Real Respect

To the editor:
Calling Bed-Stuy a black ghetto is disrespectful [“Why Spike Lee Is Wrong About Gentrification,” Autumn 2015]. Working-class families built these neighborhoods. Adjust your attitude and show some respect.

Alicia Lowe
Brooklyn, NY

To the editor:
Property speculators are offered many favorable tax benefits. If the entire community shared in these benefits, we’d see less speculation and a slower gentrification process.

Robert Frances
Santa Ana, CA

Kay S. Hymowitz replies:
I agree with Alicia Lowe about one thing: since it became a largely African-American neighborhood after the 1940s, Bedford-Stuyvesant has had a sizable working-class and lower-middle-class population. Alas, their presence didn’t save the area from rightfully earning a reputation as a black ghetto. In 1966, Robert F. Kennedy made his famous walking tour of the neighborhood precisely because it was, as his biographer and aide Arthur Schlesinger put it, New York’s “largest black ghetto.” Kennedy was stunned by its “burned out buildings, brownstones in abject decay, and vacant lots.” The neighborhood didn’t improve by any reasonable statistical measure until very recently. It’s not disrespectful to point out that in 1966 and continuing until the most recent census, Bed-Stuy had among the highest rates of child poverty, unemployment, single motherhood, crime, and obesity in the city. I would argue, rather, that it would be disrespectful to ignore the suffering implied by those rates.

Robert Frances has a point that tax benefits have sometimes led to huge profits for New York City developers. But limiting those incentives won’t slow gentrification. Gentrification is the result of the mass movement of an educated middle class into formerly neglected cities. Less development won’t stop that migration. It will, however, intensify housing shortages, an outcome likely to hurt the disadvantaged most of all.

City vs. Country

To the editor:
Victor Davis Hanson wants us to overlook what farms have become: giant corporate factories owned by multimillionaires [“The Oldest Divide,” Autumn 2015]. In 2012, the average farm size was 434 acres. The cost per acre in 2015 is $3,020, meaning that just buying the land to farm costs an average of $1.2 million. Add in another million for equipment, and you can see that folks in urban areas can’t afford to farm. So how, exactly, does Hanson expect anyone to move from the cities—designed for taking care of millions of people—to rural areas that are capable of supporting only a few?


Victor Davis Hanson replies:
The end of agrarianism was not some corporate conspiracy but reflected the wishes of hundreds of millions of Americans who preferred the energy of city life and all that it entails. If there were not “giant corporate factories owned by multimillionaires,” we would probably have to invent them—or change the way that urbanites obtain and prepare their food. People do not have to return to the countryside and begin farming to appreciate agriculture. A small start might be to express some interest in the dilemma of feeding tens of millions of people who live far from the daily source of their nourishment. That way—who knows?—city dwellers might support sending contracted irrigation water to farms rather than out to sea on the theory of replenishing three-inch smelt populations. If there never was a connection between agrarianism and the values that created the United States, then Aaron need not worry about the end of it.


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