you lead an expedition into the heart of us. FOH.

I encourage YOU all, to consider the words I have spoken here today, and to carry with you the understanding that there is a line being drawn here in the sand, and that line has become a ravine. Which side will you find yourself on? To remain neutral is to bury yourself in quicksand.

sleezy politicians like Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz, Jr. or Rafael Salamanca, as “an opportunity for local business to make money” TRUST…Katie and Jeff didn’t stop to eat at El Valle or Caridad… or El Molino Rojo… they took an Uber here.

It’s the kind of spotlight that renders a neighborhood valuable where it wasn’t seen as such before. Not in the sense that one might boast their neighborhood pride, but in a speculative sense, as in “THIS AREA HAS SO MUCH POTENTIAL” “what can I buy here? flip here? rent here.?”As in potential new tenants in an area nestled between Yankee Stadium, the Bronx Museum, and a new ice rink at the old armory. As the Southern Boulevard rezoning comes down the pipeline, we are full of dread for the same reasonsas those on the west side of the Bronx were before the passing of the Jerome avenue rezoning. As idea city showcases Concrete Plant Park and all of the features and infrastructures deemed palatable to a more affluent community.

The Bike paths I have always desired now pave the way for newcomers who have fixed their gaze on the POTENTIAL OF THIS AREA.

IT BRINGS US BACK TO THE QUESTION… “What is the value of being seen? We have learned what visibility does to places where poor and working class people call home once they are seen. Once they are declared valuableor full of potential.
For example, the neighborhoods of Port Morris, Mott Haven and Melrose here in the Bronx are currently undergoing a vicious transformation, triggered by its being seen thru the narrative of the hip hop creation story. The area, with the assistance of some local hip hop celebrities and pioneers is marketed and sold thru cliché attempts to capitalize off the Bronx as the birthplace of Hip Hop. Sure, some bronxites are cashing in on it… for now, declaring themselves creative and entrepreneurs, selling anything and everything they can…but they do so at the expense of the neighborhoods and the people who make them who will inevitably disappear.

“What is the value of being seen in the way that say……the declaration of a UNESCO World Heritage Site makes a place more visible? Ultimately, we have learned: That thisdoes NOT serve the people who live there. We have seen this in Panama City, and many other places in the far East and in the Global South where the global ruling class rush in to buy off land from local governments and buld luxury hotels for the global tourism industry. We have seen this in Harlem, a place that IS a World Heritage Site with or without a UNESCO declaration, and yet, the grandchildren of the people who made up the universe that shaped the Harlem Renaissance, that populated the minds and hearts of those African American writers and thinkers we adore, can no longer live there.

What is the value of being seen through your project New Museum, when what drives the Rockefeller foundation to fund something like Ideas City is the fact that global real estate is now worth $217 trillion, thirty six times the value of all the gold ever mined, making up 60 percent of the world’s assets. Given these numbers, and given the realities we face… it leaves us in the Bronx with the foresight to articulate and to defend our neighbors, our family. To shoulder the responsibility of telling the New Museum and the staff of Ideas City to pack up their shit and get the fuck out.

To tell the New Museum that if they had any sense of awareness, they would cancel this project immediately. There is no value in being seen by you when your gaze carries with it surveillance and speculation. There can be no fruitful speculation when the context is what it is. There will be no speculating together. Your speculation is cannibalistic and your speculationsnitches on the black social life and fugitivity that is meant to remain out of the frame. The Bronx is a speakeasy. And you lead an expedition into the heart of us. FOH.

I encourage YOU all, to consider the words I have spoken here today, and to carry with you the understanding that there is a line being drawn here in the sand, and that line has become a ravine. Which side will you find yourself on? To remain neutral is to bury yourself in quicksand.

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