Sunday, August 21, 2005



You have been nothing short of heroic through all of this, and I admire both your perseverance and physical constitution. I’ve got neither. That’s my fault and not yours, but it’s the shortcomings of me and my reprobate peers that you’re up against here, so you may as well begin grappling with them now.

I received your letters. Once again, I was both flattered and alarmed by their urgency. The importance of the next few months to the long-term health of your project is apparent, and it is immensely meaningful to me that you consider me worth salvaging from the wreckage of these days of controversy. But it is best that you know the unbending truth upfront: I will never live in the district you’ve made.

You have done everything you can to make me believe that I am welcome here, and that I would be an asset to the neighborhood you’re building. At times, I nearly believe you. But yours is not the only voice in my ear. For every optimistic projection about what the warehouse district could be, there has been an unpleasant reminder of what it currently is – and how it got that way.

I weigh every word carefully today. Over the past year there have been so many times that I have been inclined to write something, but hesitated out of respect for you and what you have achieved. But our friend the former city councilman said something in a public meeting that I cannot shake: he believed that the municipal government had a moral obligation to bring the members of the Tenants Association back to the warehouse district. He might have been blowing smoke. When I asked our friend the mayor the same question, he said he did not agree. But by then, our friend the former city councilman had not been re-elected.

You have been here far longer than I have, and your relationships with the members of the Tenants Association are richer and more complicated than mine.
But during my short association with the Arts Center, I developed an emotional attachment to the community there that was at least as ferocious as any real estate speculator’s dream of flipped properties and quick riches. The claims to sovereignty over 111 First Street made by the tenants were never politically or economically persuasive. But their personal stories were undeniable. They engendered an intense sympathy in me, one that made a mockery of my usual Jersey-libertarian qualms.

So while I can imagine any number of intellectual justifications for cutting the line and seizing a place for myself, I am not psychologically prepared to do that. And nor, I think, will I ever be – not until I am satisfied that the City has given every former tenant forced from the Arts Center a gold-plated invitation to return. I am not, like our friend the President of the Tenants Association, a sculptor with storerooms filled with work. I don’t need a thousand square feet of raw space. All I need is a laptop and a synthesizer.

You are very excited by the possibilities that the renovated warehouses in the districts can offer. You deserve to be. You have moved mountains to convince a recalcitrant government to wring these few concessions out of developers whom they normally will not cross. But when I see these buildings, I do not feel welcomed by them. They do not seem to share any of the haphazard virtues that made the Arts Center feel like a home to me. I am completely willing to accept that this is my own emotional failure. But the front door at 111 First Street was always unlocked. At half a million dollars for one bedroom and one bath, 140 Bay Street will not be.

We have passed laws. To most reasonable people, this means progress. I still have enough social and political conscience that from a certain angle, it could look like progress to me, too. But as I am sure you’ve surmised by now, I am no politician. I am an artist like you are, and like those who were run out of this very neighborhood. I work by feel. And it is my desperate hope that you will forgive me for saying: this does not feel right to me.

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