Creative class struggle
Gentrification and sex work in Hamilton’s downtown core
Two downtown neighbourhoods in Hamilton, Ontario – James St. North and Landsdale – have recently been the site of several skirmishes in a gentrification war waged in the media, art galleries and on the streets themselves.
James St. North is the vibrant hub of a burgeoning arts community. Busy cafés and bars owned by Portuguese and Italian immigrants who have called the neighbourhood home for decades sit next to swanky new art galleries showcasing the work of local artists. Just east lies the Landsdale neighbourhood, home to some of Hamilton’s poorest residents, including sex workers and other people living or working on the streets. These two neighbourhoods have become focal points of a fiery debate on surveillance, gentrification and the division of public space within Hamilton’s downtown core.
Exemplified by two art exhibits and the media coverage that surrounds them, the debate over the right to space in Hamilton reflects similar gentrification struggles being waged in cities across the country in pursuit of sanitized downtown cores pandering to a “creative class” of young urban professionals (for more info on the creative class, click here).
In May 2008, creative class theorist Richard Florida was the keynote speaker at Hamilton’s day-long economic summit. The Hamilton Spectator reported his proclamation that “you can’t help but be part of a boom, you can’t really miss,” given Hamilton’s location in the cross-border “mega-region” that Florida described as stretching from Waterloo, through Montreal and Toronto, and into New York state. It was the city’s first economic summit, with more than 125 of “Hamilton’s most powerful voices in business, the arts, government, social services, health and education” in attendance, who called for a reinvention of Hamilton’s image within three to five years, according to the Spectator. The city of Hamilton began full-force promotion of the Hamilton Creative City Initiative to support the creative economy in 2009.
Gentrification in Hamilton’s core
To support the business of art, Hamilton’s downtown core has been subject to various efforts to “clean up” the streets, including the introduction of 24-hour video surveillance, increased police foot patrols, and legal and illegal evictions from heritage buildings to make way for businesses serving young, hip consumers. As developers work to re-create space for the incoming creative class, people living in poverty, who have long resided in the downtown core, are being forced out. The neighbourhoods of James St. North and Gore Park, the heart of downtown Hamilton, have borne the brunt of these changes – both neighbourhoods feature a special police foot patrol, 24-7 video surveillance and more assigned police presence than any other area of the city.
Public discussion around the cleansing of the downtown core has been especially disdainful towards sex workers. Articles in the Hamilton Spectator have cited sex workers, along with other perceived evils like high crime rates, panhandling, unsightly businesses and loiterers, as barriers to a thriving downtown economy. One Spectator article, describing the eviction of tenants from the historic Hotel Hamilton to make room for creative entrepreneurs and a trendy coffee shop, noted that the building “had ended up as a rundown boarding house that spawned numerous complaints from nearby merchants and residents about prostitution and hardcore drugs.” Similar articles, notable for the consistent exclusion of the voices of the people implicated, have suggested more policing, a ban on social services and the creation of a pedestrian mall as possible solutions.
In nearby Landsdale, prostitution and drugs have been cited as problems of “epidemic” proportion, and blame for everything from low property values to building abandonment and demolition has been attributed to the “decay” of the downtown core. In an article for H Mag in May 2010, landlord Julie Gordon expressed her sense of urgency in pursuing efforts to cleanse the downtown: “the status quo in Hamilton is unacceptable… if we do nothing the social climate in Hamilton will not stay the same. It will deteriorate.” Gordon went on to express her desire for “a safe home, good neighbours and pleasant surroundings” in the inner city. Like many of downtown’s wealthier and more powerful citizens, she cited the threats to this ideal as “prostitutes, drug-users and the homeless.”
