The definitive article about urban revitalization was published, but of course, by the Onion: “Decaying City Just Wants To Skip To Part Where It Gets Revitalized Restaurant Scene.” The cool but true story in this article was set in Camden, historically known for a solid industrial base including a Campbell’s Soup factory, more recently known for having its municipal policing taken over by a special detachment of the New Jersey State Police, and for, shall we say, its dope heroin scene. As one of the locals exquisitely put it, prior to heroin “wasn’t no white people up in this motherfucker.” White people used to work in Camden’s factories, of course, but even though the factories closed within living memory, they might as well be the ruins of the Roman Coliseum for all the enduring benefits they’ve had for Camden. Whitey is so diverse and fractious a constituency that I’m normally disinclined to speak on its entire behalf, but in this case, I have to say that it takes a very special kind of cracker to go to Camden in order to try out a bad dope set precisely because it has been killing other junkies, and so I feel compelled to offer my apologies to all of Camden’s decent residents on Whitey’s behalf. Maybe junkies aren’t as bad as full-bore tweakers, but still.
Reno’s downmarket whiteys are a bit harder to figure out. For basic demographic and geographical reasons I have to assume that Reno is a place where one can reliably find a meth friend, but I’ve never noticed any obvious tweakers here. For the most part, the lowbrow downtowners just look worn out. They look like they’ve lived hard and will be showing it for the rest of their lives. Paradoxically, they don’t generally look like they work; it’s conceivable that they held jobs in the past, but they look unemployable or the next thing to it in the present. On drugs or not, they’d be in bad shape due to their living situations. Not being drunk or doped up or tweaked out doesn’t make it easy to live under an overpass or in a shelter or in an SRO that is forever on the verge of condemnation for serial code violations. Unless someone (social workers? cops? clergy?) starts running an exceptionally enterprising homeless outreach program, these people will remain fated to live hard lives in hard circumstances.
It’s more than just poverty, too. Most of these down-and-out, I suspect, would be better off living in marginally worse circumstances (say, tarpaper shack villages) with intact families and communities than as deracinated leftovers fending for themselves in however big a territory they can manage to navigate around the casinos. The American West has more homelessness per capita than the South, the Northeast, or the Midwest. One credible inference here is that the difference is due to Westerners either being geographically separated from family (if they’re homeless) or not giving a shit about leaving their kin out on the street if they fall on hard times. The idea is that reciprocal kinship obligations have been broken by geography and pure selfishness.
I have to give this argument some credence based on my own circumstances, which include relatives in Oregon (diaspora Californians, in case you’d like to hate on the Golden State) who basically made fun of me for trying to camp out or sleep in drafty outbuildings on their property on freezing nights after they barred me from crashing with them because they were butthurt over some old drama and, after a time, had lodged a paying housemate in my old room. These fuckers treated me this way when I was working for them and my parents had dumped well over a hundred thousand dollars’ worth of capital investments and emergency handouts into the sinkhole of their combined household and business finances.
The only places on the East Coast where I’d expect a decent chance of being degraded by such a nasty school of pseudo-Jeffersonian catfish are trendy parts of Vermont and the Hudson Valley, and even in these places it doesn’t seem very likely. On the West Coast, it’s a significant threat and a huge problem.
One thing I have to say in Reno’s defense is that it doesn’t harbor and succor these hippie-dippie-ding-dongs and their disingenuous mooching and treachery under the auspices of some Pa Kettle live-action roleplay. It may not be hip to be square around here, but it certainly isn’t hip to be hippie, and that’s for the best. I saw two confrontations nearly turn into fistfights within half an hour last night, but at least none of the parties was dressed in the trustafarian’s rags. They were living in truth to an extent that would be unconscionably not groovy, man, to much of the Saturday Night Fight Club crowd west of the Sierra-Cascade Crest. (Sacramento trends a bit square, too, but it’s awfully like Stockton and Fresno for groovy-ass crunchy hill people.)
Even so, the lowbrow downtowners get in the way of revitalization. Or, as the morning desk clerk at the Travelodge called it, “regentrification.” Finally, a way for not only a neighborhood but its displaced (and probably mythical) bougies to “come back.” The desk clerk, hallelujah, was a local boy who spoka tha English, and unlike the two last night, he took my complaints seriously. Dude was super apologetic but also really sensible about the concrete action needed to desuckify the property. Consider the boom formerly lowered on the Travelodge raised anew. Anyway, he told me that the property had just been bought by the Travelodge franchisees a few months earlier and that it had been a much worse dump when they bought it than it is now.
I believe him. Pretty much every tenement-style motel in downtown Reno looks like shit. The one exception that comes to mind is the Desert Rose Inn, a former Travelodge, if I’m not mistaken, that was repainted a deep brothel red by its new owners. Most of the lodging stock away from the casino towers looks fucking awful, like anyone staying in it would have to be a walking biblical parable of the wages of dissolute living. The fact that there’s enough of a market to support dozens of these shitholes within walking distance of a neighborhood full of twenty-story casino hotel towers speaks to something being sociologically and economically wrong with Reno. This is just the inner city, mind you. Reno and Sparks have shitty suburban neighborhoods, too.
