In recent years, the trend of ‘buying locally’ has emerged to be almost like a fashion statement. As gentrification rages on throughout cities, there is a renewed interest in authenticity. Consignment stores and corner stores are all the rage, combatting the ideologically impure big-box chain stores — Target, Wal-Mart, and the like. Sustainable Connections puts the sentiment of locality together aptly: “Where we shop, where we eat and have fun — all of it makes our community home. Our one-of-a-kind businesses are an integral part of the distinctive character of this place. Our tourism businesses also benefit,” (1). However, this distinctive local character isn’t purely local. Its ideology often meets with gentrification [coffee and gentrification are being explored in the next edition of “What’s in Your Cup”]. In neighborhoods like Over the Rhine in Cincinnati, Bushwick in Brooklyn, and the Lower West Side in Chicago, their local cultures and unique identities are marked by thrift stores, breweries, bookstores, and trendy restaurants — none necessarily unique but all conjoining into a twisted image of what ‘local’ is; people who move into cities, displacing prior residents, then dictate what makes this part of the city local.
The ideology of localness in gentrified cities misunderstands the city not because those who are gentrifying are not sufficiently ‘local,’ but rather because cities defy the idea of single-origin and encourage multiplicity. Cities leverage connections across the entire earth — just as the gentrifiers can move in because of their connections to monied parents outside of the city and multinational corporations that move back and forth, so too are poor black residents connected to family and friends pushed to the suburbs outside of the neighborhood.
The power that wealthy yuppies can leverage against those existing residents of cities is neither ‘authentic’ nor ‘inauthentic’ to the area — the local culture is constantly shifting as different interactions between people are made possible. The story of George Bell, a man who died lonely in New York, is emblematic of the connections that cities make possible. Bell lived a life of quiet seclusion, with few friends and no family, so his death went unreported for days — this story could be tragic, but it is also uniquely urban. Touching Bell’s life are countless other lives — his few close friends, government bureaucrats and police, neighbors, funeral home organizers, a New York Times journalist, myself, and, finally, the readers of this paper (2).
More than this, many of our industries require global participation. Coffee, of course, is one such example — the entire idea of a ‘local’ coffee shop is bankrupt. Ethical consumption of products is not limited, or even related, to how close they are made relative to where you live; ethically sourcing and shopping requires effort beyond walking down the street. And, by researching effectively what benefits who, you can help to change someone’s life — whether they’re your next-door neighbor or live thousands of miles away.