Amber Dean, a post-doctoral fellow at McMaster University and resident of the Landsdale neighbourhood, described her experiences with the neighbourhood association as alienating. “It felt like to voice an opinion that differed from the majority there was just too risky, and that my input wouldn’t be valued,” Dean said. She recalls her impression that their goal was “to clean up the neighbourhood, and that this meant getting rid of anyone the association deemed ‘undesirable.’ There seemed to be little understanding of the effects of poverty or injustice, and little willingness to consider the bigger issues that were at stake.” After a few meetings, Dean stopped attending. “Their law-and-order agenda seemed unshakable,” she explained.
It’s an all-too-common case of gentrification, where class divisions determine the division and use of public space. Gentrification displaces poor and marginalized populations from physical and cultural spaces, and transforms them into spaces used exclusively by the more affluent. In a city where class divisions between white and racialized groups, men and women, able and disabled persons and cisgendered and transgendered persons are magnified, the wealthier class that moves into a gentrified space is inevitably predominantly white, male, able and cisgendered. While it is difficult to count the number of people displaced by gentrification – they are necessarily not around to be counted – it can be helpful to examine the ways that space and the discourses around space have been transformed to meet the needs of the wealthy.
The creative crass: Moral outrage as art
The transformation of space by and for a wealthier class in Hamilton is exemplified by the recent work of local “poverty porn” artists, most notably Gary Santucci, whose surveillance and slide show project “The Hood, The Bad and The Ugly” was exhibited at You Me Gallery in September 2009, and Larry Strung, whose April 2010 exhibition at a nearby gallery was called “A Child of God.” Both exhibits consisted largely of photos of women presumed to be doing sex work. Both were collections of images of women in the Landsdale neighbourhood, exhibited in the James St. North neighbourhood. And both shed light on the invasive, forceful and colonizing nature of gentrification in the city.
Santucci’s exhibit was a slide show presented on several TV screens which displayed photos of several different women – some whose faces could be identified – who were photographed standing alone on the corner near his Landsdale gallery and performance space, The Pearl Company. One photo showed a partially nude woman seeking privacy to urinate behind a building. The photos were taken from surveillance cameras mounted on the walls and roof of the gallery and from Santucci’s personal camera, shot from the third-story window of the gallery. “Something must be done,” exclaimed a caption on one screen.
Strung’s exhibit included a series of framed portrait-style photographs of a woman whom he met on the same corner outside The Pearl Company, using drugs in her apartment. The accompanying narrative described the woman as a prostitute and addict who could be saved from her destructive lifestyle by faith and prayer. It included her home address and described Strung’s disappointment in her reluctance to model for him after he offered her $20. The narrative accompanying the photos struck a familiar chord with one local sex worker I spoke to, who likened Strung’s description of the photo shoot – watching the woman so she wouldn’t “run off,” and being unwilling to leave after an hour because he didn’t get the photo he wanted – to the disrespectful ways clients talk about street workers on Internet message boards.
It was a stunning juxtaposition of the experiences of women who do sex work and the experience of a privileged male artist who saw a sex worker as a blank slate for his artistic and ideological expression. What for sex workers is an issue of labour and human rights – negotiating with clients, maintaining privacy, adequate pay for their work, the right to refuse service – was transformed by the exhibit into an attitude of ownership and occupation. Given the dynamics of a white man photographing a black woman in the context of gentrification and the criminalization of sex work, the colonization of sex workers’ cultural space is palpable in these images and the spectacle of their display.
In both cases, the demeaning portrayal of women doing sex work in the Landsdale neighbourhood was presented for viewing by people frequenting the James St. North neighbourhood, where the ownership of public and private space by the affluent has been more or less secured. The surveillance style of the art in both exhibits juxtaposes the privileged position of the artists as entitled to the space with the sex worker subjects as persons whose right to privacy in public space and even their own living quarters has been usurped. This invasion was coupled with a lack of consent. In the case of Santucci’s exhibit, the sex workers he photographed were unaware of his surveillance. Those who found out were very distressed, whether they were featured in the exhibit, or just familiar with the corner as one of their workplaces. The woman in Strung’s exhibit consented to be photographed after what his own narrative described as months of pressure: he asked her to model for him every time he saw her, and eventually she agreed to do so for a paltry $20 payment. Activists contested the ethics of displaying Santucci’s images without the models’ consent, and in the case of the “Child of God” exhibit, were successful in convincing the artist and the gallery to remove the photos.
