Monday, June 30, 2008

Do The Rich Confiscate Adirondack Natural Beauty?

Barbara Ehrenreich has an interesting article in the Nation this month about the what she calls considers “the general rule, which has been in effect since sometime in the 1990s: if a place is truly beautiful, you can’t afford to be there. All right, I’m sure there are still exceptions — a few scenic spots not yet eaten up by mansions. But they’re going fast.”

The places she describes, Key West and the Grand Tetons, have remarkable similarities to our own Adirondacks. Here is her description of Key West:

At some point in the ’90s, the rich started pouring in. You’d see them on the small planes coming down from Miami — taut-skinned, linen-clad and impatient. They drove house prices into the seven-figure range. They encouraged restaurants to charge upward of $30 for an entree. They tore down working-class tiki bars to make room for their waterfront “condotels.”

That’s something we’ve all seen in our area. But, as Ehrenreich points out, it comes at a cost, even for the wealthy:

Ultimately, the plutocratic takeover of rural America has a downside for the wealthy too. The more expensive a resort town gets, the farther its workers have to commute to keep it functioning. And if your heart doesn’t bleed for the dishwasher or landscaper who commutes two to four hours a day, at least shed a tear for the wealthy vacationer who gets stuck in the ensuing traffic. It’s bumper to bumper westbound out of Telluride, Colorado, every day at 5, or eastbound on Route 1 out of Key West, for the Lexuses as well as the beat-up old pickup trucks.

Or a place may simply run out of workers. Monroe County, which includes Key West, has seen more than 2,000 workers leave since the 2000 Census, a loss the Los Angeles Times calls “a body blow to the service-oriented economy of a county with only 75,000 residents and 2.25 million overnight visitors a year.” Among those driven out by rents of more than $1,600 for a one-bedroom apartment are many of Key West’s wait staff, hotel housekeepers, gardeners, plumbers and handymen. No matter how much money you have, everything takes longer — from getting a toilet fixed to getting a fish sandwich at Pepe’s.

It’s an interesting read, and one that echoes our own problems with affordable housing, low wages, and disappearing Adirondack style.

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John Warren has been exploring the woods and waters of the Adirondacks for more than 45 years. After a career as a print journalist and documentary television producer he founded Adirondack Almanack in 2005 and co-founded Adirondack Atlas in 2015.

John's Adirondack Outdoors Conditions Report can be heard Friday mornings across the region on North Country Public Radio and on WSLP Lake Placid.

He is also on the staff of the New York State Writers Institute and edits The New York History Blog. He is the author of two books of regional history.




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