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Queer Colonizers: Lattes, Condos, and Gays, oh my!

So, Diesel Cafe, everyone's favorite hipster dyke cafe in Davis Square, Somerville, is opening up a new location called Bloc 11. Exciting, right? Not if you're part of the community that they're moving into.

As is so often the case, queers are moving in to "renew" the neighborhood. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the location of this Diesel Spawn, it's set to be located in historic Union Square in East Somerville. Now, Union Square is important for a number of reasons, including a claim to the first American flag being raised in 1776. But historical patriotism aside, Union Square is significant because it has been an important residential neighborhood for immigrant communities and communities of color, particularly Brazilians and African-Americans. Over the past 15 years or so, gentrification has slowly begun to creep into the neighborhood. More and more young, white, college educated folk have moved in, seeing it as a cheap, hip, alternative to more expensive neighborhoods, but still able to take advantage of its proximity to uber-hipster Inman Square in Cambridge. There has also been an influx of bougie restaurants, bars, and clubs, including the lesbian bar, Toast. A lot of this has to do with public policy related to zoning and developers wanting to "develop" the neighborhood and complicit politicians who don't give a damn about immigrants or affordable housing.

So, Bloc 11 is going to be the newest addition to Union Square's "development." We see this happen again and again. It's happened in Chicago. It's happened in Boston. It happens all over. It's the same old story of communities of color/immigrants living in neighborhoods with affordable housing, developers/business folk/white queers move into the neighborhood, drive up rent, change the neighborhood, push out residents, and essentially take over in the name of "urban renewal."

Diesel Cafe is a place that attracts, for the most part, young white queers with disposable income (I mean, $2-5 drinks? honestly). Being one of very few queer, day-time, social centers outside of Boston, Diesel has attracted an admirable following that has allowed them to expand their current building to accomadate more customers. But, that expansion is clearly not enough. As Diesel invades Union Square (even under the tricky code name of "Bloc 11"...whatever that means), it's going to bring the whiteness and the middle classness, and all the socioeconomic cultural/political baggage that goes along with that into a neighborhood that, frankly, would be better off without them. It will attract even more middle class white folks to the area. It will drive up rent and alter the way space is used in a community. It will also hurt already present businesses, some of which are own and operated by community members. The only way Diesel will hire people from Union Square is if they're hip white folks who will attract hip white customers and hip white money. Oh, and as if the cafe itself weren't enough, there're also going to be opening an art space above the cafe in true gentrifying style. Nothing like a space for white artists in a cheap queer space to make art on the backs of people of color.

I know for some people, this is probably hard to hear. It's even a little hard for me to write. I have friends who work at Diesel, I enjoy hanging out there, etc. I bet a lot of us do. We may not want to criticize a place that has come to mean so much to the a large part of the queer community. But, it is precisely for this reason that we must be willing to do so.

As a place where our voices, our presence, our cash, etc, are eseential part of the success of this cafe, we have an ethical obligation to speak up. We must be able to criticize Diesel for this blatant disregard of the residents of Union Square.

We've seen this happen in other neighborhoods in Boston. We've seen it happen in the South End (used to be mostly public housing, latin@s in affordable housing before the white gays moved in), Chinatown (thank you, Tufts Med school, condos, etc.), and the latest conquest: Dorchester (D Bar, housing). There's going to be a huge condo building there soon marketed to lesbians and gays who can't afford the South End. Who gives a damn about the folks who live there now who won't be able to afford to stay in the area.

Some folks might argue that this is going to be good for the community. That it's just the revitalization that a neglected community could use. Wrong. This is going to be extremely harmful. Yes, community development work should be going on in East Somerville, but not "urban renewal." Groups like Somerville Community Corporation and the East Somerville Neighborhood Association are working to do actualy community development with the community, opposed to in opposition to it.

Speak up, folks. Let your voices be heard. Don't give Bloc 11 your money. Maybe not even Diesel, if you can help it. But if it comes down to the Transnational Coffeehouse across the street, and Diesel. Go to Diesel. I don't want to shut Diesel down. I'm just opposed to Diesel imperialism.

