John Fayhee’s piece (HCN, 3/20/06: Town Shopping) raises a lot of the usual questions, but one he avoided is this: Are those of us who bemoan the gentrification of the West guilty of romanticizing poverty? An acquaintance in Santa Fe once commented that the area around Taos was "Cabrini Green with better scenery" — that is, a dangerous, depressed, drug-dominated locale where you wouldn’t want to live. Beautiful, though.
Let’s face it: The scenic West is the resource colony West, the economically undeveloped West, the West that offers its residents few choices and little redress. I’m guiltier than most when it comes to fighting for the way things were, but I am coming to see that the influx of new people, and new money, brings with it demand for change that isn’t all bad.
New residents are often outspoken opponents of the old ways of mining a place into oblivion, logging it down to dirt, or grazing it to dust. This isn’t to say that everyone who lived in some Western Shangri-la before people like me arrived wants their place despoiled, only that people who depend on commodity resource production rarely have the economic or political power to effect meaningful change. Outsiders, perhaps, do.
Fayhee’s right; I cheerfully concede my own hypocrisy (I wish more people would). I humbly suggest, though, that Westerners consider the situation Fayhee describes through a different lens. Rather than trying to find the past and move there, understand that change is coming and decide how to harness it to the best ends. What the "best ends" are and how to harness change — that’s where it gets interesting.
Great Barrington, Massachusetts