Tuesday, December 15, 2009

“’The moral question about poverty in American- How can a country like this allow it? –has an easy answer: we can’t,’ he said”- Whatever It Takes

Originally, I was planning on traveling to neighborhoods both in Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn, but I ended up downsizing my project. I did not necessarily want to, but I felt it was the only way I could devote a good amount of time to the neighborhoods themselves. I chose to travel to the UWS because in my mind, the UWS is wealthy, but it’s a more obtainable wealth. The Upper East Side is filled with old old money and the amount of money there is ridiculous. The UWS, though filled with money as well, just is not the UES in terms of money and where the money came from. the UWS is a model for most of America, white America. El Barrio is a model of the inner-city, where blight, poverty, and a lack of mobility is painfully visible.

My decision to contrast the UWS with el Barrio was based on the fact that a grave difference lies between the two. There is a difference in resources. During my walk around el Barrio, I saw two grocery stores. There were lots of Bodegas, Liquor stores, McDonalds, but where's the fresh fruit, veggies, etc? Where are the doctors offices that the UWS has on the first floor of their buildings? What must life be like for people living in one of the twenty-some buildings that make up the Spanish Harlem projects? While people on the Upper West Side bask in the glory of Central Park, with their Barnes and Noble, Lowe's Theatre, and Starbucks, the people in el Barrio are drowning.

Paul Tough wrote an amazing book on the Harlem Children's Zone and its founder Geoffrey Canada. Published in 2008, Whatever It Takes shows the quest of an organization to close the education gap between the haves and the have nots. Two quotes from Tough's book can some up the problems I found during my observations:

“’For me,’ Canada said, ‘the big question in America is: Are we going to try to make this country a true meritocracy? Or will we forever have a class of people in America who essentially won’t be able to compete, because the game is fixed against them?’ Canada’s voice sounded raspy and solemn. ‘There’s just no way that in good conscience we can allow poverty to remain the dividing line between success and failure in this country, where if you’re born poor in a community like this one, you stay poor. We have to even that out. We ought to give these kids a chance.’” (page 18)

“’What's most overwhelming about urban poverty is that it's so difficult to escape,’ Obama said. 'It's isolating and it's everywhere. If you are an African-American child unlucky enough to be born into one of these neighborhoods, you are most likely to start life hungry or malnourished. You are less likely to start with a father in your household, and if he is there, there's a fifty-fifty chance that he never finished high school and the same chance he doesn't have a job. Your school isn't likely to have the right books or the best teachers. You're more likely to encounter gang-activities than after-school activities…Opportunity is scarce, role models are few, and there is little contact with the normalcy of life outside those streets.’” (page 273)

I wonder when we will stop isolating the poor and unfornate. And when we will give them the opportunity to live above the poverty line, to move out of the projects, to live how white America lives, and stop consigning people with tans of some sort or another to death.

Photos from El Barrio and Upper West Side

Here are other photos I took during my travels:

El Barrio

Located right outside the subway station. You know you're in the inner-city when...

Projects on 104th

El Museo del Barrio

Upper West Side

Monday, December 14, 2009


My trip to the Upper West Side was what I expected. I took the 1 to 86th Street and Broadway and intended to walk uptown to 90th, but after relying on my internal New Yorker navigational system, found myself at 82nd Street… My entire stroll was a short one, from 86th to 82nd on Broadway. I stopped at Barnes and Nobles on the Corner, and then took 82nd all the way to Central Park West. I sat on the end of the Park for a while, and then walked to 81st street BD Subway Station. All in all it was much shorter than my walk in el Barrio. Partially because I walked in the wrong direction… and partially because I was bored. Everything was the same. Nannies were walking the children they are surrogate mothers for. Old ladies were slowly walking, talking about all the hottest gossip (“Did you know that my daughter is getting her 10 year old a cell phone? Kids these days…”). Buildings are tall, some with doorman, others just with well lit lobbies, including both Christmas Trees and Menorahs.

Though I really enjoyed my time in el Barrio, the UWS made me see more of the things el Barrio lacks. As I realized I was walking South (instead of my intended Northern route), I saw a HUGE Barnes and Noble Bookstore on the corner. I love book stores. They are fantastic like libraries- you can go, sit, and read or be read to. It’s just a fantastic resource, especially for children. Reading and literacy are so incredibly important, and there, front and center, was a huge bookstore. Major points Upper West Side.

As I walked down 82nd, looking at all the nice building and holiday garb, I noticed a trend- lots of these buildings have doctor’s offices on the first floors. Talk about access to health care!!

On top of that, right across the street was a police precinct.

Then of course Central Park. Complete with park benches, playground, and grassiness.

Followed by the Natural History Museum.

Between all those things, and all the shops, grocery stores, restaurants, etc located on Broadway, I can see the appeal of the Upper West Side. It’s very family oriented. Everything you need is right there! You have options! Competition keeps prices lower. You have bookstores, movie theatre, other places to entertain yourself. Though I could never picture myself as a resident of the Upper West Side, I get it.