Featured Post

Part 1: Mark Baumer Reflection: Impounding Vehicles & Immigrant Rights

This is part of a multi-part reflection I've been doing following the death of my friend, Mark Baumer . There's nothing graphic i...

Spiritual Pilgrimages & Long Sojourns

Without veering off into too much of a crazy rabbit hole, the last few days have felt rather spiritually rich, and full of promise of the deeper things of life.

I started yesterday morning reaching out to various people about my issues with Brown. If you're catching this and have two minutes, give Brown's Graduate School a call and politely ask them to reopen my case. The dean there is Andrew Campbell, and he's a nice man and deserves your respect. Please ask him (or whatever staff you talk to) to do the right thing. 401 863 2600.

I moved on to one of my frequent tasks these days, which is supplementing my lack of income with trips to various food banks. Yesterday's journey brought me walking to the northwestern sections of the city, which are a very beautiful and under-appreciated set of neighborhoods that I rarely visit because they're on the other side of I-95. Unlike my excursion to South County, I managed to take a few pictures, though it was mostly of weird estoterica I found interesting rather than of beautiful buildings or streets, so the photos probably won't do any justice to the area.

It's interesting to think of the various overlapping factors that affect life on one side or the other of I-95's division of the city. I went last week to a food bank a few blocks from my house in Mt. Hope and stood in line with elderly Portuguese ladies and a few homeless people of various backgrounds and received for my troubles some surprisingly nutritious and culinarily-impressive free food. 

I picked the food bank at the Chad Brown Center because it was one of the ones that had produce listed as an item, and I found this to be a really helpful place to go. I live less than a mile from this community center, but as I said, Providence is so divided by awful urban renewal decisions that I was somewhat a stranger to it. The houses I found near by, that are clearly public housing, reminded me more of the housing I grew up in (which was private, and considered middle-class) than anything I've yet seen in the entire state and its storied Providence Plantations. One thing that I struggle deeply with about Rhode Island is its tremendously hostile attitude towards affordable housing. The zoning throughout Providence is so backwards as to make this kind of neighborhood hamlet of rowhouses an unusual oasis of public charity instead of a normal, privately-built housing.


The neighborhood was clean and pleasant, the neighbors were attentive to their lawns, and some had flower pots hanging on the walls of what otherwise seemed like homes where people were not allowed to modify the exteriors. But I realized when I came across this that these houses were the same ones I spotted off the Admiral exit of 146 when people I've been with have been driving; these are the ones I always muse to the driver remind me of home (well, heowme, technically).

I've lately been speaking out more forcefully against what Speaker Nicholas Mattiello calls "The People's Agenda". I think there are three people who are excited about the Speaker's "agenda": Bill and David Koch, and Mr. Burns. It's time for progressives to "release the hounds" on this agenda: attacks on immigrants, on public college, and our environment. Rhode Island isn't western Cranston, and even western Cranston isn't necessarily Nick Mattiello. I know people in his district who disapprove deeply of the rightward lurch he has taken from his previously center-right position on the political spectrum. For a state that went Bernie in the primary, and strongly Clinton in the general election; and for a Speaker who barely (and potentially illegally) won reelection, the lack of progressive response on Smith Hill to stand up for an agenda other than the Koch Brothers' agenda is stunning. Wake up! It's time for a new Speaker.


Chad Brown Street is a very nice street, and I enjoyed my little excursion. When I got to the public housing complex that adjoins the cemetery nearby, I found myself confused about where the actual community center was. 


Some ladies were excitedly speaking Spanish to one another outside the houses, and I walked up and flustered my way through what broken Spanish I could manage.



Me: Disculpe, er. . . Busco un centro. . . er. . . alimentario. . . ?
 Uhh. . . de comida. . . 
Lady: Está allí, Papí.
Yeah, she really called me Papí. Unearned praise.
Me: Muchas gracias.  
The food I got-- much of it-- will help me a great deal to cut down on costs as I economize during my fight to reassert my good name. I thanked the ladies in English (since that's how they greeted me), and went on my way carrying a weird box of produce and junk food on my head.

This is what I got in total:





And then I separated the wheat from the nutritional chaff and took a picture of that (I actually kept the cookies and crackers, because I figure they'll be very good for a party sometime, but the chocolate milk spoiled by the time I lugged the food around to my various impromptu television appearances that morning and afternoon, and the Marvin Gaye jam session I had with a septuagenarian library computer user. There are some things about this experience that make me wanna' holler, but there's quite a lot else that is sustaining me and building me towards a happier existence.



While I was talking with Rebecca Turco of ABC 6 about Mattiello's "Jaguar tax cut", the security at the train station saw something and said something about my unusual box of food, and I finished the interview to find that my food had been moved to the dumpster. The security guard was very genial about this, and guided me to where it was, where I retrieved it and carried it duck-footedly across town to my next engagement.

There are small details about these buildings that I'm sure
people would like to change, but the gist of this complex is
that it is a nice place to live, with nice, productive, hard-
working people. Not like the suburban garbage that divides
it from the East Side. That eats our finances and leaves us
poor.