So they’re “coming back” to “regentrification.” The desk clerk this morning approves. He was also impressed that the new owners of the Travelodge have chosen to settle in Reno and raise their children here. Unfortunately, he’s far from the only American who disbelieves in local tyrants. Cliven Bundy is a Nevadan, too, and one popular cracker on the armed sedition scene. Most American slumlording operations are run by hometown local folk. At least agitators in the ghetto will stand up to Korean shopkeepers for being shady bottomfeeders, although, God help us, they usually put a racial gloss on the dispute. The Koreans probably say some nasty-ass racist shit about black people if they figure that no Korean-speaking outsiders are within earshot, but hey, they’ve chosen to settle in Compton and raise their children in Compton, yes?
What I have to wonder about the gentrification or revitalization or regentrification of downtown Reno, by whatever unctuous euphemism, is what on earth will be done with the downtowners. They’re gnarly. They don’t shop at Reno Provisions, and management at Reno Provisions must be relieved, but they’re still neighbors. Why, hello, neighbor! Beautiful, neighborly day, woulnchyinz say? Maybe they’ll be exiled to the suburbs. In France, they’d be “coming back” to the banlieue, although the banlieue will not be coming back to anything worth being there for when it finally arrives. In San Jose, the authorities evicted the down-and-out from the DeAnza Hotel and turned the property into lofts for the richy-rich. Now they’re trying to evict the homeless by the hundreds from encampments along the Guadalupe River. Many people in the Bay Area live in storage units. That’s illegal, too, but the wealthy need their gardeners, or, as they say in Atherton, “my arborist.” Somebody has to wash dishes at the Left Bank. Buscamos rock star lavaplatos con experiencia.
The desk clerk this morning told me that the Truckee Riverfront used to be “shabby.” Today, it’s best-in-class. What happened to whoever used to live there? Maybe they got instructions to roll down Virginia a few blocks, partner. Bougie has moved in, and I can’t complain too bitterly because, look, there’s no point to letting a downtown riverfront and the blocks surrounding it remain the sole province of street people and whatever shambling lifestyle they’re able to maintain when it could be turned into something that will draw a steady flow of tourists and functional middle-class locals through the area at all hours of the day and night. Having hundreds of citizen eyes on the street at all times is cheaper and more humane for the local homeless than staging occasional police sweeps of a deeply troubled neighborhood or deploying beat cops to harass the poor at random. Even top-notch cops like Dion Joseph, the LAPD’s veteran point man on Skid Row, have no hope of cleaning up a neighborhood that is overrun by the mentally ill homeless and functionally under their communal sovereignty.
The casinos in downtown Reno offer a huge but little-discussed socioeconomic benefit to their immediate neighborhoods: they flood the zone with normal people. There’s no way for drugged or crazed street people to take over such a neighborhood. They’re outnumbered, often ten or a hundred to one. And they tend to adapt to prevailing community standards. This isn’t San Francisco, where standards are whatever the fuck the community of your mind wants them to be. Most homeless, even the crazy ones, have enough of a sense of shame or respect or embarrassment or something not to let their freak flags fly at full mast among the normals. (San Francisco has some political particulars relating to homelessness that are too complicated to analyze right now.) They may not be sociable, but they’re social. They’ll take cues from the bourgeois majority not to go full caveman in polite company. It amounts to shanda fur die goyim. (Some chosen people, I know.)
What will happen to them in downtown Reno under the gentry invasion? Maybe it won’t be too bad; nobody with more authority than casino security personnel seems to be aggressively giving the current crowd the bum’s rush from downtown or the south riverfront. It could get bad, though, or it could be worse than I realize. Parisian police are known to load panhandlers onto buses around the tourist sites and drive them out to the projects. It is le catch-and-release. Understand, though, that the down-and-out are realistically better off in densely populated, mixed-income neighborhoods than they are in remote suburban ghettos.
Ironically, there’s nowhere for downtown Reno’s economy to go but towards increased genuine productivity. The casinos have had it at peak masturbation for decades. Reno Provisions is a real market selling real, shall we say, provisions, although a weird one. (The Russian equivalent, Produkty, never meant anything auspicious.) Why does it sell Seventh Generation toiletries? Probably as a clarion call to Bougie. I don’t know whether the Iroquois tradition of planning environmental impacts out to the seventh generation is legit or is just a cool story, but of course the white man would believe such a thing.
Will I see you tonight, on a downtown train? Of course not. There is no downtown train. Your neighborhood may not even have a downtown bus. The city planners may not think about this before relocating the inconvenient poor, but the poor will. Please to enjoy.