The controversy surrounding these two exhibits brings to light the politics of space, location and displacement at play in the surrounding communities. Keeping in mind that “space” is often as cultural and emotional as it is physical, we see gentrification at work in these images. From the streets where sex workers and other unvalued or criminalized labourers work to the cultural dialogue about the display of images of sex workers’ bodies, space is made over to attract wealthier and more powerful classes.
Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act
“The Hood, the Bad and the Ugly” remained in the gallery for its full run of about a month. As it was an exhibit intended to open dialogue about crime in the Landsdale neighbourhood, it generated discussion – and publicity – in the media. There was also reaction within the community. While sex workers were horrified by their representation in art, the Landsdale Area Neighbourhood Association was teaming up with nearby neighbourhoods for a community meeting at Wentworth Baptist Church.
The meeting followed hot on the heels of Santucci’s September exhibit, and provided a forum for the scapegoating of sex workers and drug users as the causes of the community’s perceived crime problems. Posters and a petition were circulated to advertise the meeting. “Drug dealers and Prostitution,” read the bold lettering. “Working together to get them off our streets and out of our neighbourhood!” Community members at the meeting were visibly hostile, describing sex workers as predators of children, dangerous and violent criminals, and insane drug users who, if you talk to one, will “stab you with an AIDS needle.”
In many communities, propaganda campaigns against sex workers and other “illegitimate” users of public space culminate in legislative solutions to the perceived threat of urban decay. These can take the form of anti-loitering bylaws, building code crackdowns, police sweeps against sex workers and panhandlers, or a piece of legislation that has recently become popular called a “SCAN” Act. Safer Communities And Neighbourhoods Acts have been enacted in Nova Scotia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Northwest Territories and Yukon, and a SCAN was recently proposed and defeated in Ontario. The legislation allows “problem” properties to be emptied via municipal and provincial court authorities. Targets are crack houses and common bawdy houses, many of which are rental properties used as living and working spaces, and evictions can be completed in as little as two weeks.
SCANs take different forms in different provinces, but the system for identifying “problem” properties is usually complaints-driven, and community members are encouraged to observe and report their neighbours. The acts of surveillance and social control become a cycle: surveillance makes some people more visible than others, amplifies perceptions of danger and threat, and the method of eliminating that threat incorporates more surveillance. The spaces occupied by outsiders in the community are continually squeezed by scrutiny and displacement efforts.
Sex workers are people in your neighbourhood
Recognizing sex workers as legitimate members of communities with the right to earn a living in public spaces may expand their opportunities for support and self-protection. In New Zealand, where sex work is decriminalized – prostitution is not a violation of the criminal code and is subject to the same labour and business laws as other forms of employment – a five-year review of sex work’s new legal status revealed that the number of people doing sex work stayed about the same, while opportunities for coercion and exploitation were reduced and most sex workers reported being better off.
According to Crystal, a former outdoor sex worker in Hamilton’s Landsdale neighbourhood, sex workers are “safer when we’re together [on the streets].” When sex workers are displaced through imprisonment or rehabilitation programs, they are often scattered across the city, which breaks down their system of mutual support. Decriminalization is an important goal, but defence of basic rights cannot wait until “after the revolution.” The needs of street labourers can be met now within the existing political, economic and social frameworks that protect other workers’ human, civil and labour rights. The work of activists and concerned community members should be first and foremost to promote the rights of sex workers and other street labourers to the spaces they occupy, and then to tear down the walls that prevent illegitimate labourers from accessing that right.