Note the bike.
Many of the places we think are poor are actually quite beautiful. And there's a risk of saying something like that in a way that's patronizing, but that's not my intention. As I said above, the Chad Brown Housing Complex reminds me more of home than anything I've encountered in Rhode Island. It even has things about it that I like better. The trees that line the place are quite old-growth, and whoever designed the complex had the sense to put them in the sidewalk where they'd provide a canopy. The fencing along the fronts of the houses is a big improvement over the open, suburban yards of Upper Darby rowhomes: it creates the clear division of public and private space that makes this neighborhood so successful. And if you sat down with a calculator and figured out what the effect of a place like this was on the city, I think you'd find that it's more than pulling its weight, even if none of the residents are paying any rent (which I don't at all know to be true one way or the other. The places that eat our public finances are the suburban ones dictated by bad zoning and bad subsidies to transportation, and the Chad Brown complex is a beautiful and thriving neighborhood (mostly) in the traditional mode (side parking lots probably being the only exception).

This laundry hanging is just someone trying to save money, but it's actually beautiful. Across town in some dormroom at RISD, some kid has a poster of some tenement in New York's Little Italy or Chinatown that has clothes draped beautifully across the street. While the rest of us burn fossil fuels and destroy everything around us, this beautiful back yard serves to preserve what we have.
While like many beautiful things in Rhode Island-- Woonsocket, Warren, the South Side, Camp Street, Olneyville, Silver Lake, Watchemoket-- have worse reputations than they deserve, it isn't the Chad Brown housing complex that should worry us. What makes this neighborhood so much less productive and valuable than it otherwise would be is the tremendous waste that RIDOT and the federal government put to building acres and acres of unfathomably expensive and unneeded infrastructure. The walk home, with 30 lb. box of veggies and chocolate milk popping up and down on top of my head, was made hard not by any residents or "bad" neighborhoods, but by these mistakes.

Whether walking:


Or biking:


This cyclist wisely moves to the side because he hears the truck behind him barreling down. Near this intersection, RIDOT recently closed some lanes to work on part of the street, and I bet if the proper records are being taken, that intersection has been made much safer. But this street-- part of a "bike route" in the city-- is woefully unprepared to connect the people of the city. And because of that, I rarely make it to this side of town, though it is blocks from my apartment.

Even a former neighbor, months ago, in a conversation with me about Providence, asked me "Where is Charles Street again" even though the Mt. Hope apartment I was living in with him at the time had been his childhood home. The bad financial decisions that supposedly progressive-minded politicans make over and over in Rhode Island destroy our state and alienate us from one another.




This is what passes for a sidewalk near what was a historic black neighborhood. The urban renewal urge turned it into a series of twisted I-95 and 146 ramps. A person in a wheelchair could never use this, and much of this valuable land goes to waste because of these decisions, creating inequality in its wake.

Consider what it would mean for Rhode Island if we took seriously the charge of creating neighborhoods like the ones that we used to build. A recent piece of legislation in the Statehouse appears poised to gut the public review process on zoning boards, but won't do anything to deal with the underlying exclusionary zoning that creates all the problems. Essentially, if a powerful institution (*cough* *cough*) wants to do something dumb and destructive, there will be a lot more chance that citizens will lack a real ability to challenge it: because while someone like me, wandering pilgrimatically across the Rhode Island landscape and visiting libraries to blog, may find it easy to do extensive write-ups, most people (myself included under normal circumstances) don't have the time. Instead of giving a YIMBY push to Rhode Island development by getting rid of parking minimums, RI districts, single-use commercial zones, and other barriers, this legislation will empower new subdivision building over wetlands and new demolitions of historic buildings, while keeping those barriers in place.
I named this post "Spiritual Pilgrimages and Long Sojourns" because I realized it would be a long one, but also because the serendipity of life presented weird symbols along the way that felt laden with (accidental, of course) meaning.

I especially liked the set of shoes and the old shirt I found in the not-quite-a-sidewalk-sidewalk, veggies bobbing up and down as I walked past. There's not someone walking around with no shoes, there are two someones walking around with one shoe each, and one of them (or perhaps a third person entirely!) is shirtless. None of them can get into a 7-11.


The condos being built near the train station, which are a welcome infill of dead space, required these workers to rehab the wall along the Mashassuck River. 


Then I encountered the numerology that is invested in so many Rhode Island vanity plates. Being full of time gives one the ability to pay attention to the small things in life.
Yeah, I know. I have 844 of those too. Get in line.
Whoa. Deep. Like, the yin and the yang of the Patriots' last win was amazing. How did they ever come from so far behind and like, make all those touchdowns and stuff? Like zoinks, Scoobie.

I don't follow what this one's trying to say. No entiendo.
I got to talk with Tony Gugliatta about MassDOT's new approach to what they're calling the "Dutch Reach". I think I'm going to have to save that to another post, because my library time clock is running down fast. Today my adventures brought me to Newport, and I can't wait to explore new meanings amidst its streets. Maybe the next license plate I find will say "LA CHAI M 18" or "5PLRZ FTH" or "4N BL TRVS". When you look for patterns that don't actually exist, you can find anything!

But one thing I do know, which is that "People's Agenda" is not a pattern for working people. The representatives and senators at the Statehouse need to think about what it is that motivates their own spiritual journey. I'll let Woody Guthrie speak to this one, since I think much of the Statehouse is Catholic:
This blog post was written in Newport City,Of rich men, preachers and slave.If Jesus was to preach as he did in Galilee,They would lay Jesus Christ in his grave.
Fight back, Rhode Island.

~~~~



No comments:

Post a Comment