I attended a meeting in February at the Apollo Theater, by an organization called ICIC. That is the Initiative for Competitive Inner City.
I listened to various banks and other business organizations congratulate themselves on their great achievement over the years and their performance in bringing services to the inner city. A great part of this transformation focused on the bringing of a Pathmark to 125th street as an anchor, in order to attract other business to follow suit.
This was somewhat akin to Mayor Dinkins bringing Disney to 42nd st, in order to set the stage for further development there. However there is something quite disturbing about this picture.
Just as we understand that the revitalization of 42nd st would not have been wise to begin with a Pathmark, since it is in the heart of the theater district, it would be just as easy to make the same assessment of Harlem, which was the center for jazz and African American art during the Harlem Renaissance.
I am disturbed by this wholesale lack of understanding by the city of New York. When I walk along 125th st, this tone of congratulations for bringing services to Harlem in the form of pharmaceuticals and cheap plastic flapdoodle does not convince me that anything of any depth is being brought to this remarkable and most famous district in the world. Developers and government officials in Harlem, instead of remembering this unprecedented and eccentric history, are filling up the community with banks and Duane Reades that raise rents and prevent the development of small business in the area.
When I was at the Apollo that evening in February I expected to meet other small business owners. All I met were independent contractors working as salesmen for other large businesses.
The other even more alarming aspect of this meeting was this lack of discussion of environmental issues. How long, are we going to wait? This business community, in a district that is rife with asthma and type 3 diabetes in children, cannot even mention some kind of building project that they are planning to develop on 125th st that would be “green”. Some kind of project that is being proposed to clean up diesel fumes or turn some of these empty lots into parks with trees that can absorb some of this endless dumping of carbon into the atmosphere.
Instead we are stuck with the monotonous rows of condominiums one of which, the pretentiously named and very ugly Kalahari has photo voltaics on the roof. This by the way is symbolic of our direction not just as a community but as a nation.
This planet that we all share is cyclical; there is virtually no waste in the natural world, all processes, directly or indirectly result in food for other species. The lodgepole pine, when it becomes aged and unproductive puts out an audible song that can be heard by the mountain pine beetle, which then begins to eat and break down the tree, creating humus for the next generation. We can learn from nature. We must convert to a cyclical instead of linear process. As we take wood from clear-cut forests and process it into pulp for packaging and annual reports that employ a dioxin-creating bleaching process, we have taken an ancient cyclical process and converted it into a linear one.
What is the main purpose of business? It is to service the community. Yes, making money is secondary. This idea may be foreign to most businesses, especially if you went to business school and your teacher forgot to mention it, or after featuring it in the first class, it was quickly forgotten. You can easily see that corporations on 125th st are not serving anyone else but themselves.
There is a nearly complete empty block between 127th st and 128th st and between Adam Clayton and St.Nicholas Ave. Should a community have to fight to turn it into a park,and a green market,where community lessons are given on composting and vermiculture? Or could this just come about because someone with the power to implement the necessary change is able to clearly see that a city without multiple parks is an incomplete city and a world that fails to recognize it’s own demise deserves to wake up one morning to see that now, it is too late.