****ADDENDUM****

wow... don't touch your computer for a weekend, and suddenly everyone hates you. cool.

i could post this under the comments section, but i feel like at least, this part of it should be made public.

i don't even know where to begin to respond to all of this. mostly, i'm really glad there is at least discussion going on about this. in general, i don't think we talk about issues of gentrification, racism, and classism enough in queer spaces. so whether or not you agree with me, or whether or not my "rant" is full of shit, i'm glad people are talking and getting worked up about it. there is plenty of stuff to get worked up about.

so. let's see. a few corrections on my part. for the record, a small coffee at diesel is in fact $1.25. the price range i originally selected ($2-5) was inaccurate. but 75 cents aside, the reason for mentioning that was not to accuse diesel of outlandish prices, but rather to point out that their customers have disposable incomes.

secondly, if i implied that diesel was not making any sort of effort to engage the community, then i apologize. that is not the case. i know about the community meeting. and they also have one of their employees (who happens to be a good friend of mine) doing outreach work, with the intention of, among other things, attempting to hire a demographically complex staff. if they do in fact achieve this, i will be somewhat less miffed about the whole thing. but only somewhat.

also, for the record, the building that bloc 11 is moving into has been empty for 3 years. so it's not like they are immediately kicking anyone out.

i also think it's worth mentioning a few last things. 1) i don't hate white gay people. i just hate what some white (gay) people do. for the record, i am white (feel free to call me a race-traitor. you're not going to hurt my feelings). 2) i don't hate diesel. i don't think diesel wants to harm the residents of union sq. in any way. they probably think they are doing something good for the community. like most folks doing messed up things, they have good intentions. 3) as some folks pointed out, it's not entirely fair to just be blaming diesel for what's going on. as i mentioned, there are politicians (with rumors of corruption circulating) allowing zoning to happen in a way that benefits developers rather than the residents. also, as people like gerry and brian pointed out, what is going on is part of larger social forces and institutions that are a product of living within advanced capitalism in a racist society. not to mention the commodification and consumption of queer cultures and the (white) queer feeling of "we're just oppressed enough that we can move into neighborhoods of color." diesel is a mere cog in a very large machine of exploitation. but, even looking at this from a much larger perspective, it is still important to hold individuals responsible for their decisions and the effects of their actions. while it's true that diesel is just one tiny piece of a complex puzzle of gentrification, it's still a piece that we, as queers, need to hold accountable.

34 comments:

Jon said...

Well said and completely agreed! Coming from New York, I recognize the completely transformative and (debilitating in many ways) effect of Chelsea boy domestication, the (government-subsidized) transition from an immigrant/non-white and heavily Latina/o "Loisada" to the spectacularly hipster white relentlessly bourgeois Lower East Side, and the pushing out/legal action taken against queers of color on the Christopher St. piers in the West Village to make way for herds of respectably-mainstream white gay males who have plopped themselves in this historic and thriving space with all their economic and cultural capital (ironically when it was non-white queers and drag queens in particular like Sylvia Rivera who started the gay lib movement on Christopher St. almost 4 decades ago)... anyway, I think you are right-on in how troubling mainstream white gay gentrification can incur drastic changes on queer--and I really mean, queer--cultures... I also sympathize with your ambivalence... for instance, I have completely enjoyed the joys of hipster spaces of the Lower East Side.. and sadly, I know that on the other end of this enjoyment is the disenfranchisement of more marginalized subjects and those less opportune than I, as a white male.. so what ought we to do when we want our queer enclaves and our good times and our forging of a visible, thriving, caring, and fun queer community that is worth living for, while simultaneously wanting to preserve affordable housing, (sub)cultures, and neighborhoods, working in tandem with those less opportune or those more marginalized both inside and outside our community (e.g. immigrants, queers of color, etc.)? It's a tough question, I feel, but I hope this Boston/Cambridge/Somerville area which I am new to does not make the same mistakes that Manhattan and Brooklyn did...

