Five months ago, a visit to the local bookstore and bar or the farmers' market meant a trip of at least two hours. you couldn't take a few steps without meeting another friend or acquaintance. Now I go to the farmers market and put on my mask to recognize everyone but the farmers themselves. Everyone, it seems, is new here.
At the same time as Kingston real estate has become a shining bait for moneymakers, the suffering of the most vulnerable has become less visible and worse. As a county seat, Kingston is the rare town in Ulster County with walk or bus services to grocery stores, legal services and jobs. As such, it has long had a significant number of tenants, and many who were just making ends meet have been pushed to the edge of despair and are facing the loss of their homes through eviction. Kingston faces the potential loss of the people who kept our community alive and diverse, let alone life and functioning.
I started volunteering in April to provide emergency relief to residents in need, and driving to their homes has shown me more of my own city: carefully hidden housing projects and apartment complexes, motels where people seek long-term refuge, and increasingly, rental units right next to houses at speculative prices.
It forces me to turn the lens on myself while sitting on my converted back deck, reaping the benefits of my own move only a few years ago: Did we really care about the gentrification forces that we were part of at the time, or did we done? Has our privilege been buffered so that "care" was just a costume we put on for visits to one of the neighborhood's less affluent playgrounds? What I know is that the way we grew up to care is based on our daily closeness and interaction with the many people we live, work and raise our children with.
Deliberately ignoring the people who live on the outskirts of a city is one thing, but not being able to see them at all is another entirely. Will our new neighbors understand the growing divide they are contributing to? Will you care?
Which begs the question: If our city is still closed and the few rooms in which we could actually meet are closed for the foreseeable future, if we meet masked and quietly on the streets, how do we relate to these newcomers to step? and she with us? How do we find cohesion when we have been turned upside down? What does it mean to be a city that is being remade so quickly?
Sara B. Franklin is co-author of the Phenicia Diner Cookbook with husband Chris Bradley and restaurant owner Mike Cioffi, and Professor at New York University's Gallatin School of Individualized Study and Wallkill Correctional Facility.
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