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Finally, a clear, informative and accessibly-written description of how the rhetoric of cleaning up the streets, the targeting of public sex workers and their positioning as “deviant”, “diseased” and “disposable”, and processes of gentrification are all inter-connected. I think Sarah’s article is a great tool to be used in challenging city politicians, planners and police. To date, it seems that their plans to “revitalize” the city core have met little resistance even though these plans are characterized by a remarkable level of disregard for marginalized members of the Hamilton community. Sarah’s article sends a clear message that there are people in Hamilton who actually have a vision of Hamilton as an inclusive and welcoming community for ALL people – not just those who are economically and socially privileged. Thanks for putting into words and pictures what many of us have been thinking!
From Vilma Rossi on Jul 6th, 2010 at 11:40am
Sarah Mann’s article is simply an excellent critique of the “creative class” rhetoric that is currently being used to rationalize all kinds of discriminatory and exclusive bi-law and zoning policies in inner cities across North America. I was particularly impressed with how Sarah connected the dots between Richard Florida’s propaganda, the so-called “poverty porn” artists in her community with calls for “cleaning up the streets” so that affluent, middle class, urban hipsters can live out the fantasy that the city is meant for them, and them alone. This kind of careful, detailed analysis is such a valuble tool for community activists everywhere who want to build cities where everyone feels like they belong.
From Kristin Smith on Jul 6th, 2010 at 1:08pm
Sarah Mann has not actually read the five-year review of sex work’s new legal status in New Zealand. I have read it, and I will take the time to cite specific quotes from specific pages of the report in the hope that the editors will amend this article and do a better job fact-checking submissions with bombastic claims that seem contrary to common sense.
Here are facts from the New Zealand Prostitution Law Review Committee report on the Operation of the Prostitution Reform Act (“PRA”) 2003.
Page 14: “The majority of sex workers felt that the law could do little about violence that occurred.”
Page 57: A majority of respondents felt that decriminalization made no difference with respect to the violence of johns in prostitution — they felt that it was inevitably a part of the sex industry.
Page 118: Street prostitution in Auckland more than doubled in just one year, 2006-2007.
Page 122: The Report notes that “few” sex workers, regardless of whether they were prostituting indoors or outdoors, reported any of the incidents of violence or crimes against them to the police.
Page 157: Many owners of brothels have the same exploitive contract arrangements that existed before prostitution was decriminalized. Often no written contracts or their questionable quality. (page 157)
[i]The following is summarized from Section 8 of the report:[/i] In 2006, Auckland counted 106 street prostitutes and Christchurch 100. By 2007, Auckland counted 230 street prostitutes and Christchurch 121.
The report states, “Auckland outreach workers also reported an ‘influx of sex workers on the streets in the six to eight months prior to June 2007.’”
“Streetreach is a non-governmental organisation that provides support for street-based sex workers in Auckland and Manukau cities. Streetreach believes there has been an overall increase in the number of street-based sex workers in the Auckland region since decriminalization.”
“In Christchurch, some residents in and around the street prostitution area report an increase in the number of sex workers since the passage of the PRA (St Lukes Body Corporate, 2007). Information received from other residents from the same area indicates that sex workers are now seen working during daylight hours, as well as at night (Residents of Manchester, Peterborough and Salisbury Street corners, 2007).”
The report directly contradicts Ms. Mann’s summation that, “…the number of people doing sex work stayed about the same, while opportunities for coercion and exploitation were reduced and most sex workers reported being better off.”
From Lia on Jul 13th, 2010 at 2:16pm
The lack of respect paid to the law abiding low to middle income residents in these depressed areas is simply astonishing. Evidently they haven’t been politically correct enough, so what they want for their own neighbourhoods becomes irrelevant.
Never mind the stereo-typing as spoiled yuppie larva of the artistic entrepreneurs who are working hard to change the ghettos into livable spaces, Sarah Mann seems to be able to incorporate these people who seek to see improvements to their own neighbourhoods under the same umbrella.
That Gary Santucci’s art only speaks to affluent transplants that have no business being there in the first place is an assertion that is nothing short of absurd. Residents of the community would have seen it, and you can’t just stereo type those people to the point of irrelevance. Free speech means being able to photograph your own neighbourhood, and certainly your own front door step.