Ryan Charisma said...

This article reads like "I hate white gays." I didn't realize that our community was being split along the color lines now. It used to be "them against us." Now we're against each other as well? I'm sorry I didn't get that memo. But if we don't open something in that square, I promise you Starabucks will. And then your racially motivated rant will be for nothing.

So I say, hate the straighties for comming into the neighborhoods we made nice for ourselves, and bringing their damn little Britneys and Justins, not your gay brothers for simply being white. We're all in this together.

Becca D'Bus said...

Much as I want to agree that the picture Alex paints is horrible, I also do not know that it is true. As in, I do not know what Bloc 11 wants to be/do. I'd be interested if Diesel has plans to include the community it is entering in its plans, by way of employment perhaps, culturally relevant menu offerings and artists from the community. Are there ways in which we can encourage that behavior?

Trevor Wright said...

Great article.

Does anyone know what the East Somerville Neighborhood Association's take is on this? Or what they are doing? If they even know?


Ryan,
I don't agree with you at all.

Should the 'gay' community set an agenda for the next community of color to go into and gentrify?
I don't think you should think of a community as a corporation.

Liat said...

Gosh. I thought that when we moved to Roxbury, we'd only found an affordable condo in a nice neighborhood that was really close to the T, and here it turns out we're actually trying to get rid of our friends and neighbors. I had no idea.

I'm also wondering how you know so much about Diesel's hiring policies and how you can be so positive that they won't hire non-white employees.

Liat said...

Also, what do the business owners of Union Square have to say when you've spoken to them?

Gerry Scoppettuolo said...

Gentrification is largely a result of the lack of affordable housing,or, more correctly stated, the intentional deprivation of a necessary means of life by capitalist market forces directed by the rich and their corporations. There are virtually no more rooming houses in Boston; rent control was killed in the state by means of a state wide referendum 10 years ago (which got its share of support from some of our wealthier LGBT sisters and brothers as I recall). There are plenty of us that are one paycheck away from homelessness or who are already runaway homeless LGBT youth.

Bush is spending $10 million and hour in Iraq/Afghanistan. Ending the war is a precondition for demands around housing, healthcare etc. For thse who want to strike a blow agasint the empire and itslackeys, the Next Sept 22-29th organizing meeting for Troops Out Now Coalition(endorsed by queertoday.com) is Wednesday August 15th at the Action Center, 284 Amory Street, in the Brewery Compex, in JP 6:30 pm steps away from Stony Brook on the on the Orange Line

Randy and Mike said...

Well said, Gerry. The powers that be would want everyone else fighting/blaming each other. I don't blame the queers, christians, whites, blacks for our conditions, it's the capitalistic system screwing the majority of the population

Anonymous said...

Gentrification is certainly a sad process to see, but you don't bring any insight with this rant. Unleashing all your anger about gentrification at a local queer business sounds more like internalized hatred than anything else, especially with all your wild speculations about the motivations and future policies of the folks behind Bloc 11.

Also, the assumption that Union Square residents can't afford $2 for a cup of coffee (I guess Dunkin Donuts is unforgivably chichi these days?), or wouldn't be interested in an art space, is pretty patronizing.

Anonymous said...

Your nearly hyperbolic comparison to "urban renewal" makes it difficult to read any argument you make with any degree of seriousness. Urban renewal was a devastating process by which entire city block were leveled, entire communities displaced in one fail swoop, and wholly artificial neighborhoods were built in their place. This is a coffee shop opening up. Wrecking balls are not exactly racing over the horizon, so let's dial down the hysteria for a start.

First, lets clear up one flaw in your rant. Business do not open in places where they cannot feasibly sustain themselves. I love dbar and all, but gays did not move to Dorchester to be closer to it. Rather, dbar opened because in response to a community that was already there. has it made the area more attractive to gays? But on any given night you can see a dining room crowded with straights as well as gays (and i hope you're sitting down, because you would surly be shocked to hear that there are even some black people eating there) Yes. But when I moved to Dorchester, it was not because of dbar, and it was not part of a grand scheme to displace the current residents. Dorchester is where I can afford to live, and I and my gay neighbors have the same rights to live wherever we can afford to as the current residents do.

