Gentrification does not take a break during the holiday season. It uses it to forward its work.
Quaint, old-timey star-snowflake combos adorn the intersections between 36th and 42nd streets in Hell's Kitchen for the holiday season. Let's call them stars. Walk the Avenue at night, which you wouldn't have done a handful of years ago, and admire them. They're simple, but nice.
But they aren't old-timey at all. This is the first year the stars were hung. And they may not be very nice.
Reports are the stars were hung by the Hudson Yards/Hell's Kitchen Alliance BID. A non-profit organization for "business improvement" that works to develop the area. One of the last gifts Ex-Mayor Michael Bloomberg left the city. Hmmm.
The stretch of land the stars decorate are also decorated with empty, boarded up tenements. Tenements that once housed humans at affordable prices. They're not empty for lack of dwellers. They've been sold or are being held for some better deal. Buildings awaiting the development.
Some long-time Hell's Kitchen residents don't like these stars. Not one bit. Because the stars aren't an expression of community by community for the benefit of the community. No. Hell's Kitchen residents see them as part of the effort to replace existing community. Through "development."
So, the stars. They spruce up the place. "Beautification" movements through art forms has been used in New York City from at least the 1960s. Sometimes art is used by a community to improve itself, like in Two Bridges. It is also a tool of gentrifiers. Slap on a mural, throw up some tinsel, and you attract a new crowd of investors and, then, residents.
Our neighborhoods should be beautiful. They should be clean and safe. They should also be practical and affordable. They must be for everyone.
Honestly, I liked those stars when I first saw them. Nice, I thought. Then I found out more. Drat.
Look for art and artistry on the landscape. Enjoy what you find. Then look deeper. Look past the glitter, below the surface, and consider the context. The place. The why. The message. That engagement makes art meaningful. Even if its meaning is more naughty than nice. What we discover makes life more meaningful.
The original Christmas star was a guide. It was also a welcome. For many in Hell's Kitchen, the 9th Avenue stars aren't welcoming at all. They say: Happy Holidays. Now get the fuck out.