The argument that there is nothing specifically wrong with two consenting adults trading sex and capital is a complete moot point. Virtually every legitimate business is regulated in the interest of public health, and so why should sex work be any different? Public space is not owed to enterprise, be it sex work, hot dog vending, or the coca-cola company.
If you want to legitimize sex work as an industry, then do just that, and draw parallels between it and other industries. But do NOT confuse the issue with handing over the streets to street walkers as somehow a socially responsible form of charity to the poor.
I, like many who ware working hard to bring new life to James Street north, grew up in Hamilton in a low-middle income family. You want to talk about the affluent sticking their nose where it doesn’t belong, this article is it. To condemn my hometown to a continued ghetto in the name of your own affluent guilt is nothing short of revolting, Ms. Mann.
From Aaron on Jul 14th, 2010 at 3:33pm
“Free speech means being able to photograph your own neighbourhood, and certainly your own front door step.”
I think what the author is trying to demonstrate is the power imbalance between the “artist” taking photographs and the subjects of those photographs. Photographing your own front door is one thing, owning a building from which you can place surveilance cameras at women who have no choice but to piss in alleyways, then turn around and profit of those photographs is another.
I thought the article was excellent overview of the current climate of gentrification in Hamilton. I’ve shown it to several Hamiltonians born and bread who agree with me. Keep up the good work, Sarah!
From Randy on Jul 14th, 2010 at 7:57pm
your article… in it’s zeal to condemn the arts community has misrepresented many articles (in particular julie gordon’s writing in Hmag) and attributed many acts of government as being dictated by this community…..which simply not true.
proper release forms if not signed for persons appearing in an art exhibit is common practice in the arts community however it is not the most ethical practice and thus a sobering look at that issue is perhaps needed.
the empathic look at why the sex trade exists and who it attracts is both necessary and important. however, from the standpoint of which business i would support as being the forerunner in the downtown core of my city (as both the sex trade and the arts are simply business) there is no contest.
one is illegal the other is not.
one is legitimate business that i would support my child being a part of and the other is illegitimate business (at this time in canada) that i would not want my child to be attracted to or have to exist in.
i can’t figure out what kind of future i would be supporting if i fully supported illegal activity as opposed to legitimate business.
i would hope that at some point there is enough legitimate business that woman growing up in this city will be able to choose a lifestyle that is safe, healthy and supports their self-esteem and growth as individuals….as opposed to one that leads to constant re-victimization and a marginalized lifestyle.
understanding how we can support woman in finding alternatives to this lifestyle would be something that would appeal to me much more than trying to find ways to allow the profession to flourish.
if the downtown core becomes completely gentrified i also will not be able to afford to live here anymore…at my current income level and with the current job market. however, i can hope that if jobs start developing and the downtown becomes safer and more appealing to people who do have money …. i might be able to get a job there and provide myself with a better income and my family with a better life….. for this potential opportunity i’m willing to move a few blocks.
From william galasso on Jul 14th, 2010 at 9:20pm
I wonder what neighbourhood the author lives in.
I was a resident of the Landsdale neighbourhood for 4 years, up until last April. And you know what? It gets tiring.
It’s tiring checking the park for discarded heroin needles and broken glass before it’s safe to let your kids play.
It’s tiring to know that the local burger joint is full of drunks.
It’s tiring to dodge past smokers and loiterers.
It’s tiring to have to take your stroller onto King Street in the morning rush hour because there’s been another bar stabbing and the sidewalk is closed off.
It’s tiring to see every teenage girl walk around with the same hard look on her face.
It’s tiring to know that the city doesn’t give half a shit about your neighbourhood’s problems simply because it’s full of poor people. It’s tiring to hear your neighbours say they have had the clothes stolen as they hung out to dry.
Sometimes, people just want to raise their kids.
Sometimes, people’s sense of compassion for the broader social issues that help create poverty, drug addiction and prostitution is not as strong as the desire to just come home without hearing anyone screaming.