And even if we assume that your argument is correct, and this coffee shop is heralding Armageddon for the current Union square population, put an ounce of thought into this and realize that Union Square was not always a Brazilian neighborhood. Dorchester was not always the home of minorities. Hell, the north end used to be a jewish ghetto until the turn of the century. The South End isn't even half as gay as it was ten years ago. So think back on how the owners of the first italian bakery were probably welcomed, or the first minorities to open a business in a historically Irish Dorchester or being the the owners of a gay business in a heavily black neighborhood and realize that you are guilty of the same fear and hatred that we are able to see in retrospect.

The hard truth is that cities evolve and change. Short of communistic civil planning, you cannot force the movement of populations. So why not welcome this new business, not as a clone of its sister, but as a location that can reflect the needs and desires of the population around it and can be a resource for employment, as well as enjoyment, to the ENTIRE community.

Anonymous said...

First, I'd like to clear up a misconception about the South End: It still has, as it has been for many year, a lot of public housing. In fact, it's home to one of the highest concentrations of affordable housing of any neighborhood in the city. Villa Victoria, Tent City, Castle Square, Cathedral Housing, Lenox-Camden and 1850 Washington St., among the affordable housing units scattered throughout the neighborhood, are still there, last I checked. Just because Jimmy and Joe moved in next door with their peeka-poo and labradoodle doesn't mean the housing communities said, "you know what, let's pack it in, call it a day." And I think you should actually talk to some people who live in affordable housing, particularly that which is run by Boston Housing Authority, to find out exactly how great that is.
Second, Diesel isn't exactly the march of the high-priced condos, nor is the Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse -- interestingly enough, popular queer hang out doesn't follow Famine, War, Death and the Antichrist. So chill the fuck out and find a worthier cause to blather on about.
And third, where, exactly, would you like white people to live? Would it be preferable for our communities to remain divided along race lines? Would it also be preferable for low-income community to remain synonymous with minority? How far, exactly, is your head up your ass?

bostonph said...

This is one of the most racist and homophobic things I've read in ages. It might as well have come from the braintrust at HubPolitics for all the insight it gives into the neighborhood and process.

I've lived across the border in East Cambridge for over ten years. The area has never been the white free "heaven" you describe. We do have a vibrant immigrant community, but they themselves are the newcomers. Before the Brazilians the neighborhood was Irish and Italian and Portuguese and all of the above are still there, especially the latter (hint: what language is spoken in Brazil?).

And guess what, gays have been moving over here for ages! I can name 10 gay men on my block alone, five of whom are life-long residents of the area. Not all of us are white either, despite your rather bizarre accusation that only white queers gentrify.

More to the point, we've seen a much bigger influx of upwardly mobile straights than gays recently. Again, shockingly, only about half of the ones near me are white. And who cares if they were? Are we supposed to limit newcomers to people exactly like us?

As to the reason people are moving in, you're way off base. People aren't moving here "renew" the neighborhood, they're moving here because it's convenient and affordable in city which is rapidly running out of such. As a result, we get everything from MIT professors to artists. It's a nice mix.

As to gentrification, unless you're a homophobe, Bloc 11 isn't any more of a threat to the neighborhood than the Elephant Walk was. As several posters have pointed out, Bloc 11 is a much better neighbor than a Starbuck's or that wretched dollar store they stuck in over on Cambridge Street.

From the standpoint of a member of the East Cambridge Planning Team, the work being done at Northpoint is a far bigger danger to the fabric of the area than a few coffee drinking queers. Even white ones.

bostonph said...

One more thing:


Becca D'Bus said...
I'd be interested if Diesel has plans to include the community it is entering in its plans, by way of employment perhaps, culturally relevant menu offerings and artists from the community. Are there ways in which we can encourage that behavior?


I don't think you need to worry about this. Businesses in this neighborhood have to adapt or die. The downside of this is every Chinese restaurant that opens Americanizes their menu within a month. The upside is the spas usually carry linguica.

