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Trashville USA

April 1, 2012

I like to think I have a thick shell, and at times I do. But I’m also as fragile as they come. Some things just land the wrong way and I find myself awash with emotion, while others roll off me like a new application of Rain-X on the windshield.

The former happened today while browsing that blessed curse called Facebook. A very good friend is looking for a home in Portland – close to the city center. His reasons are various and include commuting. He even set a boundary for clarification and made a small joke about another – more obvious – boundary being ‘almost another country.’ So far so good. What got me was the comment.

‘aka trashville usa’

Now I live on the other side of this particular divide, and that has something to do with it. The commenter and I have some unaddressed history, and that’s part of it as well. But what I take most offense to is the notion that geographical location is an effective means of determining human values.

Within a city, neighborhoods are often divided by the cost of their homes. The folk who live in these neighborhoods have one thing in common – they can afford to live there. This has no relation to their profession or their values. One might be a lawyer while another might have inherited his fortune. A gas station attendant might live next door to a newly-graduated (and heavily in debt) dental hygienist.

The picture gets further complicated over time as prices rise and affordable neighborhoods are no longer affordable for the same class of people. One house might have a $1000 mortgage while a comparable house next door – which sold more recently – costs $1800 monthly, so it will take a different type of person to afford it.

This is the first time I’ve lived on the far side of the Avenue of Roses (as it was recently renamed). My street feels perfectly safe and clean; nature is alive just a block away and I can’t see the city lights at night. As long as I stay in Portland this will be my home. I have no desire to live the hectic lifestyle it would take to buy a house closer to downtown. What’s trashy about that?

Other non-trashy people who live East of the cultural divide include refugee Somalians, Asian and Hispanic immigrants, aging Californian hippies, and young folk like us who arrived too late to buy a house elsewhere. I probably don’t have to mention the existence of trashy folk West of the Avenue, but I did anyway. I’m struggling against spitting vindictive fire at this person right now. It would be so easy.

But I value truth over trash-talk and am constantly questing towards it. So. I think we’d all agree there are some less-than-desirable parts of this country. But what turns a location into ‘trashville usa?’ Under what circumstances can you say one area is trashy and another isn’t? Does it come down to personal prejudice?

Any value judgment based on geography is going to be a generalization, and most answers boil down to one thing: money. Depressed neighborhoods play host to struggling people who don’t have the time, capacity, or wherewithal to match ‘enlightened’ inner-city thinking. This doesn’t make them lesser beings or different in any other way. They have the same wants and needs as everybody else.

It’s what you do with what you have that determines who you are. I’d rather befriend an honest hobo than a bigoted housewife. Statistics might show that low-income neighborhoods have more drug and violence issues, but that’s a comment on economics as much as it is on human values. Statistics may never show the extent of harm caused by the middle and upper class’s cutthroat business tactics.

So please, before you make overarching generalizations about people in downtrodden neighborhoods, do more than drive through them in your SUV. Get out and befriend a few people – if you dare. You might learn something. And while you’re at it, take a walk down your own block. Do you know everybody? Would you have them over for dinner?

Would they have you?


From → Rants

  1. You’re absolutely right. An eloquent and thoughtful piece worthy of much reflection. thanks

    • You are so welcome! Like my mother and daughter, I’m very happy to share my opinions. 🙂

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