Sometimes, getting on one’s moral high horse is a luxury afforded by distance and removal from the situation.
From B on Jul 14th, 2010 at 10:57pm
I’m an artist living and working in the Landsdale. It is safer for me to walk the streets anytime here than it is to visit the mess on Hess on a weekend night. While I, like many others, would like to see the crack gone, it frightens me when these debates fire up zeal in our neighborhood. The zeal smacks of fascism and intolerance. As for the hookers and drugs: It is naive to think they are not present in EVERY neighborhood in this city.
From AJ on Jul 14th, 2010 at 11:24pm
The writer seems to be under the impression that artists are members of an elite class of gentrified people. Perhaps better research would inform her that the vast majority of working artists do not make anywhere near as much money from their art as she may think. I would speculate that the average sex trade worker makes much more money than the average artist does from their art practice. The gentrification of James St. N. may push the artist and sex trade worker out of the area. How much art has the writer purchased from artists exhibiting on James St. N? If none, then she like some developers moving in to the area are using artists for their own needs. Her need is to be sanctimonious about supporting a cause.
From Chyna on Jul 14th, 2010 at 11:48pm
I think that Sarah has done a very good job in bringing forward issues that are worthy of discussion.
There is a stigma to sex trade workers and as one of the oldest trades in mans history, it is not going away anytime soon. I noticed that most of the negatives ponts were against the sex workers themselves and not the clientel that uses them. They provide a service, which many people use, they, the clients can be married, they can earn high levels of income. They can be from our city but also come in from outside as well. As workers, they should be able to organize to establish labour standards and health and safety standards as well.
I was at the meeting at the church. There clearly is not a clear understanding of the welfare system and how this system itself prepetuates the on going poverty in this city. The one citizen who spoke got up and stated their view, which they were entitled to was ok but as the evening wore on, this person clearly showed that they were a lunatic who most likely needs to have a mental health assessment, as the person was clearly paranoid and delusional.
The many not for profits, that just follow orders, they deny people access to food and shelter, to those who are the most vulnerable in our society.
One has to ask themselves, as these middle class workers of the system, that lack the will to actually stand up and speak out about the system itself that has created the every deepening poverty in our midst. I think what was the point of going to school, when clearly you are not social workers but only micro managers and bullies, who use threats of intimidation and oppression.
What has been missing from all these discussion is all the voices, to be able to sit down and talk. The poor are being displaced, affordable housing stocks are decreasing, where do people expect them to go.
It says much about our society when we treat those who are the most marginalized as the dirt on your shoes, they have no rights, they have no voice and that is what need to change.
But then druing G20, many doctors, nurses, and others clearly from the middle class found out, they had no rights which the poor have been fighting since 1995. There was no outrage before as the poor have been beaten and denied access to the two most basic needs to survive, FOOD AND SHELTER. Now that the middle class has seen the wrath, now there is outrage, Is it too late.
From Solidarity with Sarah on Jul 15th, 2010 at 5:02am
Landsdale landlord Julie Gordon here, just taking a break from cleansing the downtown to weigh in on this article. Sarah Mann has taken my comments out of context and twisted them to serve her purpose. If anyone is interested in reading my article and forming their own opinion, here is the link: [url=http://www.new.hmag.ca/?p=814]http://www.new.hmag.ca/?p=814[/url] I just want to add that I am proud of the changes that my husband and I have made in our small corner of the community. I won’t apologize for my opinion or my actions or accept the negative labels that Sarah has attached to me. We have improved living conditions in our building without raising rents and our tenants are happy and safe. The opinion of one ill-informed individual does not negate any of these positives.