Blue-Xela said...

Wow.

This is one of the more ridiculous rants I've ever read.

What's wrong with a successful independent business opening another satellite? The homogenization of the coffee business landscape (read Dunkies, Starbucks) is far uglier than an offshoot of Diesel's.

Also do poor people of color not like a good cup of coffee in a place with a funky vibe? Are they being barricaded at the doors?

"We must be able to criticize Diesel for this blatant disregard of the residents of Union Square." Huh?

How about the fact, as in Dudley Square, that there is no mbta station in that part of East Somerville? Enviornmental racism is a far more legitimate gripe when you consider the high rates of asthma in these neighborhoods that have to rely on buses and automobiles.

Blue-Xela said...

I'm sorry if my earlier comment came across a little too knee-jerk!

I've thought about it since last night and think that the original writer may have a valid point or two. New businesses that cater to a different clientle may effect the original residents of a neighborhood like Union Square and not always in a good way. I just don't know if a Diesel-offshoot is necessarily the culprit.

When you consider Harrison Avenue in the South End (the dreadfully named SOWA), you see mention of the term "Artists' lofts" or "Art Block" and the language just seems like a cover-up for upscale real estate that didn't exist before. "Art" prostituted this way can be off-putting. My boyfriend has an artist loft in East Boston (AtlanticWorks Gallery) that has done wonderful things for the community ... in the very least giving lots of different people a place to view art and socialize, providing a fun, safe night and tax revenue for the neighborhoood. It was an old abandoned building for years that became a real artist loft from a humble, grubby beginning and just recently got a face lift into a real, functioning cooperative gallery. The structure was an old ship-building factory. Now, it's a shared space with a daycare (with mostly Spanish-speaking kids) and new artists have moved in.

This artists' space seems more authentic to me because it was abandoned for a while and it has a history. Some of these new spaces in the South End seem like bastardized versions for a yuppified influx of new neighbors.

The point is, I really cannot comment on Union Square in East Somerville because I have only been there to distribute newspapers at TOAST. I have only superficial knowledge; I think the old-school ma and pa businesses are cool as are the latino and brazilian stores as cool as is the Peruvian restaurant and the Independent. Perhaps, Bloc-211, or whatever it's called, may be a welcome addition.

Brian Rainey said...

I think Alex makes some excellent points and that this post is timely, though I would not have analysed the situation from a traditional identity politics framework (I would have talked more about structural issues of gentrification, talked more about class, instead of looking at it as white people v. everyone else).

I know plenty of middle class queer people of color who would be more than happy that neighborhoods are being "spruced up" for "respectable" pocs like them.

We absolutely need to be cognizant about how the gay professional classes are exacerbating social problems and making things difficult for other queers (i.e. working class, lower income people who are disproportionately minority).

our community was being split along the color lines now. It used to be "them against us." Now we're against each other as well?

Well I suppose we should just pretend that things like race and class don't exist for the sake of "unity"! A "unity" based on ignoring the needs of the a significant minority--if not the majority--of our community is no unity at all--it's imposed political conformity according to the needs of a segment of the gay community (i.e. upper middle class, largely white people).

Business do not open in places where they cannot feasibly sustain themselves. I love dbar and all, but gays did not move to Dorchester to be closer to it. Rather, dbar opened because in response to a community that was already there.

Well let's tone down the hyperbole yourself! That's not what Alex was saying. From what I understand, he is saying that bloc11 was a sign of problematic trends in general.

Union Square was not always a Brazilian neighborhood. Dorchester was not always the home of minorities...

This superficial historical overview has nothing to do with what Alex is saying. Alex is talking about a particular situation (gentrification) which is causing problems for people. To say, "well things are just changing" is nonsense. This change is being brought on by certain economic factors (see Gerry's post, for example).

Maybe Alex's post could be improved by concretely connecting the dots between what's going on in JP with larger trends.

Anonymous said...



Brian Rainey said...

