Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Ain't Nothin' Tender About It
I went to San Francisco this weekend, and besides how pretty a lot of it seemed, I was shocked when I ended up driving through a couple of the ghetto areas. My girlfriend and I got lost trying to find a club on Fell Street, and we wound up in a scummy area, driving through what looked like dirty alleys. A man who looked to be borderline homeless was moving a nasty, stained-covered couch as our car came up. He stopped and gave me a look like he was going to run to the car and smash his fist through the window. Instead he angrily moved the couch back over so that we could pass. The following day we walked and drove through the Tenderloin, and I was so unnerved that I damn near shit in my pants. I have not seen such a high concentration of drugged-up and poverty stricken people in years. At least, not since driving through skid row in Los Angeles, and even there the people seemed more miserable than murderous.
This got me thinking about cities in general, and how all of them have ghettos. I know that it isn't just the cities that have ghettos, but I wanted to concentrate on them because they have all the glamour and are the most expensive places to live in. If you want a place in LA, it's going to cost you. New York and San Francisco will set you back even further. These fancy areas cost a shitload of money to live in, and they all have violent ghettos. I wanted to know why this was.
The best guess that I could come up with was that cities are places where a ton of labor is needed, and not all of it is done by the highly educated and well off. Someone needs to do the shit work, but these people cannot afford to commute back and forth. So they cluster around certain areas, and these communities grow with more of the same people. Because of the desperation of living in an expensive city and getting paid next to nothing, some of these people turn to crime. After a generation or two grows up with this kind of desperation as a fact of life, they just take it as a given that certain kinds of crime are unavoidable, and that burglary, assault, drug dealing, even murder are to be expected just to get by. Meanwhile, because everyone else who lives in the city is making vastly more money, they avoid these spots and think only that "something needs to be done," without wanting to really do anything about them. So a reputation grows that these are "badass" areas, and the youth who grow up there take a degree of pride in being raised in these spots, since the very fact of their survival proves that they are tough. Those in neighboring areas also grow up under similar circumstances, and think that they are even tougher. So the youths gather in packs to beat the living shit or murder each other, as further proof of their toughness. These groups, in addition to protection, take part in other shady activities, such as drug dealing and theft, as ways to get the income they need to survive.
At least, that's what I think might be it. Isn't it strange that every major city has a ghetto? You would think that the employers would try to give decent wages, and that the city would try to take care of it's lower-class population, since without someone to do the shit work the entire structure would crumble to the ground. Yet if living in the city were affordable, more middle-class and lower-middle class people would filter in, and still shut out those who work at low-income jobs. Of course, everything I said could just be a bunch of crap, but I'm neither a politician nor a social scientist. I'm just some guy who finds these questions interesting. As always, relevant book and magazine recommendations are always welcome.