“Isabella: Life Deserved" Advertisement for A Brooklyn Condo Epitomizes The Unthinking Arrogance of America’s Economic Elites
Dr Mark Naison
For the last year, as I have sought to avoid traffic on Flatbush Avenue on my journeys to and from Fordham, I have spent a lot of time driving through Fort Green, Prospect Heights and Clinton Hill and have been astonished and appalled by the amount of new luxury housing being constructed in these once African American communities.
On Washington Avenue alone, I have counted over 15 new buildings that have gone up in the last two years on a mile and a half stretch between Eastern Parkway and the Brooklyn Queens expressway, ranging in size from three story glass fronted town houses, to six story apartment buildings to a 20 story tower, still under construction, that adjoins the BQE
But it is not just the speed and intrusiveness of the new construction that has grabbed my attention, it is the unthinking arrogance with which they claim their identity as luxury buildings in neighborhoods which have large concentrations of public housing and still contain many working class black residents.
The advertising slogan on "The Isabella" an eight story condominium on Washington Avenue between Atlantic Avenue and Fulton Street, which was completed only a month ago, epitomizes the arrogance and insensitivity of the economic elites whose reckless financial practices have brought the world to the brink of economic disaster
Less than a block from Black Brooklyn's major thoroughfare, filled with bodegas, hair braiding salons, dollar stores, and small evangelical churches, less than one hundred feet from two large African American churches, and only a half block from an "A" train stop, a twenty foot sign on the second story of the building proclaims "Live Magnificently! Live Isabella."
To hard working, struggling residents of the neighborhood who have to walk by the building each day when shopping, going to school or work, or attending church, one can only speculate what emotions that enormous sign inspires
One thing is clear, in a neighborhood where less than twenty years earlier, the crack epidemic took a terrible toll, and where economic survival, rather than "Living Magnificently" is the goal of most residents, the sign proclaims that Clinton Hill is about to be deluged with wealthy outsiders, many of them white, and that the days of Clinton Hill as a place where black working class people can feel at home are coming to the end
But that is not all. Right next to the huge "Live Magnificently" sign are two smaller signs which read "Isabella: Life Deserved"
It’s bad enough that the Isabella’s developers broadcast the message that the building they have constructed is only for those people who have enough money to “Live Magnificently”- they are also saying that the wealthy people about to descend on Clinton Hill, DESERVE their good fortune, and by implication, that the neighborhood people walking by the building deserve their life of scarcity and hardship.
To me, this message epitomizes everything that has been wrong with our economic system in the last twenty years
It is one thing to say that extreme inequality is an unfortunate by product of rapid economic growth, and to try to mitigate the consequences through social policy, it is another thing to say that people at the top of the system deserve everything they get, and that the wealt h the acquire is a sign of superior talent, even superior virtue
Tracy Chapman described this ideology brilliantly in her song “Mounains O Things”
Sweet lazy life Champagne and caviar
I hope you'll come and find me
Cause you know who we are
Those who deserve the best in life
And know what money's worth
And those whose sole misfortune
Was having mountains o' nothing at birth
It was this overwhelming sense of entitlement, that impelled the leaders of failing companies to use government bailout money to give themselves .huge bonuses, and then defend those bonuses in Congressional hearings as the reward for a job20well done.
The idea that wealth and poverty are distributed logically through some form of “moral economy,” and that the accumulation of great wealth benefits everyone, can no longer be sustained, not in a time of layoffs and foreclosures, bread lines and unemployment lines,
In this time in American history, the redistribution of wealth should be the major imperative guiding social policy
As for the Isabella, where not one unit has been bought and rented, it is prime space for conversion to affordable housing,
After all, don’t the working people of Fort Greene and Clinton Hill deserve the opportunity to “Live Magnificantly/”
April 10, 2009