Alex is talking about a particular situation (gentrification) which is causing problems for people.


I think you need to re-read Alex's post. While gentrification is an issue, Alex makes a lot of really offensive accusations without backup. In particular, he accuses Diesel of racist, sexist hiring policies and ignoring community process without providing a single piece of evidence.

One is left feeling he has a problem with Diesel rather than gentrification.

Anonymous said...

As I suspected, Alex's claim Diesel didn't involve the community is hogwash. The owners held an open meeting to discuss the art space in June:


http://www.unionsquaremain.org/visiting/news/jun07.html

Community Meeting on Proposed New Gallery
11 bow st

The renovations continue at 11 Bow Street for a new café on the first floor of the former bank. The owners of Davis Square's Diesel Café will call their new coffee spot Bloc 11 and hope to open in July. (Applications are currently being accepted for cafe staff. Visit Diesel on Elm Street in Davis Square to pick up an application.)

On the second floor, in the front room, Zeitgeist Gallery had hoped to open a gallery and performance space. After many years in Inman Square Alan Nidle and the group are seeking a new home. Unfortunately, the anticipated costs of renovating the Bow Street location were too onerous for the non-profit to take on and the Zeitgeist has backed away from the project.

The owners of Diesel Café, Jennifer Park and Tucker Lewis, think investing in a gallery is a viable initiative for this neighborhood so they are seeking to open their own arts space on the second floor.

Union Square Main Streets is hosting a community meeting for neighbors and other interested folks to meet with Jen and Tucker about their plans for the second floor gallery. The meeting takes place on Wednesday, June 6 at 6:30 pm in the conference room of SCAT, 90 Union Square (the Old Firehouse.)

John said...

I wonder how many of you have seen the fim Quincenera? It addresses many of the same issues about gentrification that Alex brought up - except in Los Angeles.

Anonymous said...

Brian Rainey said...

Well let's tone down the hyperbole yourself! That's not what Alex was saying. From what I understand, he is saying that bloc11 was a sign of problematic trends in general.


on the contrary brian, it seems thats exactly what alex is saying...

"As Diesel invades Union Square (even under the tricky code name of "Bloc 11"...whatever that means), it's going to bring the whiteness and the middle classness, and all the socioeconomic cultural/political baggage that goes along with that into a neighborhood that, frankly, would be better off without them."

That is a fairly specific attack wouldn't you agree? I have to second the above post and suggest that you read Alex's post again.

When he describes our conquest of Dorchester, regardless of whether that development (which is being built in an old parking lot and has an affordable housing component) will result in residents being displaced, why is assumed that the queers, or anyone for that matter, who can't afford the south end should be forced to move out of the city simply by virtue that they are white?

It seems what Alex would have is a city of isolated ghettos for each population of minorities. Perhaps he'll let the whites keep back-bay, and the rest have to move to braintree, unless some other group is already living there.

For someone who is allegedly concerned for the well-being of these residents, he very callously has decided that they are too poor to afford coffee, too low-brow have any interest in creating or viewing art, as the post above noted.

Beyond comments that boarder on paranoia, (imperialism?? come on folks!) Alex fails to cite any evidence to support his claim that
"be extremely harmful."

And as for categorizing comments "superficial historical overview", what do you think caused the changes in those neighborhoods all those years ago. You don't think economic forces were at play then just as they are now?

Overall, I would ask you both some questions to better see where you are coming from on this issue.

Where should Diesel be allowed to open another shop?

Also, what business do you deem appropriate to open in Union Square?

And finally, what parts of the city should be designated for poor people, and, as my lease is up soon, what neighborhoods would be sanctioned for gay habition?

Anonymous said...

Alex,

I don't hate you. I just think you're a sanctimonious douche bag. That Trevor posted a drooling endorsement and Mark remains silent takes Queer Today from freedom fighters to the type of nasty 20 nothing queens who refers to people over 30 as trolls.

