April 01, 2015
BOGOTA — Acclaimed physicist Stephen Hawking believes humanity's long-term future must be in space. I admire his intellectual dexterity and his accomplishments despite his paralysis, but this particular aspiration seems about as clear as a black hole.
I'm not surprised that he should say it, but there is an element of arrogance in a scientist who believes he can know The Theory of Everything. He shows less interest in a most fundamental thing beside him, our extraordinary planet, than in his intergalactic fantasies.
His message for new generations is thus: Let us use up our resources because life on earth could always be wiped out by some man-made disaster such as nuclear war, global warming or some engineered virus. Something to look forward to! I have never heard apocalyptic predictions as repellent and crass as this, despite Hawking's reputed intelligence: Flee to space or die out!
The harm such an idea causes to the collective imagination is not to be ignored. The Englishman might help Internet-hooked teenagers understand where they stand, teach them to value life, the earth and the elements and tell them to put their house in order before getting onto a rocket headed for space. Instead, he spreads a pernicious expectation that is ultimately only for the few, not to mention practically impossible for the species as we know it today.
We are far from overcoming the physical obstacles to space travel. Descriptions of how the body behaves in space and the paraphernalia related to the Universal Waste Management System — the space loo — are, well, hilarious. To urinate, astronauts have to use funnels that suck. For the bigger stuff, an inverted fan must be turned on to ensure the stools will not start floating around the room. It is all so complex that many astronauts, men and women, have said they prefer to drink less and lose weight to minimize the unpleasant experience.
Hawking on a zero gravity flight aboard a modified Boeing 727. Photo: Jacopo Werther
Meanwhile, space health care is in its infancy. In its introduction to the entry on this topic, Wikipedia notes that humans are physiologically best suited to living on planet earth. You don't say? The list of ailments to expect when traveling to space is lengthy — nausea, muscular atrophy, failing immunity, cancer-causing radiation, interrupted sleep, "barotrauma." A real menu. Never mind where to put the trash, which can't be thrown out the window. I don't want to be an astronaut.
There is money to be made, of course, from space travel. You only have to view NASA's webpage or those of the Russian, Chinese or European space agencies to guess that it is about military development, power ambitions and, for a minority of people, space tourism. You might pertinently ask whether such resources might be better used right now to generate clean energy and boost sustainable farming.
Certainly, travel to space was a breakthrough and opened horizons, and we owe the Hubble satellite, in aesthetic terms at least, for nurturing in us some affection for our blue planet. But to talk of a future away from our globe when we have not even been able to live in harmony with this environment makes no sense. I can barely comprehend such a proposition.
Between the pride and atheism of Hawking, who is more enamored with his ideas than with the multifaceted world, and the sobering humor and humility of Albert Einstein, who said that "the most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious," the "source of all art and science," my temperament inclines toward the latter.
*Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Hawking had won the Nobel prize.
The oldest newspaper in Colombia, El Espectador was founded in 1887. The national daily newspaper has historically taken a firm stance against drug trafficking and in defense of freedom of the press. In 1986, the director of El Espectador was assassinated by gunmen hired by Pablo Escobar. The majority share-holder of the paper is Julio Mario Santo Domingo, a Colombian businessman named by Forbes magazine as one of the wealthiest men in the world in 2011.
Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.
October 20, 2021
SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.
What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?
But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.
An appetite for gentrification
I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.
In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.
This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.
Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.
Informal street vendors are casualties.
A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.
On paper, this all sounds great.
But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.
This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.
In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.
A call for food justice
Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.
Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.
It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.
In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.
Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.
Upending an existing foodscape
In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.
San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.
Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"
But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.
Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.
All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.
So what happens when new competitors come to town?
Starting at a disadvantage
As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.
My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"
San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.
When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.
Going up against the urban food machine
Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.
I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.
When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.
Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.
It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.
From Your Site Articles
- The Perverse Effect Of Street Art On Neighborhood Gentrification ... ›
- Taiwan To Hong Kong To L.A., Birth Of Bubble Tea Culture ... ›
- How The Pandemic Is Helping Reinvent Food Production ... ›
- What's Chic Now In Paris Dining? African-American Soul Food ... ›
Related Articles Around the Web
Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!