Letter to the Editor
Posted February 24, 1999
To Berkeleyan columnist Tamara Keith:
I'm a staff person here at Cal who likes to read your column in the Berkeleyan. Your latest piece, titled "While Everyone Was Fighting Over Telegraph..." [Feb. 10 issue], mentioned something I wanted to comment on.
I do agree with you on your observations about creeping corporatism down Telegraph Avenue. However, I reacted strongly to your statement, "...the homeless kids who beg passers-by for cash and beer are a priceless part of the ambiance." The statement reminded me of something Thomas Frank wrote in "The Baffler" about modern suburbia: "Cities are places of pleasure, theme parks for the lifestyle experimentation of affluent consumers, with the rest of us around to provide colorful entertainment or to clean up after them if we can't sing and dance."
Your statement suggests that the poor and homeless provide just another part of that rich texture for us to move through and enjoy -- spicing up what could otherwise be a bland middle-class cityscape.
I think I'm still too idealistic to accept that the poor will always be with us. For a majority of us in Berkeley, we still have the choice to "move" through these urban spaces that some call "home." Cities can be our playgrounds to frolic through, safe in the knowledge that we have our own homes to retreat to when we've consumed enough. But behind every "colorful" homeless person is too often a story of dispossession and helplessness. It's also bloody cold.
I hope we don't forget the reality of the poor so that we can continue to work towards creating a more just society -- a Telegraph Avenue without homeless -- a fulfillment of what Berkeley in the 1960s promised. That would be the only ambiance that I could truly enjoy.