Now it's clear that EVERYTHING you said about Bloc 11 is just juvenile vitriol, why don't take your own advice and move back to Wellesley or whatever overprivileged suburban hell spawned you. Gentrification is a real problem here in the real world, but almost any neighborhood is better off with a gay friendly coffee shop than a crop of self hating queer bashing posers.

Mark D. Snyder said...

1. I was on a mountain in rural Pennsylvania all weekend

2. You're the one using adultism to put us down for consisting of mostly 20 somethings. I have yet to see any age-ism or adultism manifest itself in a blatent way on this blog particularly in Alex's post

3. Gentrification is a problem that should be discussed. Too bad some of us, anonymous, cannot discuss it with integrity and thoughtfulness and instead resort to name calling.

4. The only person who is allowed to call people d-bags on this blog is trevor. JK!

alex said...

Anon., I don't see what Trevor agreeing with me and Mark being away for the weekend has anything to do with the legitimacy of QueerToday. Just because Mark started QueerToday, doesn't mean he needs to comment on every post that people make. Particularly when the comments consist of direct attacks at the bloggers, as opposed to actually engaging our ideas and criticism.

As for your accusation that I'm self-hating for criticising Diesel, you may want to take a look at yourself and wonder why you used "queen" as an insult. Last time I checked, being a queen was a good thing.

With your regard to your assertion that any neighborhood would be better off with a gay friendly cafe, I might agree with you. But only if that cafe actually comes from the community itself because that's what they want and doesn't come from those who are going to participate in gentrification. Yes, gentrification is a problem.

And for the record, I'm from West Philadelphia (please spare me the Frresh Prince jokes). But I could just as easily be from Wellesley and still have the same issues with what Diesel is doing. No amount of community outreach or culturally appropriate menus is going to fix the damage they are doing to the community.

Anonymous said...

Alex,

You have pointed out several positive things Diesel is doing in terms of outreach, but you have yet to give any solid evidence of the "damage" they are doing. Can you please supply us with something, other than your opinion, that shows how Diesel has harmed, or will directly harm, the residents of Union Square?

alex said...

ok. i'll try to make this short. i see two direct ways in which Bloc 11 will do harm to the residents and businesses in union sq.

the first is strictly a question of economics. diesel will draw business away from other businesses, including the already locally owned sherman cafe. the money that diesel gets from their customers will not go back into union square. yes, some of it will go to staff people who may or may not be union residents, but the owners will not be investing the economic growth of union with the profit they make from the cafe. instead of money going to the businesses owned by residents, the money will be flowing out of the community. also, a place like bloc 11 will inevitably attract a white customer base with disposable income. as a result, the neighborhood will change (more so than it already has) in the way that more white, post-college type folk will move into the area, which will increase rent and decrease the availability of affordable housing. this is bad for people who live there now.

so that's way number one. the second way in which Bloc 11 will be harmful is perhaps more subtle but no less significant. with these economic changes and a shift in the types of people who come to union sq., there will be a cultural shift that brings more whiteness (not just white people) to union square. this could potentially be alienating for the residents of color, and make them more vulnerable to racism. cafes and art spaces are coded as white spaces. this is not to say that people of color don't drink coffee or make art. but in the process of gentrification, these are the types of spaces that are considered important to white folk who don't recognize that the local taqueria or super market are important community spaces as well.

since all of this is about the future, i can't say for sure that these things will happen. but if we can learn anything from history, then we will notice that this is part of a larger trend of gentrification. first it'll be the queers/artists/young white folk, and then the straight whites will take over once it's been properly cleaned up and hipped out.

at least that's my prediction.

Mark D. Snyder said...

aka the south end

Tom Lang said...

Jesus Christ Alex! I have just purchased a church from the Methodists here in Essex in which to move my antique shop. The building has been a church since 1808 and is getting run down and my partner and I will be restoring it and making it a sound part of the local community.

After reading your post about gentrification, I think I want to go slit my wrists. Seriously, don't you just think this is just all part of the free market system? I mean, I need to own my own business and property. I suppose I could turn it into a soup kitchen, but this is Essex and chowder is too expensive...

Mark D. Snyder said...