In response to the rest of Sarah’s article, her subjective approach to marginalization of prostitutes overlooks a few key issues, two of which have already been mentioned in this thread: 1) the violence and crime that accompanies sex work, 2) disregard for other marginalized groups who share space with prostitutes and drug abusers. Third, Mann ignores the role of pimps and johns in the exploitation of prostitutes. Prostitution exists because certain men feel justified in the buying and selling of the female body — this practice is reinforced by the objectification of women in mainstream culture. The stigma of prostitution is a therefore feminist issue. Sarah Mann and others might find it more rewarding and productive to tackle the gender inequality that is root cause of the marginalization and degradation of female sex workers, rather than arguing that prostitution is a legitimate and rewarding profession, particularly when there is so much evidence to the contrary.
In addition to opposing the gentrification label that Sarah has so casually slapped on my back, I also take issue with the deliberate vilification of the Hamilton arts community. Hamilton has been beaten and bruised in recent years by job losses and self-serving decisions of an incompetent city council. Sarah’s article is just another kick in the teeth. The arts are one of the few growing industries in Hamilton. The investment by creative people with interesting ideas in our city has provided a much need boost to the collective consciousness. To suggest that all artists are elitist gentrifiers is irresponsible and inaccurate. The majority of the artists working and living in Hamilton find it difficult to sustain a living through their art. Artists should not be made to feel guilt for trying to profit from their creativity when the product of their labour enriches the cultural wealth of the city. If Sarah Mann wants to take issue with the content of specific artists’ works, so be it; however, she is over-reaching by including the entire creative community in her assault.
From Julie Gordon on Jul 15th, 2010 at 1:55pm
The problem is, sex workers are not just “people in your neighbourhood.” It just can’t be presented as Mr. Rogers as all that.
I lived in the Stinson Street/Wentworth area for too long – ten years – and in that time acquired such a sour taste for the city that I will never be back, nor would I recommend living there to anyone else. It isn’t just the sex workers. Mothers change their babies on your car. Drug users sleep in your alleyways and destroy your fencing. At least once during your tenure, your car is likely to be broken into, vandalized, or rear-ended while parked (I got option 3).
The last straw for me was when I found out a vagrant had been living in my basement for at least a week. Hamilton is a vile hole and frankly I don’t see it getting better, ever. The only solution is to move or set a bomb off in the downtown core to get rid of all the drug dealers, pimps, and prostitutes.
From SickofHammer on Jul 15th, 2010 at 2:11pm
Doesn’t this type of environment create interesting art? Feels to me as if the Rich are using the mediocre artists to help their cheap land investments pay off.
I think it’s time artists began embracing this environment instead of exploiting and fearing it.
Once the poor are evicted, the artists are next.
From T.S.B on Jul 25th, 2010 at 10:37pm
This article is very thought-provoking and timely.
“In many communities, propaganda campaigns against sex workers and other “illegitimate” users of public space culminate in legislative solutions to the perceived threat of urban decay… Safer Communities And Neighbourhoods Acts have been enacted in Nova Scotia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Northwest Territories and Yukon, and a SCAN was recently proposed and defeated in Ontario. The legislation allows “problem” properties to be emptied via municipal and provincial court authorities. Targets are crack houses and common bawdy houses, many of which are rental properties used as living and working spaces, and evictions can be completed in as little as two weeks.
“SCANs take different forms in different provinces, but the system for identifying “problem” properties is usually complaints-driven, and community members are encouraged to observe and report their neighbours.”
Here’s the thing. I can relate to ‘some of’ the fears felt by proponents of the SCAN approach to social disintegration. There is such a thing as unclean neighborhoods and unclean people.
We seem to be talking, here, about successful (healthy if you like) versus unsuccessful (unhealthy) social life. But there is a range of many, many shades of healthy and unhealthy socio-economic conditions between the very best off and worst off in society. Those progressives who are trying to fend off the attacks by uncaring elites and their (comfortable class) tools and who romanticize for example the sex trade and it’s employees never mention the even least healthy elements further down the socio-economic ladder in the sex trade.
