Friday, October 04, 2013

My new home is an ever changing place.

It's fall here in the Mid Hudson Valley, or the MHV as I've shorthanded it, and in the lowlands where I live between the Shawangunk Ridge to the west and the Marlboro Mountains to the east, called the Wallkill Valley, the leaves are approaching their peak of colorfulness. This reminds me that despite how painfully I miss California, autumn in the Northeast is one of the most beautiful things on earth.

In addition to reading about New York mountain ranges on Wikipedia, I am learning about this region's politics. Sean Eldridge, the husband of a Facebook bajillionaire, is attempting to finance his way into being my Representative in Congress.

This seat is currently held by Chris Gibson, a moderate Republican who won his seat by the same very small margin that Obama won this Congressional district in 2012 and presumably because of that margin, made the politically calculated move of voting to repeal Obamacare the first time and then against the government shutdown the second time. According to the NY TImes, Sean Eldridge and his husband moved up to the MHV after buying a $5 million home closer to New York City, in Putnam County. Rumor has it that, after realizing he was unlikely to snag the Democratic primary for the Congressional race there, the couple set their sites on District 19, where I live, and bought a slightly less expensive home up here, outside of Woodstock.

While this apparent Congressional seat shopping and carpetbagging kinda makes me want to vomit a little, Eldridge is a Democrat, has been very active in the Freedom to Marry campaign (which I appreciate deeply), and will probably more accurately represent my views in Congress than his incumbent opponent. So I will likely vote for him, because like many pragmatic far-left voters, I have come to the cynical realization that if my vote elects someone who is not going to defund Planned Parenthood, believes global warming is happening, and doesn't want to privatize education and libraries or shutter the EPA, I can deal, and I utilize more activist forms of expression and civic participation to achieve the rest of my progressive concerns.  

But at the regional level, beyond representative Democracy and the flawed two-party system, Sean Eldridge's move to this region makes me uncomfortable for a different reason. In the 12 years I lived in California, the Hudson Valley has experienced a Renaissance. It has shifted from its modest profile as a haven for aging hippies, antiquers, hikers, and summer cottage  owners, to the post-urban, post-modern, new agrarian home of upwardly mobile, liberal urbanites who want to "homestead" (i.e. own a woodburning stove and make a few jars of apple butter) the countryside while telecommuting to work. This influx of wealthier residents has caused massive facelifts in previously declining Hudson Valley cities like Beacon and Hudson, where yoga studios, fancy coffee shops, eco-friendly clothing boutiques, and high-end chocolatiers abound like fall leaves. 

Of course, this wave of yuppies has not gone without resentful notice of longtime Hudson Valley residents, who don't always find themselves aligned with the artisanal-baked-goods-eating and gay-marriage-supporting yuppies buying up homes and patronizing farm-to-fork cafes while land prices soar and the longstanding pizzerias go out of business. There's a cultural difference to be sure, but of course there's also the familiar and harsh realities of gentrification underlying it. And from an economic development standpoint, I am curious to know how much this precious, boutique-y, high-priced wave of entrepreneurship actually impacts this region in terms of overall employment and standard of living. My observations from my own job hunt indicate that employment opportunities up here are still relatively scarce and scattered.

Don't get me wrong. I love living here, and I enjoy a handcrafted micro-brew and a pair of organic cotton yoga pants just as much as the next over-educated, privileged, hippie-esque, progressive white girl from the suburbs.  And if I'm going to recognize my place in this well-appointed cultural and social shift displacing lower-income people of all political persuasions and racial backgrounds, I guess I'd rather have a rich, carpetbagging, white male, left-of-center Democrat as my representative than a middle-class, white male, moderate Republican, all other things being equal. 

But the wave of gentrification is also segmented, and the Tracy Lermans of the world occupy a much lower place in its pecking order than do the Sean Eldridges. Even as my standing still towers over that of many others, I rent rather than own, I shop at second hand boutiques and thrift stores, I patronize the farm-to-fork restaurants over the pizzerias once a month (or less) instead of twice a week, and I wonder if this region will go the way of Manhattan and San Francisco, affordable only to the most elite while everyone else is pushed to the hinterlands.

Until that happens, however, I will continue to go apple picking during the height of fall foliage, read the Cliff notes of this region's dense history, sneak into the Mohonk preserve to hike, attempt to finish The Power Broker (another magnum opus about the complicated history of modern NY), update my blog about once every 18 months, and enjoy an occasional $13 sandwich. 

And if you have anything to say about any of this, leave a comment below.

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