Tom,

Yes, the "free market system" / capitalism gone wild - is a problem for the working class.

You wouldn't be gentrifying essex, it's already a white upper-class place, which you acknowledge.

Essex: (Already known for its antique stores, btw)
98.50% white (wikipedia)
Average household income: $59,554,

Union Square:
Average household income for all of Somerville: $46,315, 76% white

"Union Square's location at the juncture of working-class East Somerville and the city's tonier western sections have made it the focal point of changing demographics. While Union Square still offers ten-dollar Brazilian haircuts in 2005, classy cafes and restaurants opening since the 1990s are bringing Red Line-style gentrification deeper into Somerville, nourishing old-century pedestrian street life but with a highbrow twist." - Wikipedia

Somerville has experienced dramatic gentrification since the Red Line of Boston's subway system was extended through Somerville in 1985, especially in the area between Harvard and Tufts Universities, centering around Davis Square. This was especially accelerated by the repeal of rent control in the mid-1990s being directly followed by the Internet boom of the late 90s. Residential property values approximately quadrupuled from 1991 to 2003, and the stock of rental housing decreased as lucrative condo conversions become commonplace. This has led to tensions between long-time residents and recent arrivals, with many of the former accusing the latter of ignoring problems of working-class families such as drugs, gang violence, and suicides. Incidents such as anti-"yuppie" graffiti appearing around town have highlighted this rift. - Wikipedia

Mark D. Snyder said...

For anyone interested a gentrification 101:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gentrification

Becca D'Bus said...

I think Bloc 11 presents us (queers who think gentrification presents problems) with a unique opportunity. How can Bloc 11 become a model for businesses to move into neighborhoods and not only be sensitive but also contribute to its surroundings? How can a business like Bloc 11 reduce the potential harm it can do? Neighborhoods change, while it will be nice if they didn't, they do, the question is how to manage that change. we can still fight for a limit to that change, but in the meantime, baby, it's happening..

Mohammed Rafi said...

Hey guys I work there and I hadnt really looked at this side of it but I do have to say...the management works harder than anyone I know. And not just so they can bring in customers but so that they give back to the community. I will say that initially this cafe could be a burden but I have complete faith that the two owners(who can be seen wiping down counters and trash cans every day) will find a way to help the community. And im pretty sure the guy who's art is hanging behind the counter is Latino..i had dinner with him. The idea that the gallery will be filled with the art of the white middle class is ridiculous, besides when do they ever make something worth looking at^_^. All in all I just wanted to say that knowing these people personally your better off picking up the phone and saying this to them directly than trying to start some grassroots boycott amongst a city that in general loves them. I guess i find it hard to believe that you would find them to be such worrysome bad guys....i feel theres so much worse out there no?

Marcelo Daniel said...

Wow. Gentrification is a serious and real problem. But of all things to pick on: the Diesel Cafe and Bloc 11?! It's a local queer-owned business. They routinely hang art by Somerville artists David Ortega and Raul Gonzalez, both whom are Latino. I am Latino. I go there. Lots. I know for a fact that they made job applications in several languages for Bloc 11 precisely to keep with the demographics of Union Square. I know you mean very well by addressing the issue of gentrification of Union Square, but using Bloc 11 as an example really weakens your argument. Let's choose our battles wisely. Multinational chains opening up in Somerville (Starbucks, Chipotle, etc), which in turn attract yuppie condo buyers, are a greater threat to the character of our neighborhoods. I love the Diesel. It's the best thing that ever happened to Somerville. Ask me. I'm Latino and live here. ¡Viva el Diesel Café!

costa rica said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Nick said...

Well, I came late to this rant, and I was going to justly tear you apart for it, but it seems you've already redacted most of your points and admitted you were playing fast and loose with your facts. So, you know, bye. I'll be patronizing Bloc 11, and if I have any issues with its interactions with the Union Square community, I'll actually bother to do my research before I go off on the sort of ill-informed rant that makes all of us queer lefties look REALLY BAD.

You don't represent me. I don't want you to represent me. You have totally failed in persuading me.