What is the cost of progress?
A big debate in Union Square centers around the rising cost of living. According to various blogs and news articles, the less affluent locals are feeling that they are being forced to leave the square due to increasing rent. From my conversations in Precinct Bar, I would classify this controversy as falling into relative/lived space.
At Precinct Bar, I was lucky enough to meet a friendly couple who were happy to talk to me about living in Union Square. The husband was a music teacher at a local charter school and the wife worked at home doing web design. Their views were similar to those of every other patron and staff member I spoke with that afternoon. What is surprising is how they differed from what I had read online beforehand.
The couple did say they noticed increasing prices, but did not say that it was forcing people to move or even necessarily that it was a bad thing. The couple in stead compared themselves to other people they knew or heard of. This was the basis of the classification as relative space, as comparison’s were being made. The lived space tension came due to the fact that most of the comparisons made were hypothetical or based on indirect stories.
The couple felt that the character of Union Square was slowly changing. “I haven’t really studied economics but I have no idea how charging $20 for a cocktail can boost business so much”. The couple felt that square was being invaded by young, wealthy people that they viewed as foreign or Other. Their comparisons to these foreign people were the basis for the spatial classification.
It was not so much the price hikes that concerned everyone in Precinct Bar, but how the new wealthy crowd was changing the atmosphere in Union Square. The locals viewed the outsiders are rude, snotty, and flash with their money. “For spending so much on drinks, they could really learn how to tip”.
In sum, the big issue that the locals had with the rising cost of living was not how hard it was hitting their bank accounts but how it was degrading the character of the square. They compared themselves and their values to this Other – an unwanted, invading presence that was changing Union Square for the worse. “I really don’t want to see the Green Line come to Union Square. We would become Davis [Square], and that would be a nightmare”. The way in which the locals compared themselves to the Other bar patrons is an example of David Harvey tension between relative (them vs. me) and lived (imagined homologation of all Other bad characteristics) space.