I worked as a security guard for 10 years on Queen East in Toronto, a sort of fringe downtown area that laws (from my understanding) drove sex workers to start working in. There is lots of economic depression in the area and lots of crack houses as well, although you’ll find that all over the city. Some prostitutes are nasty people who couldn’t care whether you live or die. I’ve never hassled sex workers. And I can’t say that many of them have hassled me. But it’s happened a few time. One mouthed off to me, swung her purse at me and spit at me. I kept telling her to get out of my way. I was trying to get away from her. The tenants on break outside the building who heard to commotion had a good laugh. But it wasn’t funny.
I’ve seen some pretty scary, rundown and messed up sex workers and unless my progressive friends want to tell me that they don’t count… Others note that some of those women live with nasty criminal types who couldn’t care less whether you lived or died. No one should be indifferent to that.
But some of us care and many of us don’t. The problem isn’t always with the unsavoury people and behavior surveilling citizens see and want stopped. The problem is often that the surveilling citizens just don’t care or have good intentions. Just because you want (what you think is) the good life, that doesn’t mean that you are good or right. Nor does it mean that those who have little chance of having it themselves (sometimes, but not always, deservedly) aren’t simply unlucky. – I’m very aware that talking about those are ‘deserving’ and those who are ‘undeserving’ is tricky.
I reside in an (not ‘the’) unhealthy zone in the socio-economic ladder. I don’t want to be here (where I’ve been my whole life), but it has given me the opportunity to observe how heartless people can be who have been lucky – luck ‘always’ plays a part in one’s success in this dog-eat-dog world even if hard work and sacrifice play bigger parts – in this monstrous money system. It’s a system that will devour any who can’t run fast enough (be lucky enough to have good jobs, connections, supportive friends and/or family who are financially secure, etc.) from it. And those who run fastest usually turn out to be crooks who took not only their own money before sprinting, but others’ money as well.
I had a chat today with a young man who, for the moment, is a big believer in the Right and people like Stephen Harper and Jim Flaherty. But he’s not a bad person. He doesn’t have bad intentions and he’s like a lot of other people who haven’t bothered to examine what they think are their beliefs, but which are actually propganda pushed at them by corporate owned media. He was trying to tell me that he hates the way a certain man pushes religion on him, without malice, but still… That person always has religious books with him where we see him and will preach at you and twist your arm to read one of his books if you don’t stop him up front, which it is easy enough to do to be fair. This young man in fact believes in good morals and in law and order.
Indeed. I pointed out that how you sell what you’re selling can say something about the quality of what you’re selling. I’m religious, but I don’t force my religious views on anyone. This young man, who plays a bagpipe – which he feels is fairly good at allowing a closer to pure translation of the musical intentions of the musician than some other instruments, even though he doesn’t particularly care for the instrument – stated that he’s always been sort of on a quest for purity and that’s why he likes the idea of having standards and a moral foundation, even though he doesn’t want someone forcing him to go there.
And I suggested to him that perhaps purity is impurity. That elicited… a quiet pause. Then I explained that, for example, God instituted marriage, united the first human couple and declared them to be ‘one flesh’. And that was, at this socially and economically pure time, perfect and according to the design of a perfect God. And then, in the desert, suddenly it was okay for God’s male servants to have more than one wife.
Sometimes we don’t see the forest for the trees. All kinds of people are wandering around with all kinds of moral codes in their heads, and lots of them have not learned compassion or felt empathy and so lots of judgmentalism is happening and lots of suffering as a result. Imperfect humans who believe, with or without good intentions, in a certain moral code and see others (perhaps themselves) acting against it, might not realize that they are not necessarily looking at people who are so different (or so much more wicked) than they are. They may not stop to consider that when a context changes, then the rules which prevailed within that context may need changing too.
For example, The good wife who suffers in silence for years as her loving husband, who no longer finds her sexy, gets his sex elsewhere while she goes without because she’s married and loves her husband who loves her, shows she lacks mental agility. The context for her loyalty has disappeared. She needn’t suffer. But she continues to. That was a story in the Toronto Star a while back (this year) that really moved me.
Finally, A healthy monster isn’t a good thing. But that’s just my moral code speaking.
From Arby on Jul 31st, 2010 at 12:42am